Can Regular Meditation Help You Live Longer?
Meditation is the practice of quieting the mind and focusing inwardly for a set period of time. It is an ancient practice that has gained modern credibility as a powerful way to reduce stress, promote relaxation and boost memory, concentration, and mood, but can it actually help you live a longer life?
Scientific evidence suggests regular meditation can improve psychological conditions like anxiety and depression, which in turn can affect mortality. Meditation has been proven to bolster the immune system and reduce levels of cortisol, known as the stress hormone. Elevated levels of cortisol are linked to higher mortality through heart-related conditions, such as atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.
Other research suggests that regular meditation may result in fewer visits to the doctor and shorter hospital stays. Even dangerous abdominal fat may be reduced with regular meditation, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Obesity.
A review of two randomized controlled trials was published in 2005 in The American Journal of Cardiology, aimed at examining the effects of meditation specifically on mortality. The first group included participants with mild hypertension (high blood pressure) who lived in an elderly residence with an average age of 81 years; the second group included community-dwelling older adults with an average age of 67 years.
Participants were split into groups and given instruction in either Transcendental Meditation, mindfulness meditation, mental relaxation or progressive muscle relaxation techniques. The control group participants were offered general health education classes.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is described as a simple technique that involves sitting comfortably with the eyes closed for 15 to 20 minutes per session, twice a day, to achieve a state of “restful alertness.” Mindfulness meditation training focuses on breathing and observing thoughts dispassionately as they arise in the mind. Study subjects using mental relaxation techniques were encouraged to repeat a phrase or verse to themselves during each session. Finally, subjects using progressive muscle relaxation were coached to gradually let go of tension in each major muscle group to promote an overall state of calm.
Participants were evaluated after three months. The Transcendental Meditation groups from both trials reported significantly lower blood pressure than the other meditation and control groups, but it’s the long-term data that is most fascinating: After an average of 7.6 years (up to a maximum of almost 19 years), the subjects practicing TM were 23 percent less likely to die of any cause during that period and 30 percent less likely to die of cardiovascular disease during the same period. Subjects were also 49 percent less likely to die of cancer during the follow-up period.
The authors of the review suggest that the benefits of meditation are almost as good as those resulting from drug therapy for hypertension, without the side effects, though they do not recommend using meditation instead of medication proved to lower high blood pressure.
According to the authors, this is the first long-term analysis of the effect of non-drug therapies on the mortality rate for people with elevated blood pressure. Two important questions remain: Will meditation improve longevity for people with normal blood pressure? and Which type of relaxation or meditation technique provides the greatest longevity benefit?
Though future research might answer these questions with greater certainty, many are happily satisfied with the boosts of energy and well-being that meditation offers in the short-term.