The Benefits of Meditation

by Wellness Editor – MH

The practice of meditation has been shown to reduce stress, improve clarity, help with depression, improve memory, help with insomnia, and improve cardiovascular health, just to name a few. Research on Transcendental Meditation, a popular meditation technique introduced in 1958 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has over 600 research studies validating its health benefits. The first scientist to study the effects of Transcendental Meditation on aging was Dr. Robert Keith Wallace. Dr. Wallace published his research on Transcendental Meditation and aging in the International Journal of Neuroscience.

Dr. Wallace discovered that study participants with an average age of 50, who had been practicing Transcendental Meditation (TM) for over 5 years, had a biological age 12 years younger than their chronological age. This groundbreaking study basically showed that if you are 50 and practice TM, your biology will be that of a 38 year old person!! 1 Several of the participants in the study were found to have a biological age as low as 27 years younger than their chronological age. Other studies have also shown the beneficial effects of TM on the aging process.

A study of almost 1300 adults; 326 of whom practiced TM found an increased production in a hormone generally associated with young adults with those who practice TM versus the control group. 2 An amazing study published in 1989 amongst the elderly found that those who practiced TM versus other activities actually lived longer. The residents (with an average age of 81), were assigned into different groups to follow different types of mind/body techniques; they were as follows:

Transcendental Meditation; an active thinking (mindfulness) program; a relaxation program; or a control group with no treatment.  The TM group improved most on a wide range of physical and mental health measures. In addition to reporting that the TM groups felt younger, they actually lived longer!! After 3 years, all TM members were still living, in contrast to lower survival rates for the other experimental groups, and a 63% survival rate for the 478 other residents who did not participate in the study. 3 Dr. Wallace stated: “Transcendental Meditation has been shown to significantly improve cardiovascular health, work satisfaction, positive health habits, physical function, happiness rating, self-health rating, intelligence, and mental health. The result is a younger biological age.” A study conducted in 2005 by Harvard instructor Dr. Sara W.  Lazar, has shown that meditation has a whole host of benefits including: a reduction in the effects of aging on the brain, and improved concentration and memory.

Lazar, an avid yoga enthusiast decided to conduct this study in response to claims that meditation improved brain function and reduced the effects of aging.  According to Dr. Lazar, no previous work had been done to actually analyze the physiological effects of one’s thoughts. However, this study provided “some really strong physical evidence that there are some long-term physical effects” of meditation, she said. “Dr. Lazar’s findings are relatively unique; they show that the mind, through practice, can increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex,” according to fellow corroborator on the study, Dr. Herbert Benson—the Mind/ Body Medical Institute Associate Professor of Medicine at HarvardMedicalSchool.

The prefrontal cortex is in the front of the brain. It is responsible for the many functions, which include mediating conflicting thoughts, making choices between right and wrong or good and bad, predicting future events, and governing social control—such as suppressing emotional or sexual urges. The prefrontal cortex is the brain center most strongly implicated in qualities like character, intelligence, and personality.

The thickening of the cortex is the opposite of what should happen as the brain ages so the researchers concluded that the meditation was responsible for this physical effect. “When compared to age-match controls, the people who weren’t evoking the relaxation response had thinner cortexes,” commented Benson. The participants’ ages ranged from 25-50 and meditated approximately 40 minutes a day. After finishing this study, Lazar said she believes, “The effects of meditation can counter the effect of age.” Meditation, according to Benson, is one of the weapons in the arsenal of fighting aging of the brain.  As people live longer than ever before, aging brains become a significant problem. Lazar said she hopes to shed more light on how meditation might be used to combat aging and perhaps even reverse it. Bottom line, try meditation and you will be amazed at its effect on your health and wellness.

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