What if you could burn calories, fight cravings, reduce stress and lower blood pressure all at the same time? Well, it’s certainly possible. Separately, exercise and meditation both provide science-backed health benefits, but a new trend combines the two for a life-changing experience.
Meditation is increasingly popular because scientific studies validate its benefits. Here are a few:
1. Mindfulness meditation lowers cortisol
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association followed more than 3,500 adults and found that mindfulness meditation lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. (1)
Why is this important? Stress makes it hard to sleep and increases the risk of depression, anxiety and high blood pressure. It also causes conditions like irritable bowel syndrome and fibromyalgia.
2. Meditation strategies help meditators reduce anxiety and related mental health issues
People with social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders or panic disorders noticed improvement from a variety of meditation techniques. In the above study, “mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression and pain” and the conclusion was that “Clinicians should be aware that meditation programs can result in small to moderate reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress.”
3. Meditation may improve focus
For people who want improved mental focus, meditation may be the key. After eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, participants in one study stayed on task longer and remembered more than those who didn’t meditate. (2) As little as four days of meditating may be enough to improve attention spans. Research also shows meditation decreases blood pressure and reduces the perception of pain.
4. Fight addiction
Meditation is a mental discipline that helps fight addiction. People trying to break free of a dependency on alcohol or drugs find it helps them redirect their thoughts, center their emotions, and fight cravings.
One study analyzed what happened when recovering alcoholics added meditation to their follow-up treatment in addition to attending Alcoholics Anonymous and found that participants became better at managing stress and controlling cravings. (3) Meanwhile, because exercise has a number of benefits, including relieving stress that can lead to drug or alcohol use, combining exercise and meditation compounds the benefits of both.
Related: What Is Vipassana Meditation? Top 4 Benefits + How to Practice It
The Truth About Meditation
Meditation is an ancient practice that involves taking responsibility for the mind and changing its active state. Meditators focus on improving awareness and developing perspective. The technique varies, but meditators turn the mind inward, reaching for deeper mindfulness.
Despite the many benefits of meditation, there is still a lot of misinformation about the practice. People are often confused about what it means or skeptical about its benefits because they don’t understand what’s really involved.
One of the most common misconceptions is that all forms of meditation are the same. In fact, there are several different types of meditation, and each has a different goal:
- Transcendental meditation aims to bring the meditator to a feeling of deep rest
- Mindfulness meditation helps meditators become aware of their thoughts and perceptions without feeling judgment
- Guided meditation might be used for managing pain or reaching goals
It’s also possible to practice any of these types of meditation while exercising.
Another meditation misconception is that meditation is used as an escape from reality. It’s actually the opposite, with meditation allowing people to become aware of their thoughts, feelings, surroundings and current experiences. That awareness helps them to make calm decisions and view challenges objectively, which is why it’s beneficial for people trying to escape addiction or change unhealthy habits.
People also sometimes think meditation is a religious activity. Meditation is a central tenant of some religions, but meditation itself is not connected to spiritual beliefs. Meditators don’t have to be seeking enlightenment — they may choose to meditate simply for stress relief, relaxation or to fight cravings.
Sometimes individuals dismiss meditation as too difficult or time consuming to bring results, but that’s not true, either. Just as it’s possible to feel calmer from a few minutes of quietly pondering natural beauty, meditation can provide benefits from the very first session, and it’s possible to learn the basics very quickly. During alcohol withdrawal or while recovering from alcohol poisoning, individuals often benefit from the re-centering meditation provides, making it an integral part of holistic therapy.
It should also be noted that meditation doesn’t always involve sitting or lying still. Active meditation involves ongoing involvement in daily activities, while passive meditation involves being still and quiet — both forms can include calming the mind.
Individuals can practice active meditation during many tasks that require movement. In fact, some alcohol treatment centers effectively use active meditation exercise as part of a program for treating alcohol abuse.
Exercise and Active Meditation
Any form of exercise can be combined with meditation by focusing inward during a workout. Yoga counts as exercise, but it’s not the only way to connect mind and body while getting in shape.
Body scan is a technique that people practice while exercising to quiet their thoughts and focus on their bodies. Essentially, meditators mentally scan each body part for tension or discomfort. Where muscles are tight or joints ache, they take a few deep breaths, allowing tension to release. A body scan is especially effective during stretching at the beginning and end of more intense workouts.
Breathwork is another meditation technique beneficial during exercise. When exercisers are swimming, weight lifting, bicycling or doing burpees, they can focus on the way breath enters and leaves their bodies, inflating the abdomen and transporting oxygen throughout.
Mindfulness during walking or jogging might involve the exerciser noticing the way their feet hit the ground, how arms and legs coordinate, or the way air flows past their skin.
In fact, Rutgers University study found combining aerobic exercise and meditation lowered depression symptoms 40 percent. Practicing both simultaneously also improved focus and relieved anxiety. (4)
Exercise stimulates blood flow and oxygen delivery. It’s proven to reduce many types of chronic disease! It also causes the brain to release endorphins that create a feeling of happiness and satisfaction. Additionally, exercise causes new brain cells to develop in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for emotion, memory and learning.
While exercise quickens the circulatory system and improves brain function, meditation calms the parasympathetic nervous system, stimulating the part of the brain that controls analysis and judgment. People who meditate while exercising carry a sense of calm throughout the rest of their day.
Combining exercise and meditation might be the perfect blend of body and brain. It delivers the stress relief of meditation and the health benefits of exercise to create a sense of well-being that spills over into every area of life.
Reflections Rehab is an Arizona treatment center that specializes in helping men overcome addiction, including alcoholism. Their nationally accredited treatment program has made them a regional authority on activities that strengthen the body, mind and spirit.
Jenny Stradling lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her four kids. She runs the social media management for Addiction Freedom Now and frequently blogs about health and wellness for a number of businesses. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, photography, yoga and listening to podcasts. Say hi to her on Facebook at @AddictionFreedomNow!
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