Published on: May 7, 2017
by Rita Rubin for AARP:
Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and improve sleep. A recent study suggests it also might help slow the aging of your brain.
Everyone’s brain gets smaller as the years pass, but there are things you can do to slow the shrinkage. According to one recent study, meditation may be one of them. Scientists compared the brains of 50 adults who, on average, had meditated for nearly 20 years, and 50 people who didn’t meditate. They found that the brains of those who meditated were significantly bigger than those who didn’t meditate.
Lead author Eileen Luders, an associate professor of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, calculated the brain age of the meditators and nonmeditators based on the distribution of gray matter on MRI scans. Gray matter is the tissue that connects neurons and is crucial to brain function and communication. In general, the more gray matter you have, the better your brain health and the “younger” your brain is. Turns out that among the 50-year-olds in the study, the brains of the longtime meditators were estimated to be 7½ years younger than those of the people who didn’t meditate. The researchers published their results in the journal NeuroImage,
Luders speculates that meditation might strengthen the brain the way lifting weights can strengthen the biceps. Meditation “is actually hard work,” she said. “It’s more than just sitting with your eyes closed.” Plus, she said, it’s also possible that the brains of people who choose to meditate are somehow different to begin with from the brains of people who don’t.
Do the younger-looking brains of the meditators necessarily translate into improved brain function? Luders says she’s not aware of any study that has compared these types of results with performance on thinking and memory tests.
“If you’re curious about meditation, I would say to do it,” Luders says. “Aside from having a younger-looking brain, there are so many beautiful benefits. There’s a calm about meditators.”
Besides, she said, “You don’t need to buy expensive equipment. You can do it everywhere.” And you don’t have to spend more than 15 or 20 minutes a day. Most of the longtime meditators in her study meditated every day, and in many cases they practiced more than one style of meditation.
Luders, who meditates, suggested that it may be easier for those starting out to do it with a group. Or, she said, you might find that a book or app is all you need to guide you.
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