You've probably heard of meditation's most talked-up benefit: Stress reduction. People have reported feeling calmer and less stressed after just a few minutes of meditation (including what one study called 'brief mindfulness'), and the science is stacking up for why that might be. At the University of California Davis, researchers linked increased practice of mindfulness with lower levels of the stress hormone, cortisol after a three-month retreat. When you're stressed, your body releases a flood of cortisol, often leaving you with panicked thoughts, a racing heart, mental exhaustion, and sometimes a higher blood pressure. And for people with heart conditions, meditation could be even more soothing: A study of about 200 people with heart disease observed that those who meditated not only reported feeling less stressed, but also had lower blood pressure and a decreased risk for mortality, stroke, and infection compared to patients who simply learned about their health conditions in a class.
It's a quick and simple strategy that could go a long way, says Raison, since short periods of five minutes a day with a lot of focus could be more beneficial than slogging through 20 minutes. "I don't think we should be bound by this guilt trip that we have to practice for an extended period of time," he says. "And for men, these stress reactions are so largely caused, that the chance to turn these down is really something positive can do with your health."