According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in seven Americans over the age of 71 has some form of dementia. Loss of gray matter in the brain figures prominently in both “typical” age-related cognitive decline and more serious forms of decline. Although it generally takes several decades for symptoms to appear, this process of brain deterioration can begin as early as the late twenties. But according to a new study published in Frontiers in Psychology, meditation could help combat age-related losses in brain volume, mass, and gray matter.
Can Meditation Stall Aging of the Brain?
To measure how meditation might affect brain aging across the life span, researchers compared two groups of 28 men and 22 women. Participants ranged in age from 24 to 77. One group did not meditate, but the other group had meditated for many years. The average time spent meditating in this second group was about 20 years, but some members had meditated for four decades or longer.
Unsurprisingly, brain scans revealed that both groups experienced a loss in gray matter as they aged. In the meditation group, though, gray matter volume didn’t decline as much or as quickly as it did among people who did not meditate. Though the study was relatively small, these preliminary results suggest that meditation might help protect the brain against some forms of aging, potentially delaying or preventing age-related cognitive problems.
Research is increasingly linking meditation to numerous benefits, including reduced stress, improvements in depression and anxiety, a reduced risk of cancer, heart disease, and high blood pressure, and better luck coping with the challenges of chronic pain. If you’d like to try meditation, you don’t need a guide or a course in meditation. Instead, try one or more of the following strategies:
- In a quiet, stress-free location, repeat a calming mantra.
- Attend a yoga class and focus on deep, deliberate breathing.
- Focus on cultivating mindfulness by increasing awareness of your surroundings and slowing down your thoughts.
- Slow your breathing and count your breaths.
- Focus on a single thought or object, redirecting your mind to this focal point each time it wanders.
- Forever young: Meditation might slow the age-related loss of gray matter in the brain. (2015, February 5). Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150205142951.htm
- Meditation. (2014, July 19). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/meditation/in-depth/meditation/art-20045858
- One in seven Americans age 71 and older has some type of dementia, NIH-funded study estimates. (2007, October 30). Retrieved from http://www.nih.gov/news/pr/oct2007/nia-30.htm
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