As the life expectancy continues to rise as it has for the last century, the percentage of the population that we are seeing with problems that we associate with an aging brain such as dementia or Alzheimer’s continues to grow. By 2050, the percentage of the population that is age 60 and older is expected to triple, and, as a result, there is an expectation that dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases will also increase (World Health Organization).
Finding the path to slowing the cognitive effects of aging on the brain will be critical to the sustainment and quality of life for our aging population.
Science and Meditation
Science shows that meditation can decrease the rate at which our brain is aging. Age triggers a natural aging process of our mind. The cortex of our brain coats the surface of the cerebrum and cerebellum. Think of the cortex is commonly referred to as “gray matter” and it has the responsibility of processing information. The gray matter in our brain shrinks over time and leads to memory loss, verbal changes, and a decrease in the ability to process some forms of information.
Recent research shows that there is a correlation between age and brain gray matter in those who consistently practice meditation long-term. In fact, meditation can help us to preserve cognition, maintain the health of our brain tissue while also reducing the risk for conditions like dementia or Alzheimers.
Meditation and the Aging Brain
Meditation is useful in helping you to manage depression, stress, anxiety or pain. Studies show that mindful meditation is particularly helpful in supporting brain health through telomere elongation, hemodynamics, and cerebral blood flow.
In one study, 33 individuals who regularly practice meditation were asked to participate in a study looking to examine the effects of regular meditation habits on the brain. The study demonstrated that individuals who regularly engaged in the continued practice of mindful meditation experienced multiple benefits including increased sensory perception and sensitivity, and emotional awareness (Laneri, Schuster, Dietsche, Jansen, Ott, and Sommer, Effects of Long-Term Mindfulness Meditation on Brain’s White Matter Microstructure and its Aging).
Another study analyzed the link between age and cortical thickness. That study demonstrates that meditators have a thicker cortical layer than those who do not indulge in meditation, and was even similar to that of a 20-to-30-year-old (by Lazar et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness).
A third study evaluated the link between age and total gray matter volume as well as local gray matter volume. Those individuals who did not participate in meditation experienced a loss of gray matter over a period, while those who did engage in meditation had a gain of total gray matter (by Pagnoni, Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiol. Aging).
This research demonstrates that meditation ignites a biological response in brain aging and neurodegeneration. It may slow, stall, or even reverse age-related brain degeneration. (by Luders et al., Forever younger: potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on grapy matter atrophy).
We are all growing older each day. Although we cannot stop it from happening, we may be able to take action based on the scientific evidence to slow its impact on our brain. There is still a great deal of research to be done to examine further the positive effects that meditation may have on the health of minds. It is a cost-effect approach that has the opportunity for integration into our everyday health routines.
Meanwhile, you can take the first step to add routine meditation practice into your daily regimen to begin reaping the benefits of reducing age-related brain deficits.
If you find yourself struggling to find peace and understanding in your daily life, it might be time to adapt a meditation practice. This short ebook covers aspects of meditation and self-discovery, introduces the “Rainbow Meditation Technique” and reviews the benefits of meditation.