Meditation and mindfulness aren’t just buzz words. A growing body of scientific research shows that the simple act of sitting still in thought confers long-term health benefits — and even changes in brain function.
What exactly have scientists discovered? Here are eight scientifically backed benefits to meditation.
BENEFIT #1. Your mind gets stronger and faster.
Long-term meditation may strengthen the connections between brain cells, and might lead to larger amounts of so-called gyrification in the brain, which is linked to processing information quickly. Gyrification is a process of cortical folding, which is behind the wrinkle-like appearance of mammal brains.
BENEFIT #2. Your brain’s anatomy changes.
Practiced over the long term, meditation may change the very structure of your brain. One recent study involving brain scans linked long-term meditation with increased gray matter in the brainstem. Gray matter is kind of a big deal when it comes to the brain, as it’s associated with sensory perception, emotional stability, response to stress, and even intelligence.
BENEFIT #3. You process emotions differently.
Another study suggested that long-term practitioners of mindfulness meditation showed decreased activity in the right amygdala during a response to stress. As the brain structure plays a key role in processing emotions, this finding supports the hypothesis that meditation boosts emotional stability.
BENEFIT #4. Pain may become less of a problem.
Meditation may also affect pain sensitivity and pain perception. Zen meditation has been associated with low sensitivity to pain in MRI studies.