Meditation is the practice of training the mind to induce a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge it is content. It can wipe away the day’s stresses and is also considered a type of mind-body complementary medicine.
A new study, however, finds that the practice of meditation can also help slow age-related loss of gray matter in the brain. And with life expectancy rising dramatically, that’s good news for most of us.
According to a statement from the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA), when people reach their mid-to-late-20s, their brain begins to wither, which results in the loss of some functional abilities. We may be living longer, but our brains simply cannot keep up and the risks for mental illness and neurodegenerative disease therefore increase.
For their study, appearing in the current online edition of the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the UCLA researchers compared 50 people who had meditated for years and 50 who didn’t. Although both groups showed a loss of gray matter, those in the meditation group lost less volume than those that didn’t. This was quite surprising to the researchers.
“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said Dr. Florian Kurth, a co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
The researchers urge caution, however, because they cannot draw a direct, causal connection between meditation and preserving gray matter in the brain. There are still too many other factors that may come into play, “including lifestyle choices, personality traits, and genetic brain differences.”
“Still, our results are promising,” said Dr. Eileen Luders, first author and assistant professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “Hopefully they will stimulate other studies exploring the potential of meditation to better preserve our aging brains and minds. Accumulating scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice, not only in the framework of healthy aging but also pathological aging.”