Is meditation as good as a holiday? It’s better, new study finds
For health and stress levels, are you better off having a holiday or meditating?
Well, according to a new study, meditation is as good as a holiday and the effects are longer-lasting. But, why not combine the two?
Researchers from the University of California and Harvard were curious about whether or not meditation provides greater stress relief or health benefits than simple relaxation, so took 94 participants on holiday to find out.
Half of the group had a regular vaycay while the other half participated in a program that included training in mantra meditation, yoga, and self reflection exercises. The researchers also studied a third group of 30 experienced meditators who were attending the same retreat.
All three groups had bloods taken and completed surveys immediately before and after the trip as well as one and 10 months later.
“Highly significant gene expression changes were detected across all groups (the ‘vacation effect’),” the authors said, noting specific improvements in stress response, immune function and metabolism.
While these were the results immediately after the retreat, the longer term results were particularly revealing.
Unlike the regular holiday group, the group new to meditation maintained the health and stress reduction benefits at the one and 10 month follow-ups.
“Ten months later; the novices maintained a clinically meaningful improvement in depressive symptoms compared with the vacation group,” the authors added. “Thus, we found both a short-term vacation effect for everyone and a significant benefit of learning meditation on longer-term mood.”
The regular meditators, whose baseline health and stress markers were better than the other two groups, also benefited from the retreat, showing improvements in markers for ageing and the likelihood of infection and illness.
While the study was small, it builds on previous research that has found meditation reduces stress hormones, feelings of anxiety or depression and boosts the immune system. It also helps self-awareness and compassion and can make us “less of a jerk“.
“It’s intuitive that taking a vacation reduces biological processes related to stress, but it was still impressive to see the large changes in gene expression from being away from the busy pace of life, in a relaxing environment, in such a short period of time,” said study author Elissa S. Epel, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at University of California.
“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function,” Rudolph Tanzi, PhD, a professor of Neurology at Harvard University, added in a statement. “Meditation is one of the ways to engage in restorative activities that may provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself. The prediction is that this would then lead to healthier ageing.”
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