Stress + Immunity
We are all looking for ways to boost immunity and mitigate stress these days. One of my favorite ways happens to be free and easily done from home: meditation!
Over the past 30 years, more than 300 studies have been done on stress and immunity in humans. Together, they show emotional stress and psychological challenges are capable of inducing significant compromise to immune function.5
Globally, more than 25% of the world’s population suffers from stress-related mood and anxiety concerns. Chronic worry and stress trigger a constant immune-compromising fight-or-flight response that disrupts the microbiome—the home of gut immunity, 70% of the immune system.1
Humans are well-equipped to handle short-term stressors, from being chased by a lion to being caught in extreme weather. Such events actually benefit and strengthen our immune systems. Long-term chronic stress, however, lingering on for days, weeks, and months, has been found to sharply weaken the immune system.6
From the threat of a pandemic to being bombarded with a 24-hour news cycle, smart phone alerts, violence, political unrest, and, oh yes, your job, worrying about your kids, feeding your family, and the health of loved ones—the reasons we experience immune-compromising long-term stress are endless.
Stop the Worry: Meditate
Meditating for as little as 5-10 minutes 1-2x/day will help regulate the stress response, suppressing chronic inflammation, maintaining a healthy gut-barrier, and improving immune function.1
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The first comprehensive review of studies examining effects of meditation on the immune system found amazing benefits of meditation:
Benefits of Meditation2
- Boosts circulating immune-supportive proteins
- Boosts immune transcription factors + gene expression
- Boosts immune cell count + cell-mediated immunity
- Slows immune cell aging
- Boosts longevity
- Boosts antibody + natural inflammation response
Read all my articles and research on meditation here.
In another study, researchers measured whether a meditation practice would mitigate the immune deficit typically seen after regular vigorous exercise. In the study, 12 runners were divided into two groups and followed for six months—one group meditated and one did not. There was a significant difference in immunity markers between the meditating and non-meditating runners. They concluded that meditation may modify the suppressive influence of strenuous physical stress on the immune system.3
In an 8-week meditation trial, folks with mild cognitive decline and their caregivers were asked to meditate for just 11 minutes twice a day. They concluded that meditation is an effective intervention for reducing perceived stress and improving sleep, mood, and memory in adults with cognitive impairment, along with their caregivers.7
Increasing evidence suggests regular meditation practice will have a positive impact on many physiological pathways, including boosting immunity, preventing the negative impact of stress, and supporting a balanced hormonal response.8
In my One-Minute Meditation article and video, I describe a simple meditation practice with a breathing technique called bhastrika. Studies suggest bhastrika, or bellows breath, as incorporated into my One-Minute Meditation, delivers the following benefits.9
Benefits of Bhastrika Bellows Breath9
- Increased parasympathetic activity
- Reduced basal heart rate
- Decreased stress response from holding breath (increased valsalva ratio)
- Reduced sympathetic (fight-or-flight) stress
- Reduced blood pressure
- Quicker reaction time
- Decreased distractibility
- Greater aerobic performance
Do you meditate? What benefits have you noticed?