Life expectancy may be rising every year, but that doesn't mean the age at which our minds begin to decline is following in its footsteps. In our mid-to-late-20s, our minds start to shed volume and weight, which leads to loss of functional abilities. In other words, the longer we live, the more opportunity we have to (literally) lose our minds.
While we can't stop the clock, we can do our best to minimize how much brain mass is lost over time — by meditating.
Building on their previous research that suggested the practice changes the brain's physical structure, a new study by UCLA researchers found that meditation appeared to help preserve the brain's gray matter, the tissue that contains neurons.
For the study, scientists compared the brains of 50 people who had meditated for an average of 20 years against 50 who hadn't, looking specifically at the association between age and gray matter. While every brain demonstrated a loss of gray matter with age, the brains of those who meditated had retained significantly more gray matter than those who didn't.
"We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating," said Dr. Florian Kurth, in a press release. "Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain."
It's important to keep in mind, though, that many other factors may come into play, including lifestyle choices, personality traits, and genetic brain differences, so we cannot yet identify the exact connection between meditation and gray matter preservation.
Regardless, the results are still promising, as they might encourage other researchers to explore the potential for meditation to better preserve our minds.
"Accumulating scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice," said co-author Dr. Eileen Luders. "Not only in the framework of healthy aging but also pathological aging."
We're already aware of the many benefits of meditation — more restful sleep, less anxiety and stress, higher productivity are among them. So we might as well get into the habit of meditating in order to better appreciate the present — and if these researchers are onto something, we'll also be better preparing ourselves for the future.
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