Week 16 Tip: The Health Benefits of Meditation

By: David Meine

| April 18, 2022

Welcome back to More Than Healthy’s Full Year of Resolutions. This is Week #16, and we have a powerful tip to share. This week we’re talking all about the health benefits of meditation. 

Even if you experience just a couple of the amazing benefits of this healthy practice, it can substantially affect your life. Just a few minutes of meditation can help reduce stress, restore inner calm, and sharpen your focus. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health benefits of meditation.

It’s not just for yogis anymore!

Meditation has been around for thousands of years as a way to focus the brain and quiet the mind. Hearing the word ‘meditation’ may make you think of a Buddhist monk in the Himalayas sitting in an uncomfortable position as he chants spiritual mantras, but it’s no longer just associated with monks and yogis. Meditation has become much more mainstream in recent decades, increasing in popularity as more people discover its many health benefits.

In fact, many corporations even provide meditation spaces and teach meditation courses for their employees. Google has been offering these employee perks for years, because they believe it boosts resilience to stress and improves mental focus. Participants report feeling calmer, more patient, and better able to listen. They also showed significant improvement in perceived stress levels and various heart rate measurements. 

Many other companies, like Aetna, Intel, Target, and General Mills, promote and teach mindfulness practices like meditation as an effectiveness strategy for their employees. Aetna liked the outcome these practices had on their employees so much that it now offers programs to its customers as well. 

Meditate anytime, anywhere

This is not a tough tip! Anyone can practice meditation. Meditation is easy to implement. It’s simple and inexpensive. It doesn’t require any fancy equipment. Plus, you can practice meditation anywhere — whether you’re out for a walk, on vacation, waiting at the doctor’s office, or even in the middle of a stressful business meeting. 

I love that the daily ritual of meditation is so easy to implement and requires no accessories. I believe the practice of meditation may very well be the single best supplement to achieving optimal health. 

Meditation is good medicine

Meditation is helpful as a way to reduce stress and develop concentration. But there are so many other benefits, such as an increased positive mood and outlook, self-discipline, better sleep patterns, and even increased pain tolerance. 

Research suggests that meditation may physically change the brain and body and could potentially help to improve many health problems and promote healthy behaviors. There is scientific evidence that it reduces blood pressure as well as symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome and flare-ups in people who have had ulcerative colitis. It eases the symptoms of anxiety and depression. And, it can significantly help with insomnia.

Meditate for better sleep

One of the reasons I love meditation so much is that it helps me sleep significantly better. Meditation has long been shown to help with insomnia and poor sleep habits. Being sleep deprived can wreak havoc on your body and mind. Healthy, restorative sleep is one of the foundations of health. You simply can’t out-eat or out-exercise a poor night’s sleep! But so very many of us struggle to be able to get enough high-quality sleep. Nearly half of the population struggles with insomnia at some point in their life.

Here are some scientifically-proven reasons meditation helps you sleep better:

  • Improves relaxation
  • Affects the autonomic nervous system, which impacts awakening
  • Increases production of the sleep hormone melatonin
  • Increases serotonin, which is released in the body before melatonin and helps regulate sleep-wake cycling
  • Reduces heart rate
  • Decreases blood pressure
  • Affects areas of the brain that control sleep

Meditation can also help you control or redirect those racing, runaway thoughts that often keep us up at night. It helps your body to relax, releasing tension and getting you to a peaceful state, so you’re much more likely to be able to fall asleep.

Meditate with Deep Sleep Audio

Over the past 10 years, I have studied neuroscience, neuroplasticity, meditation, hypnotherapy, and brain training. I used this training to create a guided meditation specifically for sleep. This Deep Sleep audio recording is available via our More Than Healthy iPhone and Android apps. We developed this app to track the foods that we eat, our pain levels, etc. to help figure out where we’re struggling on our journey to better health. We included the Deep Sleep Audio on the app, because when we improve our sleep, we improve all aspects of our health. 

Thousands of individuals have used this Deep Sleep audio recording to improve their sleep. I’ve even helped clients get off of strong sleep medications like Ambien and supplements like melatonin. 

My wife, Carla, is usually a really good sleeper. But a few weeks ago she was competing in a large pickleball tournament and woke up around 1:00 am feeling nervous and excited. She struggled to calm her brain down and fall back to sleep. Knowing she needed to be well-rested to play well, she put the Deep Sleep recording on, and that was the last thing she remembers. She woke up the next morning rejuvenated and ready to play – and to win! 

Meditate for weight loss

Good sleep also affects another important element of health, our weight. It is very hard to lose weight (or stay at a healthy weight) when we consistently sleep poorly. In addition to helping us sleep better, meditation helps with weight loss, too. Although meditation can’t replace diet, exercise, and following your doctor’s guidelines, it is scientifically linked with the ability to lose weight, and keep it off.

That’s because meditation helps us change unhealthy thought patterns, which helps us to make more thoughtful food choices. Meditation won’t make you lose weight overnight, but research shows that meditation is an effective tool for losing weight and changing eating habits. With some practice and consistency, it can potentially have lasting effects on your weight as you learn to change your ineffective thought patterns. Studies show that if you continue meditating after you lose weight, you’re more likely to keep the weight off. 

Meditate for better focus

A true believer in the extraordinary power available to us through our brains, I’ve spent years refining and honing my craft as a Brain Training Coach. Then, in 2020, while writing our book Eating To Live: Unlocking the Leaky Gut Code, I decided to become certified in mindfulness meditation as well. This education was both fascinating and beneficial. But what stood out to me the most during that process was how much meditation helped me to develop better focus.

That’s because brain training exercises like meditation are like weight lifting for your attention span. The more you do it, the better you get at paying attention. Science backs this as well. Studies show that meditation not only helps us focus, but may even reverse patterns in the brain that contribute to mind-wandering, poor attention span, and worrying. Another study showed that just 13 minutes of meditating a day showed enhanced memory and attention. 

Meditate to reduce stress and anxiety

Two weeks ago we talked about the health benefits of creating healthy rituals. Meditation is a daily ritual that we highly recommend. Multiple studies show there are positive health benefits of meditation even if you just spend ten minutes a day doing it. One of the great benefits is the alleviation of stress and anxiety.

Stress reduction is one of the most common reasons that people try meditation, and studies show that it lives up to its reputation for helping to alleviate stress. We live in such a fast-paced society and an ever-demanding world. Being ‘stressed out’ is now the norm. Mental and physical stress cause increased levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, in our body. This has many harmful side effects and releases inflammatory chemicals called cytokines. These chemicals disrupt sleep, increase blood pressure, and contribute to fatigue, mental fog, and depression and anxiety. 

In one study, mindful meditation done over an 8-week period significantly reduced this harmful, inflammatory bodily response caused by stress. Research also shows that meditation improves the symptoms of many stress-related conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, and fibromyalgia.

Meditate to improve performance

I want to share a bonus tip about meditation. Carla and I recently participated in a large pickleball tournament where we took the gold. But before we got to stand on the podium, we played in multiple, highly-competitive matches over a 6-hour time period. With sports it’s as much about your mental game as your physical game, and pickleball is no different. 

In the final round for the gold we lost the first game. In the past, that would’ve been a real struggle for me. After a bad shot or bad round, I’d get frustrated and have extra nervous energy. Once that happens, I’m too uptight to play well. I lose shots I wouldn’t normally miss.

This time, however, I incorporated meditation into my game. Before and after each match, and during each timeout in the game, I would sit down and meditate. It calmed my nerves and helped conserve my energy, and I’d come back super-focused and relaxed. Even a 60-second meditation session during each timeout made a huge difference for me.

After that first loss in the finals round, our competitors thought they had us. And in the past, they probably would have been right. But because I utilized the immense benefits of meditation to calm and focus my brain and my body, we were able to come back and play better than ever, earning those hard-won gold medals.

Meditation has been used by many professional athletes and teams to improve performance. Sometimes referred to as ‘cognitive control,’ it’s a frequent part of sports psychology because it is so effective. (For more information on this subject, check out one of our favorite books, The Fearless Mind, by Dr. Craig Manning, Health and Performance Director of NBA-Champion Milwaukee Bucks.)

How to get started

It is so easy to add meditation to your daily routine. Carla likes to start her day with 10-15 minutes of meditating. This is quiet, focused time for her. Sometimes she uses this time to ponder. Other times she works on not thinking about anything specific and quieting her mind. She finds that when she allows herself to get quiet, she has amazing impressions of things she should do, people to check in on, and how to prioritize her day. She is also better able to start and go throughout her day feeling relaxed and empowered.

Types of meditation

There are many types of meditation and relaxation techniques that help train the brain. We encourage you to try different things out and find out what you enjoy best. Some types of meditation include:

  • Guided meditation: A popular form of meditation where you follow guided mental imagery or visualization as you relax, calm, and focus the brain.
  • Mantra meditation: You use a calming word, thought, or phrase on repeat to prevent distracting thoughts.
  • Mindfulness meditation: Broaden your conscious awareness, focusing on things like the flow of your breath while observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. 
  • Breath-focused meditation: Use deep and/or shallow breathing techniques to relax your body and focus your mind. 

You can click on any of the links above to learn more about any of these forms of meditation. Additional types of meditation include tai chi, yoga, and transcendental meditation. 

There are many resources available to help you get started. Apps we recommend include Calm and Headspace. There are many free guided meditations available on YouTube as well. 

It’s called ‘practicing meditation’ for a reason

If you’re like many people out there, you might hesitate to start meditation because you assume you’ll be bad at it. And you might be right – at least for the first little bit. Please don’t judge yourself too harshly! Meditation takes practice.

It is very common for your mind to wander during meditation. That happens no matter how long you’ve been practicing meditation. If you notice your mind wandering, simply acknowledge that fact, and return your mind to what you had been focusing on. For example, you might imagine a big thought bubble, and then visualize bringing your thoughts back to that thought bubble and simply resume your meditation.

You’ll find you get better and better the longer you practice. Experiment to find out what types of meditation work best for you and what you enjoy most. Adapt your meditation to meet your needs. And remember, there really is no right or wrong way to meditate. Any time spent focusing and calming the brain is time well spent.

The health benefits of meditation are real!

I can honestly say I was blown away by the results I experienced when I began practicing meditation several years ago. The health benefits of meditation, both direct and indirect, are immense. It’s so very worth it! We hope we’ve given you some great tips about meditation and how to incorporate it into your life. Carla and I believe it’s something anyone can do to help them on their journey to optimal health.

Have you ever practiced meditation? We always love to hear from you! Leave us any comments, questions, or suggestions below, or contact us on our social media sites. We promise to respond! You can also join us on our free monthly More Than Healthy coaching call. Simply text COACHING to 1-647-558-9895 to get on our email list.

See you next week!