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Jul 18, 2011

Effect of Meditation on Brain Structure & Function

When it comes to aging, most people automatically assume that brain function and size will only decline over time. But what if it was possible for our brains to grow in size rather than shrink as we age? What if we could actually improve our memory and cognition as we get older? Well, research shows us we probably can!

In 2009, scientists at UCLA discovered that the brains of long-term meditators were larger in particular regions and had more gray matter compared with those of non-meditators. Follow-up research published in NeuroImage revealed that people who practice meditation have stronger connections between different regions of the brain as well as less age-related brain atrophy. "It is possible that actively meditating, especially over a long period of time, can induce changes on a micro-anatomical level...Meditation appears to be a powerful mental exercise with the potential to change the physical structure of the brain at large" said Dr. Eileen Luders, visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. Dr. Luders also noted that typical age-related deterioration of white-matter in the brain is substantially lowered in people that regularly meditate. 

At Massachusetts General Hospital, recent studies demonstrated that measurable changes in participants' brain regions correlated with eight weeks worth of mindful meditation practice. These changes were associated with parts of the brain responsible for memory, stress, empathy, and sense of self. 

Regular meditation has enormous benefits to offer when it comes to maintaining and creating optimal health. And with the studies mentioned above and others like it, we are learning just how incredible meditation may be for helping to keep our brains younger and healthier for longer!

Dr. Shana McQueen
Sources:
Arthur W. Toga, et al., Enhanced brain connectivity in long-term meditation practitioners, NeuroImage, 2011