By Molly O’Brien

The thought of sitting in quiet contemplation for an extended period is not always inviting. For the novice, meditation seems nearly impossible to get the hang of, but with practice and repetition, it can become an activity you look forward to. There is no correct method for meditation, only guidelines to assist you. But why should you meditate? There are a number of ways that meditation can improve your physical health.

Lowers blood pressure

A study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital found that meditation combats high blood pressure. The relaxation response accelerates the production of nitric oxide, a compound that helps blood vessels open up. As blood flows more freely through the vessels, the pressure declines.

Aids in gene expression

A study at Howard University Medical Center showed that meditation promotes production of an enzyme called telomerase, which fosters the growth of telomeres — protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. If a telomere gets too short, the entire chromosome can no longer replicate. Without functioning telomeres we are at a greater risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension, cancer, etc. Telomerase regenerates itself, keeping our genetic data viable for the next round of cell division. This finding suggests that meditation works at a molecular level to improve our health and longevity.

Boosts the immune system

According to a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, meditation contributes to increased immune function. It increases antibody production, and antibodies are one of the main lines of defense against disease. Meditation has also been linked to elevated electrical activity in the areas of the brain that act as the control center for the immune system, allowing for more effective immune system function.

Relieves chronic pain

Mindfulness meditation has become a common prescription used for the relief of chronic pain. According to Danny Penman, one of the authors of “Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Relieving Pain, Reducing Stress and Restoring Wellbeing,” imaging studies of the brain have shown that meditation works to pacify brain patterns associated with the pain response. Over time this practice actually alters the structure of the brain, allowing the individual to train the brain to feel pain less intensely.