What if I keep meditating daily for the next 10 years? How will I feel? What changes will take place in my life?
Ah, it’s so easy to get lost in these thoughts! Although you would be better off just meditating without expecting anything magical, let’s try to satisfy your curiosity. In this article, we’ll discuss the long-term benefits of meditation and other mindfulness practices.
Note that we won’t talk about the spiritual benefits of years of meditation. Here, we’ll only discuss the scientifically verified long-term effects of meditation on the brain.
- Increases your resilience to stress and other negative emotions
- Reduces aging of the brain, making us mentally younger
- Increases levels of happiness and compassion
- Increases our focus and attention span
- Makes us more emotionally stable
You’re probably interested in reading about the scientific studies and MRI scans of Buddhist monks, right? Let’s take an in-depth look at the remarkable benefits of meditating for hours and hours.
1. Increased resilience to stress
Meditation and other mindfulness practices increase our resilience to stress and other negative emotions. They don’t necessarily reduce the psychological and physiological reactions to threats, but they help us recover more quickly from stressful situations.
A study compared 31 experienced meditators with a control group of similar age. The meditators had gone through 9000 lifetime hours of meditation practice on average. They were tested on measures of the stress response, inflammatory response, and psychological health.
The researchers found that long-term meditators have lower cortisol and perceived stress. They also show higher levels of psychological factors linked to resilience and wellbeing.(1)
Mindfulness practices reduce the activity and size of the amygdala region, which is associated with fearful and aggressive behavior.(2) This helps the brain to be less reactive to stressful situations and bounce back quickly when we experience stress.
Over time, these positive changes become your personality traits. They appear not just when you’re explicitly instructed to deal with a situation mindfully, but even in the normal state of mind. So long-term mindfulness practice changes your ability to handle stress permanently.
The effects of meditation are not limited to stress. Regular meditation practitioners also become mentally stronger, and they’re able to deal with life’s issues more gracefully without losing their calm.
2. Reduced brain aging
Gray matter in our brain typically shrinks or decreases as we age. The brain starts deteriorating in our mid-twenties and continues to degrade with increasing age.
A study examined the effects of long-term meditation on cerebral gray matter. It included 100 long-term meditators and control subjects between the age of 24 and 77 years.
The study found that although gray matter shrinks in meditators too, its rate of decline is much slower than that of non-meditators. This suggests that consistent meditation for a long time keeps the brain younger and healthier.(3)
There’s also a very recent study with the same results. In February 2020, the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison published an 18-year analysis of the mind of a Tibetan Buddhist monk. The study concluded that daily meditation practice slowed the monk’s brain aging by as much as eight years.(4)
It began in 2002 when the brain of a Buddhist meditation teacher Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche (YMR) was scanned at 27 for the first time. The last time he was scanned, he was 41 years old. But his brain imaging results calculated his brain’s age to be 33 years.
The researchers compared these findings to a control group and found that his brain was aging much slower than others.
Related article: Meditation Definition: What Is Meditation & Why Practice It?
3. Increased levels of happiness
The set-point theory of happiness says that all of us have a base level of happiness that we live with. According to this theory, external achievements cannot make you happier in the long term. After some time, you’ll fall back to your normal or base level of happiness whether your spouse dies, or you win a lottery.
So is there any way to increase this ‘average’ level of happiness? Absolutely! With practice, meditation can help you reset your set point of happiness and become naturally happier.
When you sit cross-legged and close your eyes, you’re cultivating awareness to become calmer. Over time, meditation makes you less emotionally reactive and less distracted, so you’re always chilled out no matter what happens in the outer world. Mindfulness also allows you to enjoy the good things more intensely as it teaches you to live in the present moment.
A 2008 study examined the effects of meditation on 1800 employees of a large software company. They were offered six group meditation sessions of 60 minutes each over seven weeks.
The researchers found that practicing loving-kindness only once a week resulted in an increased level of positive emotions in their daily lives. Follow-up tests showed that their base level of happiness had also increased significantly.(5)
The brain scans of a veteran monk Matthieu Ricard revealed that he had the largest capacity for joy ever recorded. While practicing meditation, he produced extraordinary levels of gamma waves linked to attention, memory, learning, and consciousness.
4. Increased focus and attention
Our ability to focus on a particular task is limited, and the brain gets tired after some time. As we grow older, these limitations become worse, and our attention span and focusing ability diminish rapidly.
Meditation can be a way to combat this cognitive aging and attention loss. A longitudinal study examined the effects of intensive meditation training on our focus and attention. The cognitive abilities of 30 regular meditators were assessed before, during, and after a full-time meditation retreat lasting for three months.
Follow-up tests were performed 6 months, 18 months, and 7 years after the retreat to find out if the participants retained their performance improvements. The researchers found that those who continued their meditation practice partially maintained their cognitive gains.(6)
It should be mentioned that they still had more focus and longer attention span than non-meditators of similar age groups.
Related article: 12 Best Free Meditation Apps You Must Check Out in 2020
5. Enhanced emotional stability
Emotional stability is the ability to stay balanced and stable. It means to withstand tough situations and handle adversities without losing oneself. Research suggests that long-term meditation makes a person highly stable emotionally. Experienced meditators can regulate their emotions and keep their feelings in check at all times.
A study included 10 expert and 10 novice meditators to examine their response to a sequence of visual stimuli after meditation. They found that the novice meditators changed from a meditative state to an agitated one. On the other hand, experienced meditators could maintain their meditative state even when the visual stimuli were present.(7)
These results are not surprising as mindfulness meditation trains us to notice and accept whatever arises within us. With practice, you become hyper-alert and can let go of any harmful thoughts or emotions as soon as they arise.
Another research reveals that these benefits are possible at a smaller scale for even those who have never meditated before.(8)
Studies prove that meditation enhances our physical, mental, and emotional well-being. The long-term benefits of meditation discussed in this post are not the only ones. Western science has yet to catch up with the ancient science of meditation and mindfulness. The purpose of this article is just to give you an idea of how beneficial meditation can be for everyone.
Getting started with meditation is easy, and you don’t have to sit for hours. It only takes a few weeks of daily practice to start seeing the benefits of mindfulness, and it costs nothing. To learn how to practice it, read my complete guide to mindfulness meditation.
I hope this article inspired you to start your meditation journey if you haven’t already. Good luck and happy meditating! 😊
|1.||↑||Rosenkranz, M. A., Lutz, A., Perlman, D. M., Bachhuber, D. R., Schuyler, B. S., MacCoon, D. G., & Davidson, R. J. (2016). Reduced stress and inflammatory responsiveness in experienced meditators compared to a matched healthy control group. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 68, 117–125.|
|2.||↑||Taren, A. A., Gianaros, P. J., Greco, C. M., Lindsay, E. K., Fairgrieve, A., Brown, K. W., Rosen, R. K., Ferris, J. L., Julson, E., Marsland, A. L., Bursley, J. K., Ramsburg, J., & Creswell, J. D. (2015). Mindfulness meditation training alters stress-related amygdala resting state functional connectivity: a randomized controlled trial. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 10(12), 1758–1768.|
|3.||↑||Luders, E., Cherbuin, N., & Kurth, F. (2015). Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1551.|
|4.||↑||Adluru, N., Korponay, C. H., Norton, D. L., Goldman, R. I., & Davidson, R. J. (2020). BrainAGE and regional volumetric analysis of a Buddhist monk: a longitudinal MRI case study. Neurocase, 26(2), 79–90.|
|5.||↑||Fredrickson, B. L., Cohn, M. A., Coffey, K. A., Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open hearts build lives: positive emotions, induced through loving-kindness meditation, build consequential personal resources. Journal of personality and social psychology, 95(5), 1045–1062.|
|6.||↑||Zanesco, A.P., King, B.G., MacLean, K.A. et al. Cognitive Aging and Long-Term Maintenance of Attentional Improvements Following Meditation Training. J Cogn Enhanc 2, 259–275 (2018).|
|7.||↑||Lee, Y. H., Shiah, Y. J., Chen, S. C., Wang, S. F., Young, M. S., & Lin, C. L. (2015). Improved emotional stability in experienced meditators with concentrative meditation based on electroencephalography and heart rate variability. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.), 21(1), 31–39.|
|8.||↑||Lin, Y., Fisher, M. E., Roberts, S. M., & Moser, J. S. (2016). Deconstructing the Emotion Regulatory Properties of Mindfulness: An Electrophysiological Investigation. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 10, 451.|