Why is Meditation So Good for You?

Dr. Tzvi Doron
March 5, 2018

Why is Meditation So Good for You?

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Meditation is good for you. Like, really really good for you. In fact, the American Heart Association even recommends meditation for “primary and secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease” (in addition to lifestyle management and drug therapy). As more research points to powerful psychological and physiological benefits, doctors are starting to integrate meditation and mindfulness techniques into cardiovascular and stress treatment. And the best part? No negative side effects.

Meditation has been shown to lower high blood pressure an average of 5 points

Meditating is free, easy to do, customizable to your needs and physical limitations, and effective—even in small doses. All you need is 15 minutes and a few deep breaths to start improving your cardiovascular and mental health.

6 Different Types of Meditation

Meditation comes in all shapes and sizes. Depending on your taste, experience, and commitment level, you can usually find at least one style that resonates with your health goals. Having said that, not all mindfulness techniques necessarily have the same physical and psychological benefits. When researchers study “meditation,” they generally pick a specific type to study, and they track its effects on a specific outcome—like the effects of transcendental meditation on hypertension. Here’s a list of six common meditation styles and their “objectives.”

Focus on breathing and mindfulness of your current thoughts and experiences is a recurring theme. Some styles also use repeated mantras as part of the technique, but how you practice each style is ultimately up to you.  The interesting part is how these various techniques and approaches have a measurable effect on your health—particularly how your body handles with stress.

Meditation and Fight or Flight

One of the most popular theories for how meditation “works” deals with your sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is responsible for your “flight or fight” response. Basically, it works by releasing adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) into the body to increase heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and mental focus. This dump of chemicals ramps your mind and body to peak operating power, making you ready for just about any threat. It’s your body’s “break glass in case of emergency” button, and it’s super important. But only when something dangerous happens.

In a very real sense, the sympathetic nervous system can turn you into a part-time superhero. The sympathetic nervous system is what makes mothers strong enough to lift a car off their trapped child. However, an overactive sympathetic nervous system and prolonged stress response can cause serious long-term harm to your body and mind.

Our bodies are bad at differentiating between physical danger (a fire) and mental stress (that big work presentation). To your sympathetic nervous system, stress is stress. Every threat gets the same response—adrenaline in your bloodstream. But you’re not built to operate at that increased capacity 100% of the time. Elevated heart rate, blood vessel dilation, and spiking glucose levels can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, and insulin resistance. Meditation works by confronting our bodies mental and physical stress triggers to reduce the frequency, duration, and severity of sympathetic nervous system responses. And it’s surprisingly effective.

Physical Benefits of Meditation

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Most studies that track the physical benefits of meditation measure your heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels—aka your stress metrics. And while methods and techniques vary, the results are clear. Transcendental meditation (TM) and mindfulness techniques, including MBSR positively impact your body’s overall stress response, most noticeably in these four ways:

10-20 minutes of meditation a day can improve your cardiovascular health

The physical health benefits of meditation are all about changing how you respond to stress. Mindfulness techniques aim to reset you back to a healthy baseline by lowering your heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. If you’re at risk for any of these health conditions, talk to your doctor to see if supplementing your existing treatment with meditation is right for you.

Psychological Benefits of Meditation

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While it’s difficult to quantitatively measure, many self-reported studies show the positive effects of meditation on participants’ overall mental health. Various meditation styles have been shown to improve:

Some studies even show lower levels of certain inflammatory chemicals in the body. Again, the studies for the mental benefits of meditation are largely self-reported, but the results are compelling.

A Beginner’s Guide to Medical Meditation

If you’re not sure how to get started, don’t panic. The world of meditation is an…interesting place. But you don’t need to move to a remote monastery or practice for years to gain the benefits of meditation. I recommend starting with 10-20 minutes of guided meditation per day. That’s it. And you don’t even have to leave your living room thanks to a number of quality meditation apps. Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. The Mindfulness App: (iPhone & Android) The free version includes guided meditations from 3-30 minutes and other tools to help you go from novice to experienced meditator. Daily reminders and courses taught by experienced instructors and the more comprehensive premium version can help you flesh out different styles of meditation to find your favorite. It’s a great place to start.
  2. Headspace: (iPhone) Headspace is ideal for beginners. It features 10-minute a day beginner’s courses in mindfulness meditation in the free basic version. If you want more functionality, invest in the premium paid version.
  3. Calm(iPhone & Android) Calm is designed to improve sleep through mindfulness. The free version includes both a 7-day and 21-day beginners program. Like the other apps, there’s also a paid version with monthly, yearly, and lifetime memberships.
  4. Buddhify: (iPhone & Android) Buddhify offers a low one-time membership fee with no subscription model. It you’re serious about meditation, it’s a solid place to dive in. The guided routines and timers are great, but “Foundations” are where you can learn about some of the principles of meditation to give your practice more context (if you’re into that sort of thing).

Give these apps a try and see if one of them can help you on your meditation journey.

Meditation Teachers

If you decide to upgrade from the apps to find a real life “guru,” here are three of my favorite meditation teachers:

  1. Dr. Dan Siegel is a Harvard trained psychiatrist who integrates Western neuroscience with ancient meditation practices
  2. Dr. Jon Kabbat-Zinn has the unique distinction of being a meditation teacher who also happens to have a Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT.
  3. Dr. Jack Kornfield is a meditation teacher with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology

All three of these teachers have various tools and (free) resources on their websites. Give meditation a try for a couple of weeks and see what it can do for you.

Geek Out: More Meditation Resources

Not enough info for you? No problem. Nerd out on the health benefits of meditation with research from the most trusted sources on the interwebs. If you have any questions or you think we missed something important, leave a comment or book a consultation with one of these trained professionals and we’ll get you on the way to a healthier manhood.

This information isn’t a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should never rely upon this article for specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns, please talk to your doctor.

Dr. Tzvi Doron is board certified family doctor and the Clinical Director of Roman. He’s a member of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

Dr. Tzvi Doron

Dr. Tzvi Doron is board certified family doctor and the Clinical Director of Roman. He’s a member of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

All stories by:Dr. Tzvi Doron
4 comments
  • Love this! I’m heading to the Tai Chi Gala & Intuitive Arts Retreat ( http://taichigala.com ) in the Poconos in June, and I could use all the help I can get.

  • You know I have a serious stress related issue but after reading your article I suppose i have got the answer that meditation is the key.Thank you very much loved the article…

  • Thank You Doctor for such an informative blog. Its amazing to learn valuable insights from you. Looking forward to giving the above mentioned applications a sure try!

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Dr. Tzvi Doron

Dr. Tzvi Doron is board certified family doctor and the Clinical Director of Roman. He’s a member of the American Osteopathic Association (AOA) and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).

All stories by:Dr. Tzvi Doron