Need a Powerful Stress Reducer? Meditate!

Senior woman meditating with closed eyes while sitting amidst friends at park

Meditation is a practice with a long and rich history. While its roots are in religious traditions, it has evolved to become a mainstream practice for anyone looking to reduce stress, improve their job or athletic performance, or simply improve their overall health and well-being.

Meditation’s reputation for improving people’s health has attracted the attention of the scientific community. Research on the benefits of meditation is relatively new, but shows some promising results.

Reduces stress which boosts overall well-being

Meditation is known primarily as a form of stress reduction. The simple act of lowering stress can help ease the symptoms of all kinds of conditions and diseases, including high blood pressure, chronic pain, cancer, heart disease and depression. Lowered stress also helps the mind. One study showed that people who lead stressful lives are 2-1/2 times more likely to develop mild cognitive impairment, a condition which is often a precursor to dementia.

Meditation may enhance physical rehabilitation

Meditation, in addition to being a powerful stress reducer, has also been shown to reduce pain, which can often be a component of physical rehabilitation. In a study conducted at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, researchers found that people who were meditating experienced less pain that control groups when subjected to a painful prod on the back with a thermal heat probe. Practicing meditation may help physical therapy patients deal better with their pain.

Meditation may boost brain health

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, conducted two studies to discover what, if any, effect meditation had on the brain. What she discovered is that meditation created physical changes in the brain; specifically, the hippocampus – responsible for learning and memory – grew larger. She discusses her findings in detail in this TED talk.

A protective preventative against dementia

A study at UCLA discovered that a three-month course of yoga and meditation helped minimize the cognitive issues that often precede Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia – in fact, it was more effective than memory enhancement exercises in improving visual-spatial memory skills and decreasing depression and anxiety. Another study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston showed that a group of people aged 55-90 who meditated and practiced yoga showed less brain shrinkage, particularly in the hippocampus, than the control group. According to, meditation can also:

  • Increase protective tissues in the brain
  • Decrease feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Reduce stress, including lowering the body’s level of the hormone cortisol, which has been shown to increase the risk of developing dementia

 Learning to become still

So how does one meditate and how can we incorporate meditation into our busy, hectic lives? The first act of meditation is simply to become still. This can be challenging, as we are taught to multitask and get things done. Slowing down may seem to go against everything we’ve been taught about how to get ahead in the world. One of the easiest ways to become still is to practice mindful breathing. Become conscious of each inhale and exhale. Start to breathe in more deeply. Expand your belly on each inhale. Get to the point where the length of the inhale and exhale are approximately the same. As your breathing becomes balanced, your mind becomes balanced. By focusing on your breath, you’ll discover the mind shuts off, giving it – and your entire body – a chance to rejuvenate.