Mindfulness practice has a long history of medical benefits for routine practitioners. It has been gaining popularity with over 500 million people worldwide embracing its benefits. Some of the emotional benefits that a mindfulness practice, such as mindfulness meditation allows for are greater cognitive control of the emotional responses, increased attention span, and improved memory, in addition to helping with focusing and redirecting your thoughts. Despite the popular beliefs that mindfulness practice can only provide emotional benefits, studies have shown that it can provide physical health benefits such as boosting the immune system, improving sleep quality and slowing cellular aging.
For instance, meditation can preserve the aging brain especially in the regions that are closely related to mindfulness practices.
Although the underlying mechanism for mindfulness practices on the brain is still not completely understood, recent research offered novel insights to the neuronal mechanism of mindfulness practices. It was suggested that regular meditative practices correlate with reduced volumes in the amygdala and inferior colliculus that ultimately lead to greater cognitive control of emotional responses and interoceptive awareness. Mindfulness practice was thought to recruit attention and sensory-related networks in the brain, which can lead to increased connectivity between auditory and attention areas, such as increasing the size in the hippocampus.
Neuroscience researcher Sara Lazar suggested that “the gray matter of 20 men and women who meditated for just 40 minutes a day was thicker than that of people who did not.”
A study at the University of Wisconsin critically shown that meditation can maintain the physical health of the body by strengthening the immune system. It suggested meditators produce significantly more antibodies that help fight off infections in the body. This is accomplished by increasing the activity and interconnectivity in the parts of the brain that serve as a command center for the immune system. The idea of meditation strengthening the body’s immune system was also supported by another recent study at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine that meditation increases T cell counts that help coordinate immune response and decreases inflammation. For instance, mindfulness meditation can produce a 30% reduction in symptoms of stress among those with a serious illness. However, it was cautioned against exaggerating the clinical benefits of meditation until further clinical research is done.
Habitual meditation can bring lasting structural changes in the brain, thus maintaining these benefits in the body. While practictioners are more likely to see these benefits in the long run, novice meditators can see some immediate results too. According to an article in Behavioral and Brain Functions, even new meditators can benefit in the short term, showing significant improvement in a reaction time task.
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Article written by Jason Yan.
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