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Meditation and mindfulness offer an abundance of health benefits and may be as effective as medication for treating certain conditions

Mindfulness, one of the most common forms of meditation, is a skill that must be cultivated and practiced. With some training and discipline, it can help…



People of any age or walk of life can access and benefit from meditation. Daniel de la Hoz/iStock via Getty Images Plus

Many people look to diet trends or new exercise regimens – often with questionable benefit – to get a healthier start on the new year. But there is one strategy that’s been shown time and again to boost both mood and health: meditation.

In late 2022, a high-profile study made a splash when it claimed that meditation may work as well as a common drug named Lexapro for the treatment of anxiety. Over the past couple of decades, similar evidence has emerged about mindfulness and meditation’s broad array of health benefits, for purposes ranging from stress and pain reduction to depression treatments to boosting brain health and helping to manage excessive inflammation and long COVID-19.

Despite the mounting body of evidence showing the health benefits of meditation, it can be hard to weigh the science and to know how robust it is.

I am a neuroscientist studying the effects of stress and trauma on brain development in children and adolescents. I also study how mindfulness, meditation and exercise can positively affect brain development and mental health in youth.

I am very excited about how meditation can be used as a tool to provide powerful new insights into the ways the mind and brain work, and to fundamentally change a person’s outlook on life. And as a mental health researcher, I see the promise of meditation as a low- or no-cost, evidence-based tool to improve health that can be relatively easily integrated into daily life.

Meditation requires some training, discipline and practice – which are not always easy to come by. But with some specific tools and strategies, it can be accessible to everyone.

What are mindfulness and meditation?

There are many different types of meditation, and mindfulness is one of the most common. Fundamentally, mindfulness is a mental state that, according to Jon Kabat-Zinn a renowned expert in mindfulness-based practices, involves “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.”

This means not ruminating about something that happened in the past or worrying about that to-do list. Being focused on the present, or living in the moment, has been shown to have a broad array of benefits, including elevating mood, reducing anxiety, lessening pain and potentially improving cognitive performance.

Mindfulness is a skill that can be practiced and cultivated over time. The goal is that, with repetition, the benefits of practicing mindfulness carry over into everyday life – when you aren’t actively meditating. For example, if you learn that you aren’t defined by an emotion that arises transiently, like anger, then it may be harder to stay angry for long.

The health benefits of meditation and other strategies aimed at stress reduction are thought to stem from increasing levels of overall mindfulness through practice. Elements of mindfulness are also present in practices like yoga, martial arts and dance that require focusing attention and discipline.

The vast body of evidence supporting the health benefits of meditation is too expansive to cover exhaustively. But the studies I reference below represent some of the top tier, or the highest-quality and most rigorous summaries of scientific data on the topic to date. Many of these include systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which synthesize many studies on a given topic.

Stress and mental health

Mindfulness-based programs have been shown to significantly reduce stress in a variety of populations, ranging from caregivers of people living with dementia to children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meta-analyses published during the pandemic show that mindfulness programs are effective for reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and depression – including the particularly vulnerable time during pregnancy and the postnatal period.

In addition to improving mood and lowering stress, mindfulness has been shown to elevate cognitive performance, cut down on mind wandering and distractibility and increase emotional intelligence.

Mindfulness-based programs also show promise as a treatment option for anxiety disorders, which are the most common mental disorders, affecting an estimated 301 million people globally. While effective treatments for anxiety exist, many patients do not have access to them because they lack insurance coverage or transportation to providers, for instance, or they may experience only limited relief.

It’s important to note, however, that for those affected by mental or substance use disorders, mindfulness-based approaches should not replace first-line treatments like medicine and psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy. Mindfulness strategies should be seen as a supplement to these evidence-based treatments and a complement to healthy lifestyle interventions like physical activity and healthy eating.

How does meditation work? A look into the brain

Studies show that regular meditators experience better attention control and improved control of heart rate, breathing and autonomic nervous system functioning, which regulates involuntary responses in the body, such as blood pressure. Research also shows that people who meditate have lower levels of cortisol – a hormone involved in the stress response – than those who don’t.

A recent systematic review of neuroimaging studies showed that focused attention meditation is associated with functional changes in several brain regions involved in cognitive control and emotion-related processing. The review also found that more experienced meditators had stronger activation of the brain regions involved in those cognitive and emotional processes, suggesting that the brain benefits improve with more practice.

A regular meditation practice may also stave off age-related thinning of the cerebral cortex, which may help to protect against age-related disease and cognitive impairment.

Limitations of meditation research

This research does have limits. These include a lack of a consistent definition for the types of programs used, and a lack of rigorously controlled studies. In gold-standard randomized controlled trials with medications, study participants don’t know whether they are getting the active drug or a placebo.

In contrast, in trials of mindfulness-based interventions, participants know what condition they are assigned to and are not “blinded,” so they may expect that some of the health benefits may happen to them. This creates a sense of expectancy, which can be a confounding variable in studies. Many meditation studies also don’t frequently include a control group, which is needed to assess how it compares with other treatments.

Benefits and wider applications

Compared with medications, mindfulness-based programs may be more easily accessible and have fewer negative side effects. However, medication and psychotherapy – particularly cognitive behavioral therapy – work well for many, and a combination approach may be best. Mindfulness-based interventions are also cost-effective and have better health outcomes than usual care, particularly among high-risk patient populations – so there are economic benefits as well.

Researchers are studying ways to deliver mindfulness tools on a computer or smartphone app, or with virtual reality, which may be more effective than conventional in-person meditation training.

Importantly, mindfulness is not just for those with physical or mental health diagnoses. Anyone can use these strategies to reduce the risk of disease and to take advantage of the health benefits in everyday life, such as improved sleep and cognitive performance, elevated mood and lowered stress and anxiety.

Where to get started?

Many recreation centers, fitness studios and even universities offer in-person meditation classes. For those looking to see if meditation can help with the treatment of a physical or mental condition, there are over 600 clinical trials currently recruiting participants for various conditions, such as pain, cancer and depression.

If you want to try meditation from the comfort of your home, there are many free online videos on how to practice, including meditations for sleep, stress reduction, mindful eating and more. Several apps, such as Headspace, appear promising, with randomized controlled trials showing benefits for users.

The hardest part is, of course, getting started. However, if you set an alarm to practice every day, it will become a habit and may even translate into everyday life – which is the ultimate goal. For some, this may take some time and practice, and for others, this may start to happen pretty quickly. Even a single five-minute session can have positive health effects.

Hilary A. Marusak does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Lightning Labs releases Taproot Assets alpha, bringing stablecoins to Bitcoin

Taproot Assets is “how we bitcoinize the dollar and the world’s financial assets,” says Ryan Gentry, director of business development at Lightning…



Taproot Assets is “how we bitcoinize the dollar and the world’s financial assets,” says Ryan Gentry, director of business development at Lightning Labs.

Bitcoin layer-2 infrastructure firm Lightning Labs has released the mainnet alpha of Taproot Assets, a protocol aimed at enabling stablecoins and real-world assets to be issued on the Bitcoin and Lightning Network.

The current version, Taproot Assets v0.3, will provide a “feature-complete developer experience” to issue, manage and explore stablecoins and other assets on the Bitcoin blockchain, according to Ryan Gentry, head of business development at Lightning Labs.

“We believe this new era for Bitcoin will see a myriad of global currencies issued as Taproot Assets, and the world's foreign exchange transactions settled instantly over the Lightning Network.”

“With this release, developers can issue financial assets on-chain in a scalable manner,” Lightning Labs stated on Oct. 18 in a separate post. “Today marks a new era of multi-asset bitcoin.”

This version of Taproot Assets will work by routing through existing Bitcoin liquidity on the Lightning Network.

Gentry says the integration will extend Bitcoin’s network effects and move it one step closer toward “bitcoinizing the dollar.” He added:

“This is how we make bitcoin the global routing network for the internet of money. This is how we bitcoinize the dollar and the world's financial assets.”

Gentry described developer demand for stablecoin applications on Bitcoin as “overwhelming” — particularly given that some stablecoin issuers hold more United States Treasuries than the likes of Germany, South Korea.

“[It] signifies the importance of these assets globally, and gives a sense of scale for the global user demand,” Gentry added.

Related: BitVM wasn’t created to make Bitcoin a pseudo-Ethereum, says developer

Nearly 2,000 Taproot Assets were minted on testnets over the last several months in the lead up to the mainnet alpha launch, according to Gentry.

Alpha launches typically mean the development isn’t in its final state. Lightning Labs said the alpha tag indicates that they expect the community to test it for potential bugs.

Bitcoin Drivechains (through Bitcoin Improvement Proposal-300), Botanix Labs’ Spiderchain and the BitVM are among the other developments in the Bitcoin ecosystem looking to expand Bitcoin’s capabilities.

Magazine: Recursive inscriptions — Bitcoin ‘supercomputer’ and BTC DeFi coming soon

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The GDP Outlook: Now and Near Future

The October WSJ forecast survey is out. The mean forecast is for no downturn (no 2-quarter negative growth). It’s also a lot higher than three months…



The October WSJ forecast survey is out. The mean forecast is for no downturn (no 2-quarter negative growth). It’s also a lot higher than three months ago.

First, here’s the forecast compared to three months ago, in levels.

Figure 1: GDP as of 2023Q1 3rd release (bold green), WSJ July mean forecast (light green), GDP as of 2023Q2 3rd release/comprehensive revision (bold black), WSJ October man forecast (sky blue), all in logs, 2022Q4=0. Source: BEA via FRED, ALFRED, WSJ (various), and author’s calculations. 

The upshift in levels is partly due to GDP higher than forecasted for Q2. But Q3 and Q4 GDP growth is also forecasted to be higher than 3 months ago — by about 1 ppt (annual rate), while 2024Q1 growth is about the same (0.36 ppts). 2024Q2 forecasted growth is about halved — from 1.06 ppts SAAR to 0.56 ppts.

It’s not that there aren’t some forecasting a recession. Figure 2 depicts the mean growth rate, along with the 20% trimmed high/low bands. While mean is all positive growth, median (Panday at S&P Global Ratings) has -1% and 0% growth (SAAR) in 2023Q4 and 2024Q1, respectively.

Figure 2: GDP (bold black), October WSJ survey mean (sky blue), 20% high/low forecasts (light gray lines), Atlanta Fed GDPNow as of 10/17 (blue square), all in billions Ch.2017$ SAAR. Source: BEA 2023Q2 3rd release/comprehensive revision, WSJ (October survey), and author’s calculations.

GDPNow, which uses data up to the 17th, is higher in Q3 than the 7th highest growth rate (out of 65 respondents), so the economy seems to be outperforming what respondents thought in early October.

Jonathan Holt at ScotiaBank forecasts two consecutive quarters of growth, in 2024Q1-Q2. Generally, most negative growth quarters are 2023Q4 through 2024Q2. So some people are still forecasting a rule-of-thumb recession (on GDP metric), even as less than half of respondents are now predicting a recession in the next year (specifically, 48%).



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WVU partnering with industry to improve health, environmental outcomes for disadvantaged communities

A West Virginia University team of industrial engineers is looking to turn $800,000 worth of Environmental Protection Agency funding into direct support…



A West Virginia University team of industrial engineers is looking to turn $800,000 worth of Environmental Protection Agency funding into direct support for local industry.

Credit: WVU Photo/David Malecki

A West Virginia University team of industrial engineers is looking to turn $800,000 worth of Environmental Protection Agency funding into direct support for local industry.

They are partnering with industrial facilities in disadvantaged communities statewide, providing free technical assistance to help those businesses improve their energy efficiency and minimize their waste streams, air pollution and carbon footprints.

“Many chronic health issues in West Virginia can be linked to exposure to industrial emissions and disadvantaged communities are often affected to a greater extent,” said project lead Ashish Nimbarte, professor and chair of the Department of Industrial and Management Systems Engineering at the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. “We will help these facilities reduce their impact on environmental and community health through updates to processes or equipment. This project is about supporting our state’s businesses in making changes that will really benefit their communities while maintaining their profitability.”

The funding, authorized by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, comes from the EPA’s Pollution Prevention Grant Program. That program advances the federal Justice40 Initiative, which is intended to direct 40% of certain federal benefits to communities overburdened by pollution and marginalized by underinvestment.

To identify industrial facilities in West Virginia, Nimbarte said his team will use data from the Council on Environmental Equality’s Climate and Economic Justice Screening Tool, which characterizes census tracts as disadvantaged based on a set of criteria related to climate change, energy, health, housing, legacy pollution and transportation. After that, they’ll begin the process of pre-visit assessments and outreach.

“Right now, we’re focused on identifying facilities with the largest impact on environmental and public health in disadvantaged communities,” Nimbarte said. “A majority of these businesses are busy running daily operations and may not have the resources to review the environmental and health impacts of the energy, water and materials they use. We want to partner with such businesses to assess their operations, to look at productivity improvement as well as resource conservation and waste minimization.”

Assistant Professor Avishek Choudhury said one of the biggest barriers facilities in disadvantaged communities face in developing and implementing source reduction plans is lack of technical support.

“That’s why we do onsite assessments — so our team’s recommendations can target each facility’s specific pollution, emissions and waste. Every assessment will be customized to the businesses, and we’ll develop highly collaborative relationships with the managers, who are often already aware of pollution prevention opportunities but may not have the resources to turn opportunities into operations.

“Our team will make sure managers have the sound technical knowledge they need to execute recommendations that can enhance their facilities’ environmental performance, competitiveness and profitability. Return on investment is a priority for them, so it will be an important measure in every write-up we provide,” Choudhury said.

The onsite technical assistance to facilities will include not only assessments and recommendations, but in-person trainings, videos, self-guided modules and interactive media.

Chris Moore, research associate, added onsite technical assistance isn’t the only form of support their team will offer businesses. They will also widely distribute information through online platforms such as e-newsletters, and they’ll organize a conference to present case studies and talk about ways technology and processes can prevent pollution through production reformulations, raw material substitutions, and improvements in maintenance, training or inventory control.

“In West Virginia’s most vulnerable communities, unemployment is high and incomes, education levels and life expectancies are low,” Nimbarte said. “Through this work, local businesses can serve as catalysts to improve the health and environment of struggling residents.”

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