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December 15, 2015

Brain Health: Meditation Changes the Brain, Improves Quality of Life

Numerous studies are confirming that the practice of meditation has “an amazing variety of neurological benefits,” including helping to preserve the aging brain. Forbes provides an in-depth a look at those benefits and we’ll provide highlights here, along with other information about the benefits of meditation for older adults.

Preserves Brain as You Age

The reality is that the brain starts to slowly lose volume once a person hits the mid- to late 20s. In 2011, a UCLA study discovered that people who meditate have more white matter in their brains, leading experts to call meditation the pushup for the brain. And a more recent study piles on the good news.

A 2015 UCLA study showed that people who practiced meditation for an average of 20 years had more gray matter (the part that contains neurons) throughout the brain than those who didn’t. Plus, the effect was more widespread than anticipated, with an author of the study saying, “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”

You can read more about the study here.

Strengthens Areas of Learning and Memory

A Harvard University study found that just eight weeks of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) increased the cortical thickness in the hippocampus, which governs learning and memory. MBSR also increased the cortex in areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-referential processing, while also reducing the areas that are responsible for fear, anxiety and stress. Not surprisingly, participants noticed emotional changes that corresponded with the changes in their brains. A follow-up study showed that participants experienced increased feelings of psychological well-being. Find more about the initial Harvard study here.

Improves Concentration

Just a couple weeks of meditative practice has been shown to improve focus. When participants took the verbal reasoning section of the GRE test, those who meditated had an increase in score of 16 percentile points. Here’s more information.

Provides a Better Night’s Sleep

A recent study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that older adults with sleep problems found relief within six weeks through meditation. Moreover, this technique was more effective than more conventional methods taught to another group and were comparable to results found in sleep medication studies and those focusing on talk therapy.

Reduces Signs of Depression, Anxiety and Pain

A Johns Hopkins study showed that meditation was equally as effective as antidepressant use. Head researcher Madhav Goyal pointed out that meditation isn’t a “magic bullet” for depression (no treatment is) but it is a useful tool for managing symptoms. “Meditation,” he said, “is an active training of the mind to increase awareness.” Find more about the study here.

Decreases Loneliness

On top of all of the brain health benefits listed above, a 2012 Carnegie Mellon University study showed that meditation reduced loneliness in older adults. Find out more!

Ready to give meditation a try? Here is a simple guide to help you get started.

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