“Which is better for your body: meditation or exercise?” asks The Telegraph journalist Jonathan Wells on 23 March 2016. “On the surface, it seems like an obvious decision – physical exercise can strengthen our muscles, bones and heart, and has been proven to promote the production of oxytonin and other ‘feel-good’ chemicals. Whilst meditation is, well, a fad. Right? Wrong. Or, at least, possibly wrong.”
“Stronger than morphine”
The Telegraph cites a newly published study in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggesting that mindfulness may be a better treatment for chronic back pain than other ordinary exercises. The journalist also refers to earlier studies, linking meditation to a stronger immune system, a strengthening of the lungs, and even claiming that meditation may be “stronger than morphine” for pain relief. One interviewee also mentions the effects of meditation on the parasympathetic nervous system, better quality sleep, and even improvement of athletic performance.
However, the article also quotes researchers who are less enthusiastic, claiming that “mindfulness meditation programs had moderate evidence of improved anxiety, depression and pain, and low evidence of improved stress/distress and mental health-related quality of life”.
The article concludes by quoting Acem instructor Anne Grete Hersoug:
Anne Grete Hersoug, an instructor in Acem Meditation and a clinical psychologist at the University of Oslo, also believes in the profound physical effects of meditation – but would not consider it an effective replacement for exercise.
“According to scientific studies,” says Hersoug, “Acem Meditation has been found to have a profound physiological effect on the practising individual. It allows the meditator to relax deeply, leaves them feeling more energised and is overall a refreshing experience – much like recharging one’s batteries.
“These physiological relaxation effects are measurable in terms of increased oxygen intake and decreased heart rate,” continues the psychologist, “and thus, psychological exercise can benefit you physiologically.”
However, whilst Hersoug acknowledges the benefits meditation can have on your body, she believes that first and foremost, mindfulness is for the mind.
“Most of the physical benefits associated with deep relaxation and mindfulness come as a by-product of soothing mental stress,” Hersoug reveals. “I would not make a comparison between meditation and physical exercise. Meditation cannot replace half an hour of exercise – and it is vastly different from fitness training.
“I’d rather say that we need to make time for both physical exercise and mental techniques.”