Why Meditation Is Like Physical Exercise for the Brain
A healthy body means little without a healthy mind. Therefore, a complete fitness plan includes addressing the mind. Luckily, much like a weightlifting session or an aerobics class exercises the body — meditation exercises the brain. Here, we have listed four ways meditation is the "brain equivalent" of physical exercise:
#1 — Both have benefits that build up over time. When at rest, a fit runner's strong, healthy heart works less and less to pump the same amount of blood. In much the same way, the meditator's brain works less and less to maintain a calm and focused state. And so, just like doing more physical exercise increases the efficiency of the body, the ability of a meditator to maintain a calm, quiet, and deeply focused mental state increases with practice.
#2 — Both improve brain chemistry. Perhaps the most well-known case of physical exercise "blissing-out" the brain is through the release of endorphins, sometimes called the "feel good neurotransmitter". We have all heard of the runner's high. Well, meditation releases these same "feel-amazing" chemicals to levels, arguably, even higher than running! If that wasn't enough, like exercise, meditation also stimulates DHEA, GABA, serotonin, and melatonin — which stabilize our mood, help us sleep, alleviate depression, and increase longevity, just to name a few benefits. And while overtraining can flood the body with the stress hormone cortisol, meditation actually reduces this harmful chemical.
#3 — Both oxygenate the body. The increased flow of oxygen during physical exercise floods the muscles with well welcomed nutrients. With its measured breathing and dramatic reduction in how much oxygen the body needs (through slowing down of the conscious mind), meditation also deeply oxygenates the body. And so, for both meditation and physical exercise, the result is the same. Amazingness in, toxins out.
#4 — Both prevent injury. The increased flexibility from a yoga or pilates routine keeps our muscles nice and supple which, among many other things — prevents injury. Meditation, too, through the power of neuroplasticity, stretches and "thickens" our neurons — protecting our whole brain (and mind) from injury. And so, when life throws us a stressful curveball, meditation allows us to bend, not break.