With a plethora of research suggesting otherwise, few would argue that meditation yields no health benefits. But the sheer number of claims regarding meditation’s benefits is overwhelming: A quick Google search yields about 26,800 articles suggesting there are at least 100.
While arguments that meditation helps you “attain enlightenment” or leads to “increased job satisfaction” are difficult to prove (after all, if it’s your job to do something that you’re morally opposed to, meditation isn’t likely to make it more fulfilling), many of the practice’s health advantages have been documented. As a previous Miller-McCune.com article details, research indicates that meditation can protect your brain by preserving your gray matter and helping you pay better attention, among other things.
Two new studies by scientists at Charles Drew University in Los Angeles and University of Hawaii in Kohala suggest that the practice has another health perk: It reduces depression. Sanford Nidich of Iowa’s (very-pro Transcendental Meditation) Maharishi University of Management and Andrew Grandinetti of the University of Hawaii found that the Transcendental Meditation technique lowered depressive symptoms, which are associated with cardiac events like heart attacks and strokes even at relatively moderate levels.
The National Institutes of Health paid for the studies using stimulus funding, making this one of the few government-sponsored bits of research into the technique. Transcendental Meditation® — and that’s registered service mark, by the way — and “meditation” aren’t identical; the former is a subset, and a controversial one, of the latter, and discussions of the technique often founder on disputes about its overseers. Many of the earlier studies that specifically addressed Transcendental Meditation techniques were criticized for poor methodology, and it has been derided as a religion and pseudoscience.
The studies examined African Americans and Native Hawaiians 55 and older who were at risk for cardiovascular disease. The first experiment included 59 African American men and women, and the second tested 53 Native Hawaiian men in Kohala, Hawaii. In both studies, the subjects were randomly assigned to either the Transcendental Meditation program or the “health education control group” and then given the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale test over nine to 12 months.
Meditating participants showed significant reductions in depressive symptoms compared to the control group. Those who had indications of clinically significant depression at the study’s outset and practiced meditation reaped the greatest benefits, with an average reduction in depressive symptoms of 48 percent.
“The importance of reducing depression in the elderly at risk for heart disease cannot be overestimated,” Gary P. Kaplan, a clinical associate professor of neurology at NYU School of Medicine, said in a press release. “Any technique not involving extra medication in this population is a welcome addition.”
Some 18.8 million men and women suffer from depression in the United States, and approximately 20 percent of older adults suffer some form of depression. Although it has been argued that depression may have an evolutionary upside, few would defend the merits of cardiovascular disease.
These findings indicate that there’s a 101st reason to meditate (albeit one that likely already appears on many lists). It’s a drug-free way to fight depression, and one that your heart will thank you for later.