Recent research has suggested that regular meditation may slow down the aging process in our brains. The brain starts a slow decline from our mid-to-late 20s with a decrease in its volume and weight. As this happens, the brain can start to lose some of its functional abilities. So, although we might be living longer, those extra years are often associated with an increased risk of neurodegenerative disease and mental illness. However, recent research carried out at UCLA has suggested that meditation could be one way to slow down this decline.
The research built on earlier work that had suggested that people who meditate appear to have less age-related atrophy in the white matter in the brain. The results of this new study indicate that it could also help to preserve the grey matter in the brain – an important discovery as this is the tissue that contains neurons. By comparing 50 people who meditated and 50 people who didn’t, the scientists wanted to investigate the link between age and grey matter. Their findings indicated that although people in both groups showed a loss of grey matter, those who meditated retained a larger volume of tissue than those who didn’t.
The researchers expected to see some differences in the regions of the brain that had previously been linked with meditation
While the researchers had expected to see some differences in the regions of the brain that had previously been linked with meditation, they were very surprised to observe that there was a much more widespread effect throughout the entire brain. This is very positive news as, while we may be living longer, we don’t want those extra years of life to be at the mercy of cognitive decline. Furthermore, much of the current research into cognitive decline focuses on identifying the risk factors, rather than looking at ways to enhance cerebral health.
The researchers used high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the brains of the participants. Although the findings showed a negative correlation between age and grey matter, meaning that brain tissue is lost as we age, they also observed that large areas of grey matter seemed better preserved in the brains of those people who took part in regular meditation.
While the researchers don’t want to draw a direct, causal link between meditation and the preservation of grey matter, these results are seen to be very promising, and it’s hoped that they will encourage other scientists to explore meditation’s potential to positively affect the way in which our brains age.
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