Meditation is the practice of focusing inwardly and calming the mind and for a set period. It is an ancient technique that has gained modern credibility as an effective way to promote relaxation, reduce stress, and boost memory, mood, and concentration, but can it help you live longer?
Scientific evidence suggests that regular meditation can improve psychological conditions like depression and anxiety, which can impact mortality. Meditation has been proven to minimize cortisol levels, known as the stress hormone, and bolster the immune system.
Elevated cortisol levels are linked to higher mortality through heart-related conditions, such as atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.
A review of 2 randomized controlled trials was published in The AJC (American Journal of Cardiology) and aimed to examine the effects of regular meditation, particularly on mortality.
The initial group included participants with high blood pressure (mild hypertension) who lived in an elderly residence with an average age of eighty-one years; the 2nd group included community-dwelling older adults with an average age of sixty-seven years.
Participants were split into groups and instructed in either mindfulness meditation, Transcendental Meditation, progressive muscle relaxation techniques, or mental relaxation. The control group participants were provided with general health education classes.
Transcendental Meditation (TM)
It is considered as a simple method that involves sitting comfortably with the eyes closed for 15 to 20 minutes per session, two times a day, to come to a state of “restful alertness.” Mindfulness meditation training focuses on observing thoughts dispassionately as they arise in mind and breathing.
Research subjects using mental relaxation techniques were encouraged to repeat a verse or phrase to themselves during every session. Lastly, subjects using progressive muscle relaxation were trained to slowly let go of tension in every major muscle group to promote an overall calm state .
Participants were evaluated after 90 days. The TM groups from both trials reported remarkably lower blood pressure than the other control and meditation groups, but the long-term data is most exciting.
The scientists followed up on the original trials to determine the participants’ vital status, which was obtained from the NDI (National Death Index) maintained by the NCHS (National Center for Health Statistics). Of the 202 subjects in the original 2 clinical trials, 101 had died on follow-up.
These mortalities were coded based on the ICD-9 (International Classification of Diseases) to determine the cause of mortality.
The results discovered that after an average of seven years six months (up to a maximum of around 19 years), the subjects practicing Transcendental Meditation were twenty-three percent less likely to die of any cause during that time and thirty percent less likely to die of heart disease during the same period.
Subjects were also forty-nine percent less likely to die of cancer during the follow-up period .
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The researchers of the review suggest that Meditation’s benefits are almost as good as those resulting from drug therapy for hypertension, without the negative effects. However, they do not recommend using Meditation instead of medicines proven to lower high blood pressure.
According to the researchers, this is the first long-term analysis of non-drug therapies’ effect on the mortality rate for people with elevated blood pressure.
Types of Meditation
Meditation comes in many types, including the following:
1. Concentration Meditation encourages you on how to focus on your mind. It’s the basis for other types of Meditation.
2. Heart-centered Meditation comprises quieting the mind and bringing the awareness to the heart, an energy center in the middle of the chest.
3. Mindfulness Meditation teaches you to focus objectively on negative thoughts as they move through your mind to achieve a state of calmness.
4. Qigong and Tai chi are moving forms of Meditation that combine physical exercise with focus and breathing.
5. Transcendental Meditation is a well-known method in which you repeat a mantra—a phrase, word, or sound—to quiet your thoughts and achieve higher awareness.
6. Walking Meditation turns your focus to both mind and body as you breathe in time with your footsteps.
Starting your Practice
The beauty and simplicity of Meditation are that you don’t require any equipment. All that’s needed is a quiet space and a few minutes every day. Start with 15 minutes, or even commit to 5 minutes twice a day. Preferably meditate at the same time each morning.
That way, you’ll inculcate the habit, and pretty soon, you’ll always meditate in the morning, just like bathing or brushing your teeth.
The particulars of your practice will depend on which form of Meditation you choose, but here are some general suggestions to get you started:
- Set aside a spot to meditate. You’ll build up a unique feeling there, making it easier to get into a meditative state more quickly.
- Surround your meditation place with fresh flowers, candles, incense, or any objects you can use to focus your practice (such as a crystal, photo, or religious symbol).
- Sit easily on the floor or in a chair with your back straight.
- Focus your gaze on the subject you’ve chosen or close your eyes.
- Breathe deeply, slowly, and gently.
- Keep your mind focused on the object or inward. If it wavers, gently steer it back to the center.
- Breathe quiet and peace into your mind and heart. While you’re breathing out, imagine your breath as a river or a tide that’s carrying your thoughts away.
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Two pertinent questions remain: How Meditation improves longevity for individuals with normal blood pressure? and Which type of meditation or relaxation technique provides the most significant longevity benefit?
Though future studies might answer these questions with higher certainty, many are happily satisfied with the boosts of well-being and energy that Meditation offers in the short-term. Get started and try to incorporate a daily meditation practice into your own life.