As previously discussed on the Army H.E.A.L.T.H. blog, there are many mental health benefits to practicing mindful meditation. Increased resiliency, better sleep, slowed cognitive decline associated with aging, and improved math and social skills in children, are just a few of the mental health benefits. This may come as no surprise, considering that mindful mediation has long been used to calm the mind and improve focus and attention.
In more recent history, research is starting to show that mindful mediation also yields physical health benefits for the body as well (e.g. strengthened immune system). Although this type of research is still in its infancy, there are some promising results so far. Below, we discuss what the research tells us about the physical health benefits of mindful mediation.
Reduced Blood Pressure
One study published in 2011 showed that mediation helped reduce blood pressure for young adults at risk for hypertension. Participants in the study were divided into two groups. One group received a weekly seven-step course training in meditation for 3 months. The second group, a wait list control, would not be offered the seven-step training until the end of the 3-month period.
The results showed that participants who were immediately offered the mediation course experienced a decrease in blood pressure when compared to those who hadn’t received the intervention yet. The reduction in blood pressure was also directly correlated with a decrease in in psychological stress and an increase in coping.
Reduced Acute Respiratory Illness (e.g. the flu)
In 2012, researchers examined the effect of a mindfulness mediation program or an exercise program on reducing instances if Acute Respiratory Illness (ACU), such as the flu. Participants were divided into one of three groups: mindfulness mediation, exercise, or control. The mindfulness mediation group received mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) training over an 8-week period. The exercise group participated in an 8-week physical activity program that consisted of group and at-home moderate-intensity exercise sessions. Lastly, the control group was monitored and received no intervention.
At the end of the 8-week period, the results showed that the mindfulness mediation group had less instances of ARI, as compared to the exercise and control groups. The authors of the study theorize that the MBSR training led to increased awareness of physical, emotional, and cognitive manifestations of stress. Which, in turn, led to a healthier mind-body response to stress.
Reduced Severity of Symptoms for Women with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
For this study, women with IBS were assigned to one of two groups: mindfulness meditation or a support group. Women in the mindfulness mediation group received 8-weekly training sessions involving intentionally attending to present-moment experience and cultivating non-judgmental awareness of body sensations and emotions. The support group attended 8-weekly meetings with other women who also had IBS.
At the end of the 8 weeks, the mindfulness meditation group had reduced severity of symptoms from IBS as compared to the support group. The mindfulness mediation group also experienced improved quality of life and reduced stress.
For more on mindfulness mediation and free guided practices for beginners, check out mindful.org.