6 Surprising Benefits of Meditation

It's not just a hippy-dippy practice anymore. A growing body of research supports the idea that we can all benefit from 15 minutes of meditation.

July 12, 2012

Think meditation is just for former Beatles and people with too much time on their hands? Think again. This underrated practice could be one of the most valuable medical devices you're not using. Research has shown that it can help with everything from getting over a stressful day to staving off a potentially fatal heart attack. There are a lot of other reasons why you should shut out the world for 15 to 30 minutes with meditation.

Here are six of the most compelling benefits of meditation, supported by scientific research:

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#1: Meditation can make you more productive. If you feel like you're just not as sharp as you used to be, give mindfulness meditation a shot. A study in the journal Emotion found that mindfulness, a meditative practice that requires you to sit quietly for a few minutes focusing on your breathing and other specific physical sensations without letting your mind wander, was highly effective in improving people's working memory; working memory is the short-term memory system we tap into for managing information, controlling emotions, problem solving, and complex thought. The best part? The study found that you can reap all these benefits with just 12 minutes of meditation per day.

Read More: A Mindfulness Meditation Primer

#2: It's good for surly teenagers. Remember your teenage years, when it felt like the entire world was against you? If you'd been meditating, you probably wouldn't, according to research from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School. In a study of high-school students' demeanor, psychologists found that deep breathing and relaxation improved their moods—a free (no-stress!) way to cope with all the drama of teen years and those hormonal mood swings.

Read More: Soothe Stress With a 1,000-Year-Old Trick

#3: Meditation helps you ditch the painkillers. A 2010 study by researchers in Montreal found that a particular type of meditation called Zen actually thickens the part of the brain that regulates pain, and that thickening of the brain lowers your sensitivity to it. Zen meditation is the form favored by Buddhist monks. It's similar to mindfulness meditation, but rather than focusing on a specific physical sensation, you focus on breathing and posture while trying to keep your mind from wandering.

Read More: For Chronic Pain, Meditation Proves Better Than Pills

#4: It'll keep you happy. Meditation has been frequently used to help combat the nasty side effects of multiple schlerosis, which include fatigue and depression. One study in the journal Neurology had people with mild to moderate multiple schlerosis take an eight-week class on mindfulness meditation, and at the end of the study, those people saw a 30 percent reduction in depressive symptoms and lower levels of fatigue. Though that study was on a specific group of people suffering from a chronic condition, multiple studies reinforce the idea that meditation can help people with depression, in part because those people learn how to avoid focusing on negative thoughts. Researchers in Wisconsin have also found that people who meditate have more electrical activity in the brain's left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with positive mood.

Read More: Rewire Your Brain For Happiness

#5: Meditate, combat hot flashes. During menopause, the one feeling most women try to shut out is body awareness. After all, who wants to embrace the uncontrollable bodily changes that signify the next phase of life? However, mindfulness meditation might actually aid you in dealing with the inevitable. Various studies suggest that this type of relaxation therapy helps women handle menopause symptoms. You might feel funny when you first try meditation as a way to settle your menopausal anxiety, but it beats taking medication to try and fight off those unruly hot flashes or night sweats.

Read More: Natural Remedies For Those Pesky Hot Flashes

#6: Your heart loves it when you meditate. Haunted by heart problems? Your cardiovascular system benefits from any practice that reduces stress, and both Zen and Transcendental (when you let your mind go free and 'transcend' the present by repeating a mantra over and over again) meditation are effective stress-relievers. Zen is thought to improve certain aspects of your body’s inner workings, such as blood circulation and breathing, by helping counteract stress arousal and anxiety. And Transcendental Meditation might save your life. In a study presented at a previous American Heart Association annual meeting, transcendental meditation produced lower rates of heart attacks and strokes by 50 percent.

Read More: Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally