Your body on meditation

March 18, 2013, 12:32 pm Laura Beil Women's Health

Tuning out the world and tuning in to yourself is a clever way to boost your health.

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Wind down stress and welcome good health with the art of meditation

While meditation comes in dozens of forms, including the popular transcendental and mindfulness methods, they all involve one thing: a heightened state of awareness. Sound whacky?

Consider this: at any given time, your thoughts bounce like ping-pong balls between the past and future, stuck on what could have been or what might be. Rarely do they zero in on what is. But research shows that finding your “right now” – as New Agey as it sounds – can overhaul your wellbeing.

Here’s how practising regular meditation helps your health:

Brain

Research by Sydney University, NSW, has found meditation can increase alpha and theta brainwave activity, which is linked to relaxation. What’s more, a study published in the journal NeuroImage found that practising meditation every day can physically beef up parts of your grey matter.

Lungs and heart

Meditation increases activity in your parasympathetic nervous system, which controls your rest-and-digest functions (the flip side of your fight-or-flight response). As a result, your lungs begin to draw deeper breaths and your heartbeat slows, causing your blood vessels to relax.

In fact, according to a review of studies conducted by the University of Kentucky, US, regular meditation can drop your blood pressure by up to four points, lowering your risk of heart disease.

Relaxation

Meanwhile, your adrenal glands dial back production of stress hormone cortisol. And blood flow to your brain increases, which may help lower anxiety. (The enhanced blood flow may also improve your memory.)

Willpower

It sounds too good to be true, but researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US, found that practising daily meditation can lower your blood sugar levels (high ones can lead to diabetes) and may cut cravings for salty foods.

Immune system

One theory: meditation helps nix mental negativity that may dampen immune response. Another thought: meditation can prompt your body to step up its antibody production. And research published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine shows that meditators may be more able to fight off infections and have better pain control when injured.

Mood

Slipping into a meditative state can light up the area of your noggin that controls complex thoughts and positive emotions. Some meditation can also build mental muscle in the brain’s other hubs for compassion, empathy and fear, allowing you greater mastery over your emotions and helping you feel closer

to others. Om-en to that.

And another thing...

Meditation means less sicks days. Yep, a study published in Brain, Behaviour and Immunity found people who meditated saw a drop in C-reactive protein levels, a substance linked to inflammation.

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