Everyone knows meditation is good for you, but most people probably have no idea how, or why, exactly, it's so beneficial. Is it because it calms you down, or focuses you to move toward healthier lifestyle choices through introspection? Honestly, it's likely a little bit of both, but as it turns out, these benefits might just last you much longer than a few hours on a hectic weekday. If you've ever wondered whether meditation has long-term benefits, then you'll be happy to know the results of a new study have revealed it totally does.
Generally speaking, meditation is all about deep breathing exercises that train the mind and the body to slow down and find a sense of balance. Meditation is often used to physically relieve stress by lowering your heart rate, your blood pressure, and even improving your blood circulation throughout your body.
Until now, you might have thought that a 10-minute meditation practice would serve you for the rest of your afternoon, and then the health effects would go away. But that's not technically true.
According to a study carried out by researchers at the University of California, Davis, intensive meditation can provide you with cognitive health benefits for up to seven years.
The study, called "The Shamatha Project," is the most comprehensive study of meditation available, according to the project's main website. The researchers asked 60 healthy people (who had previous experience with meditation) to participate in an intense, three-month meditation retreat, and they also established a control group of participants who didn't take part in this retreat. During that three-month period, participants who were at the retreat were assigned daily meditation sessions for six hours a day.
The results were extremely positive: According to the project's website, the people who were on the three-month meditation retreat reaped a wide array of health benefits, including a better sense of perception (as measured by their ability to point out subtle differences when asked if two small lines had different lengths) and improved psychological well-being (one specific emotion being "an enhanced sense of awe", which is pretty cool).
On a more scientific level, the researchers gathered blood samples from the participants at the end of the three months, and they found an increase in something called "telomerase activity" in retreat participants. Telomerase is an enzyme in the body associated with cellular viability, aka the lifespan of your cells and your overall health as you get older.
In other words, not only does meditation improve your psychological well-being, it might just do wonders for your physical aging process, too.
The caveat here is, of course, the intensity with which these participants were meditating. As exciting as it is to learn you could reap all these benefits just from sitting still, it might be kind of hard to meditate for several hours a day, every day, for several months, like these people did in the study.
Fear not, my friends: You don't need to quit your job and become a full-on yogi in order to reap the benefits of meditation. In fact, a ton of studies have shown just how effective a quick, 20-minute meditation session can be, if you make it a consistent practice. For example, NBC News reports that a school in San Francisco instituted a daily 30-minute meditation break back in 2015, and saw suspensions decrease by 75 percent after the fact, as well as an improvement in academic performance overall.
The important thing to keep in mind with meditation is consistency: Even if you're sitting down for that moment of silence and stillness for just five or 10 minutes a day, making meditation a part of your daily routine (rather than an occasional thing you do whenever you feel like it) is the best way to mirror any of the strategies within these studies, and to reap similar success.
So go ahead and try waking up 10 minutes earlier tomorrow! Have a cup of coffee, then take a few minutes to gather your thoughts. I personally love to use Headspace to guide me through a 10-minute meditation each day. After I'm done, I'm always able to go on with the rest of my day, feeling totally recharged.