Meditation doesn't have to be a group exercise. You can—and should—meditate at any time, just about anywhere. (Photo: Contributed)

For me, dedicating time to meditation goes a long way toward having a more productive and enjoyable day. It’s one of those things that I can easily forget to do, however. It’s not because meditation doesn’t always work, but I often forget just how important it is to my overall well-being. I simply have more energy and am in a better mood when I dedicate some amount of time for meditation. So I’ve been looking for more ways to stay motivated and keep up the habit. I know I need to do it anyway, but more reasons to do it probably can’t hurt, can they? 

This week, I found a fresh motivation. New research indicates that meditation may do more than put us in better moods. It might actually help us regulate our blood sugar levels, thus lowering our chances of Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Here’s what researchers found out.

Meditation and blood sugar levels
The best researchers start out with a specific goal in mind for their studies, but they don't keep looking for answers that aren't there. They go where the research takes them. For this recent study in the journal Obesity, that's exactly what happened.

As you might have guessed from the journal's name, the goal for its researchers is to find scientific methods to best combat the obesity epidemic in America. For this particular study, they took 86 overweight or obese women and split them into two groups. The first group received mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR—a form of meditation, body awareness and yoga) taught by a professional instructor. The second group received general health education, taught by a registered dietitian.

What were the results? After 16 weeks, the researchers tested the women for a variety of health changes, such as weight, body mass index, waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting insulin, cholesterol, inflammatory markers and levels of stress hormones. Neither group showed notable changes for any of these measurements. However, one group did see a noticeable change: The group of women who received MBSR saw a significant decrease in fasting blood sugar levels after both eight and 16 weeks.

What do these results mean?
The more I learn about human health and fitness, the more I realize just how important our body’s blood sugar levels are to everything we do. Close to 100 million Americans suffer from Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, and these cases are usually preventable. With proper care and treatment, most people’s symptoms can also be drastically improved or eradicated entirely. The key to accomplishing this remains getting our blood sugar levels under control. When we eat or drink substances high in simple carbohydrates or added sugar, our blood sugar levels can spike massively, and it takes time for our bodies to stabilize again.

It’s a constant struggle, but if we can keep our blood sugar at stable levels for longer and longer periods of time, we’ll gain a better control of what we eat and how we feel. High blood sugar levels can send mixed signals to our brains, causing us to crave food we don’t really need, disrupt our sleep and worsen our moods. Anything that can help us prevent this could drastically improve our health. So meditation is a good place to start if, like most of us, this is a problem for you, but it’s even more significant than that.

Finding the right balance
Hypnosis has recently become a popular treatment for depression, and in many ways, it’s for the same reasons MBSR works. Think of them both as ways to "find your chi," which may sound a little silly, but is it really that silly when you think about it? Doctors prescribe medications for patients with depression often without a clear understanding of how those medicines will work. This is not a knock on doctors or the medicine itself. I’m simply saying we know there are medicines that can help people with depression, but we’re still not entirely sure how it helps them.

I think the same can be said for anyone’s mood or feelings on a given day. Sometimes we "wake up on the wrong side of the bed" without ever knowing exactly why. We can guess—maybe we ate too much at dinner or went to bed too late—but it’s difficult to know for sure. So finding your chi or balance in life really can go a long way.

The long list of health benefits
In addition to potentially lowering your blood sugar levels, meditation can lower your blood pressure, reduce your frequency of headaches and significantly reduce your stress and anxiety levels. Now, this does mean you have to commit to meditation every day (if possible) and preferably for at least 20 minutes each time. That’s what experts recommend. However, I realize people lead busy lives, and you don’t always have that much time. So I would say do as much as you can as often as you can.

I have to remind myself to prioritize meditation, because it can be easy to brush it off like it isn’t a necessity; but for me, it’s a crucial part of my day. It helps me clear my head when there are too many thoughts bouncing around in there. Meditation helps me make sense of the world around me, and it puts me in a better position to solve problems as they come. I’ve gotten better at remembering this. So my advice is simple: Don’t forget. Make meditation a priority.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He's on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.