Meditation: A Healthy Choice for Diabetics
By Guan Cheng Ming & Juliana Sun
The global prevalence of diabetes among adults has risen rapidly. According to the World Health Organization, an estimated 422 million adults were living with diabetes in 2014, compared to 108 million in 1980. Type 2 diabetes, which makes up 90 percent of diabetes cases, is a condition that is the product of the unhealthy tendencies of industrialized society. Often termed a lifestyle disease as it is related to daily habits, it is commonly caused by physical inactivity and unhealthy eating habits.
Effects of Stress
Stress is one major concern for diabetics. Being stressed about the condition will aggravate it. When a person is in a state of anxiety and stress, the body releases stress hormones into the blood. Stress hormones make the body release stored glucose and a diabetic patient may not produce enough insulin for the cells to absorb the extra glucose, causing the blood-sugar level to remain high or even further spike.
A study in 2013 of 7,500 middle-aged men in Sweden found a statistically significant relationship between stress and diabetes risk. It was found that men who reported long-term stress had a 45 percent higher risk of developing diabetes, compared to men who reported to have little, or only short-term, stress.
Further studies have found evidence that chronic stress can initiate changes in the immune system that may result in, or increase the likelihood of, the development of type 2 diabetes. Thus, people who suffer from work strain or emotional stress are more likely to develop diabetes than those with relatively lower stress levels.
Stress is an unavoidable part of modern life and can pose a major barrier to effective diabetes control. It is of utmost importance to reduce stress as there are wide-ranging positive effects from doing so, from lowering blood-sugar levels to promoting cardiovascular health.
Meditate to Manage Diabetes
Meditating, even for a short period of time, helps to reduce anxiety and stress. This in turn causes an increased insulin sensitivity and a lowering of the blood-sugar level, thereby decreasing the risk factors for diabetes. Many people with diabetes find meditation a good way to reduce stress and lower blood-sugar levels.
A study in the journal Obesity by researchers from Penn State University found that after a group of overweight women underwent meditation training, their stress and fasting blood-sugar levels decreased. These 86 overweight or obese women received eight weekly sessions of meditative stress-reduction techniques. The participants learned how to use meditation and breath awareness as responses to stress. The group saw a decrease in fasting blood-sugar levels — both right after training was completed and when the women were retested eight weeks later.
Benefits of Sitting Meditation
Dr. Ron Alexander, a psychotherapist, shares in his book Wise Mind, Open Mind that the process of controlling the mind through meditation increases mental strength, resilience and emotional intelligence.
In 2007, for a two-week period between April and May, a research team led by Sompong Chaiopanont collected data from 50 type 2 diabetic patients via three weekly visits after their meals. He wanted to find out the effects of sitting meditation on their blood-sugar levels.
On the first visit, the patients were educated about diabetes self-care. During the second and third visit, the participants were trained to practice sitting meditation as a means of health intervention.
When the patients were simply educated on self-care in the first week, their blood-sugar levels shot up from 192.08 mg/dL to 197.60 mg/dL. In the second week, following a meditation practice, their blood-sugar levels decreased from the average 187.74 mg/dL to 168.48 mg/dL. In the third week, after practicing meditation, their blood-sugar levels decreased from the average 191.96 mg/dL to 174.32 mg/dL. The experiment demonstrated that sitting meditation is indeed able to lower a person’s blood-sugar level following a meal.
Over the past 30 years, the popularity of using secular meditation as a form of intervention in mental and physical healthcare has grown significantly. Broadly defined as the intentional self-regulation of attention, meditation practices are generally classified into two categories — those emphasizing concentration and those emphasizing mindful awareness. Transcendental meditation is an example of a concentrative practice in which mantras (sounds or phrases used repetitively) are used to focus attention. Other types of meditation emphasize cultivating a nonjudgmental present-moment awareness of the inner and outer world.
Benefits of Walking Meditation
It is scientifically proven that exercise helps to lower blood-sugar levels. Since meditation likewise helps, walking meditation is an excellent combination of both activities.
Walking meditation is one of the practices adopted by the Buddhist tradition. It is a form of meditation in action whereby the practitioner is to be consciously mindful and keep his awareness involved with the experience of walking. It’s an easier and more comfortable form of meditation for beginners or anyone who prefers a more active form of practice.
A preliminary study conducted by Thai and U.S. research institutes found that walking meditation indeed helps to lower blood-glucose levels. In 2015, several scholars from Thai and U.S. research institutions collaborated to design an experiment. The investigators divided 27 patients with type 2 diabetes into two groups: 14 in the experimental group received walking-meditation training and 13 in the control group did standard walking exercises. After the three-month experiment, glycated hemoglobin associated with long-term blood-glucose levels remained unchanged at six percent in the control group, but decreased from six percent to 5.4 percent in the experimental group.
Other similar experiments carried out over the years have concluded that walking meditation can produce a series of positive effects, often surpassing standard walking activity, in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Whether it is a sitting meditation or a walking meditation, both produce a significant effect with regard to lowering blood-sugar levels. Spending some time practicing meditation daily can help reduce the risk of diabetes or keep it under better control.
Not only does meditation improve physical health, it also benefits mental and emotional health. The mind and body are connected. If we stay happy and stress-free for a prolonged period of time, we become stronger and less susceptible to various illnesses. At the same time, keeping our physical health in good shape keeps our minds at peace.
Walking meditation… is an easier and more comfortable form of meditation for beginners or anyone who prefers a more active form of practice.