There’s a steadily-mounting pile of evidence suggesting meditation is good for your health and well-being — and that’s especially important now, given there’s also anecdotal evidence that meditation can help manage COVID-19-related anxieties.

Now, if you’re on our website (thank you, by the way) and you’re reading this article, you’re likely a scientist or a supporter of science. So you don’t have to take our word for it. Here are five study-backed benefits of meditation, along with links.

VIDEO: Science-backed benefits of meditation

Meditation improves focus

A study from Michigan State University published in November 2019 suggests meditation can improve focus and lead to fewer mistakes.

“Some forms of meditation have you focus on a single object, commonly your breath, but open-monitoring meditation is a bit different,” said Jeff Lin, MSU psychology doctoral candidate, and study co-author, in a statement.

“It has you tune inward and pay attention to everything going on in your mind and body. The goal is to sit quietly and pay close attention to where the mind travels without getting too caught up in the scenery.”

More than 200 volunteers who had no meditation experience participated. They were guided through a 20-minute open-monitoring meditation session while researchers measured brain activity through an EEG.

“A certain neural signal occurs about half a second after an error called the error positivity, which is linked to conscious error recognition. We found that the strength of this signal is increased in the meditators relative to controls,” Lin said.

While no immediate improvements were observed, the researchers say the findings point to the long-term benefits of meditation.

The paper was published in the journal Brain Sciences

Think good thoughts. File photo: Unsplash – Simon Migaj

Meditation can strengthen memory

In 2011 a team of Harvard researchers found that eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) meditation could increase cortical thickness in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that helps with learning and memory.

The paper also found decreases in brain cell volume in the amygdala, which can translate into a reduction in fear, anxiety, and stress – but more on that below.

“The results suggest that participation in MBSR is associated with changes in gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective-taking,” reads an excerpt from the study.

Meditation can reduce anxiety

The results of the Harvard study echo that of a 1995 paper which found MBSR can reduce anxiety and continue to do so years after taking an 8-week course on the meditative sub-genre.

A 2013 Standford study also found anxiety-reducing benefits of meditation when compared to aerobic exercise (AE), which has also been found to reduce stress.

“Compared to AE, MBSR yielded greater (i) reductions in negative emotion when implementing regulation and (ii) increases in attention-related parietal cortical regions. Meditation practice was associated with decreases in negative emotion and social anxiety symptom severity and increases in attention-related parietal cortex neural responses when implementing attention regulation of negative self-beliefs. Changes in attention regulation during MBSR may be an important psychological factor that helps to explain how mindfulness meditation training benefits patients with anxiety disorders,” reads an excerpt from the paper.

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You might sleep better

A 2015 study in JAMA Internal Medicine on middle-aged adults with sleep issues found those who practiced mindful meditation had better sleep outcomes than individuals who participated in a sleep education class.

“The findings from our study suggest that mindfulness meditation may be introduced to older adults as a short-term solution to remediate their moderate sleep disturbances, although research is needed to determine possible longer-term effects on sleep,” the study says.

“Given that standardized mindfulness programs are readily delivered in many communities, dissemination efforts do not serve as a barrier in this instance. Therefore, older adults often have immediate access to these programs, which are offered at low cost. Pending future replication of these findings, structured mindfulness meditation training appears to have at least some clinical usefulness to remediate moderate sleep problems and sleep-related daytime impairment in older adults.”

Increases empathy

If you’ve spent any time on social media — or read the comments under pretty much any online article — you’ll find that empathy and compassion are in short-order these days. 

But we’re all in luck because science says there’s a fix for that. Over the years, a few studies have been published suggesting that meditation can increase empathy.

A 2012 study published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, suggested meditation training was able to improve people’s ability to read the expressions on other people’s faces.

“It’s an intriguing result, suggesting that a behavioural intervention could enhance a key aspect of empathy,” study researcher Jennifer Mascaro, a post-doctoral fellow at Emory, said in a statement.

“Previous research has shown that both children and adults who are better at reading the emotional expressions of others have better relationships.”

Hop on the meditation train

If you’re interested in trying out meditation and don’t know where to start, there are a lot of free YouTube tutorials and guided meditations you can try.

You can also try one of the many apps available, with Headspace and Calm leading the pack, according to many meditation gurus.