25 Science-Backed Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation

The popularity of mindfulness and meditation has increased in large part due to the growing body of evidence supporting efficacy. What was once considered something for the “spiritual types” has since been adopted by those looking for a competitive edge.

Business leaders like Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Jeff Weiner of Linkedin practice daily, while corporations like Google, Apple, General Mills, and Goldman Sachs have adopted mindfulness programs for their employees. In fact, health giant Aetna reported employees’ annual productivity rose by about $3,000 each after they participated in a mindfulness training program.

This article covers 25 science-backed benefits of mindfulness and meditation that helped motivate people to start practicing.

1. Boost energy

There’s only so much time in a day but increasing your energy levels can help you get more done with the time that you have.

During a 9-month mental training program, 229 adults provided daily reports before and after meditation practice. All practices, including breathing meditation, body scan, loving-kindness meditation, and observing-thought meditation increased energy.

2. Increase cognitive flexibility

A vital component of learning, cognitive flexibility helps you switch between concepts and think about multiple concepts simultaneously.

A 2009 study comparing meditators to a meditation-naïve control group found that meditating and mindfulness are positively related to cognitive flexibility.

3. Improve performance on standardized tests

It’s no secret that standardized tests can affect school and job placement, ultimately affecting your income and overall life situation.

In 2013, mindfulness training was compared against nutrition education for performance on the GRE. Using standardized score procedures for the GRE test, the change in GRE accuracy from mindfulness training led to an average improvement analogous to 16 percentile points when compared to nutrition classes.

4. Boost focus and attention

Focus and attention are critical to any goal-oriented behavior. But if you think about it, you’ll probably get more out of leisurely things like watching a movie or listening to music.

A 2010 study comparing meditators to non-meditators found that meditators demonstrate more accurate and efficient visual attention. Another study concluded that meditation increased present focus and decreased thought distraction.

Apparently, these changes can happen fast.

In 2007 a study found that short-term meditation training improves attention, and a study from 2011 revealed that even four days of meditation training can enhance your ability to sustain attention.

5. Expand working memory

Working memory is essential for effective decision-making and behavior.

In one study, business school students were given a working memory capacity task. Participants who received mindfulness training displayed higher working memory capacity than the control group.

6. Strengthen cognitive control

Cognitive control allows us to orient behavior according to our goals.

A 2013 study revealed that mindfulness practice increases one’s ability to disconnect from the stress center of the brain, recruiting higher-order, pre-frontal cortex regions necessary for complex cognition and decision-making. Later, in 2017, another study found that meditators displayed more efficient cognitive control.

7. Take care of blood pressure

High blood pressure can lead to life-threatening conditions like heart attack and stroke, and usually does not have warning signs.

A 2014 systematic review revealed multiple forms of meditation were effective in reducing blood pressure. Another study indicated that just 30 seconds of meditation reduced blood pressure by 5 points on average.

8. Heighten creativity

If you’re interested in coming up with valuable new ideas, you should invest in your creativity.

Studies in 2012 and 2014 concluded that open-monitoring meditation promotes divergent thinking, the style of thinking that allows new ideas to be generated. A later meta-analysis deemed it “very likely” that mindfulness benefits creative abilities.

9. Decrease stress

An estimated 75% - 90% of visits to the doctor are for stress-related issues.

A 2014 study including over 3500 people concluded that meditation programs can result in reductions of multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. In 2017, a systematic review and meta-analysis concluded that mindfulness-based interventions have the potential to significantly improve stress levels.

10. Reduce anxiety

While stress is the response to an external threat, anxiety is the unpleasant internal reaction to past and potential stress. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after a concern has passed.

Studies in both 2008 and 2014 deemed mindfulness and meditation an effective treatment for anxiety.

11. Raise positivity

Positive thinking isn’t about ignoring the negative. It’s about approaching life in a more positive and ultimately more productive way.

A 2009 research review found that mindfulness is associated with more positive states of mind. In 2019, a study revealed that multiple forms of meditation increase positivity of affect.

12. Treat depression

Did you know that depression has a significant impact on work performance?

A 2014 study concluded that meditation is an effective treatment for depression. A later study deemed mindfulness-based interventions effective in reducing depression.

13. Control pain

Mindfulness meditation was originally created to reduce suffering.

One study of over 3500 participants found that meditators reported less chronic or intermittent pain.

14. Regulate emotions

We’re all expected to manage our emotions to prevent thoughts and feelings from negatively affecting our lives and behavior. But it can be difficult.

A 2015 study found that mindfulness is associated with healthy emotional regulation. This includes enhanced emotional recovery, and enhanced ability to engage in goal-directed behaviors. Another study back in 2011 suggests that practicing mindfulness leads to better emotional stability.

15. Reduce emotional distress

Emotional distress is a level of unpleasant feelings that interferes with your activities of daily living. Although most do not experience it regularly, it can be debilitating when it does arise.

A 2015 meta-analysis found that an 8 week mindfulness based intervention was effective in reducing distress. An earlier 2009 meta analysis determined that basic and clinical research indicated that mindfulness is associated with less emotional distress.

16. Improve psychological well-being

We should all strive to live a happy life filled with a strong feeling of purpose.

A 2018 study found that there is substantial evidence that mindfulness training improves overall psychological well-being.

17. Sharpen critical thinking

Critical thinking allows us to form accurate judgments through objective analysis and evaluation.

A 2015 study suggests that mindfulness facilitates critical thinking performance.

18. Generate resilience, hope, and optimism

Resilience, hope, and optimism are essential to performing when things feel bleak.

A 2014 study examining CEO’s and managers found that mindfulness is significantly positively correlated with psychological capital—hope, resilience, and optimism.

19. Enhance conflict monitoring

Conflict monitoring is essential to cognitive control, basically helping you employ cognitive control when it’s needed most.

A 2017 study found that short-duration, video-assisted deep breathing in young adults lead to enhanced conflict monitoring.

20. Raise quality of life

This one’s a no-brainer.

A 2009 research review found that mindfulness is associated with a higher overall quality of life. An additional 2015 meta-analysis found that mindfulness-based interventions were effective in ameliorating quality of life in healthy individuals.

21. Curb cognitive decline

Our brains begin deteriorating after the first two decades of life and continue to degrade further with increasing age. One of the biggest factors is the reduction of grey matter, necessary for many things that we take for granted (muscle control, sensory perception, memory, etc.). A UCLA study found a slower decline in grey matter among meditators.

22. Improve sleep

Good sleep feels great. It’s also an important component of overall health and well-being.

A 2011 meta-analysis found that people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer after meditating.

23. Reduce distraction

The 21st century makes dealing with distractions more important than ever. Believe it or not, distraction is also linked to things like anxiety and lack of sleep.

A 2007 study concluded that mindfulness meditation reduces distractive and ruminative thoughts and behaviors.

24. Strengthen immune system

Nobody likes feeling sick and being sick makes everyday activities more difficult. Studies in 2003 and 2004 found that mindfulness meditation strengthened immune functioning.

25. Develop compassion

Although compassion may not be near the top of your list of “things I want,” it should be. Often the most impactful people in our lives, the ones we admire most, are the most compassionate. A 2013 study came to the conclusion that meditation increases compassionate responses to suffering.  

What to make of this?

The many benefits of mindfulness and meditation can entice anyone. But the multiplicity can seem paradoxical, if not confusing. Not knowing what to believe, many are deterred from starting. How can one thing increase my energy but also help me sleep? How does one thing help me focus but also facilitate divergent thinking? The answer lies in cognitive control and awareness. Meditation allows you to direct your awareness in different ways and to different targets. You can shift your awareness to a single object of attention to train focus, or instead open your awareness to the entirety of your experience to increase creativity. We cover this gap between scientific research and the realities of practice in our upcoming article “The #1 Problem with Meditation R&D.”

We can help.

Fear not! We created a meditation program, hand tailored by Dr. Greg Seton, that gives you everything you need. Worried about getting started? The Lumiate effect is especially useful for novice meditators to integrate assisted meditation into the day. More advanced? Greg has been studying and practicing meditation for over 30 years, and he still practices variations of our meditations to this day.