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 oddly intangible? Consider this: At any given time, your thoughts bounce like Ping-Pong balls between the past and the future, stuck on what could have been or fixated on 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 well-being. Here's how regular meditation amps up your health.
Research shows that meditation can increase alpha and theta brainwave activity, which is linked to relaxation. What's more, practicing meditation every day for two months can physically beef up some parts of your gray matter!
Slipping into a meditative state can light up the area of your noggin that controls complex thoughts and positive emotions. Some kinds of 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.
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). Reflexively, your lungs begin to draw deeper breaths. And your heart begins to beat more slowly, causing your blood vessels to relax. In fact, regular meditation can drop your blood pressure by up to four points, lowering your risk for heart disease.
Meanwhile, your adrenal glands dial back production of the stress hormone cortisol. And meditation increases blood flow to your brain, which may help lower anxiety. (The enhanced blood flow may also improve your memory.)
It sounds too good to be true, but practicing daily meditation can lower your blood sugar levels (high ones can lead to diabetes) and may cut cravings for salty foods.
One theory: Meditation helps nix the mental negativity that may dampen immune response. Another thought: Meditation can prompt your body to step up its antibody production. Whatever the biology, research shows meditators may be more able to fight off infections. They may also have better pain control when injured.
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