Comparative effects of meditation and exercise on physical and psychosocial health outcomes: a review of randomized controlled trials

Postgrad Med. 2018 Mar;130(2):222-228. doi: 10.1080/00325481.2018.1409049. Epub 2017 Nov 27.


No review papers have examined studies that have directly compared non-active forms of meditation with exercise to evaluate effects on physical or psychosocial outcomes, which was the purpose of this paper. Studies were included if they had a randomized controlled trial (RCT) design, included a non-active form of meditation and exercise as intervention arms, and evaluated physical or psychosocial outcomes. The quality of included RCTs was rated using the Cochrane Collaboration's tool for assessing risk of bias in randomized trials. Five RCTs met the inclusion criteria. The total sample size across all studies was N = 325. Of the main outcomes assessed across the five studies, meditation was shown to be more effective than the exercise comparison arm when evaluating the psychosocial outcomes of anxiety, altruism, and life changes. Additionally, meditation was more effective at reducing chronic neck pain at rest and pain-related bothersomeness. Exercise, however, was more effective in improving physical health-related quality of life, HDL and LDL cholesterol, and fasting blood glucose levels. The interventions were found to be comparable when evaluating the outcomes of well-being, ethanol consumption, and perceived stress levels. Four of the evaluated studies were determined to have an overall 'unclear' risk of bias and one study was found to have a 'high' risk of bias. Exercise and non-active meditation may uniquely influence various health-related outcomes. A continued exploration of the effects of exercise and non-active meditation in controlled trials may yield a better understanding of their benefits.

Keywords: Exercise; meditation; physical activity; randomized controlled trial.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Status
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Meditation / methods*
  • Mental Disorders / therapy*
  • Mental Health*
  • Middle Aged
  • Quality of Life*
  • Young Adult