Meditation doesn’t just free the mind, it could also keep it young. Regular meditation knocks seven and a half years off the middle-aged brain, a study found.
The researchers said that the combination of intense concentration and relaxation may trigger the growth of new brain cells. And while they didn’t look at whether the meditators were also smarter, brain shrinkage is linked to Alzheimer’s and other memory-robbing diseases.
The scientists scanned the brains of 50 American men and women who regularly meditated and 50 non-meditators. The scans were fed into a computer program that analysed the images and provided an age for each brain based on its physical condition. The results were striking.
In general, the non-meditators’ brain age and actual age were the same, so a 55 year old’s brain looked like it was 55.
However, the meditators’ brains were younger than their years, with the average 50-year-old having a brain that belonged in a 42 or 43 year-old’s body.
The benefits were particularly great for the older meditators, for every extra year past 50, a youth spent mediating knocked an extra year off brain age, the journal NeuroImage reports.
Researcher Christian Gaser, of Jena University Hospital in Germany, said: ‘These findings seem to suggest that meditation is beneficial for brain preservation, with a slower rate of brain ageing throughout life.’
Dr Gaser, who collaborated with US And Australian scientists on the study, said it isn’t clear how meditation protects the brain but that it is possible that the ‘intense mental processes’ trigger the growth of new cells and connection.
The chemicals behind the feel-good feeling produced by meditation may also provide a boost.
However, he cautioned that those who mediate may lead healthier lifestyles in general. It is also possible that some inherent difference in brain structure makes particular people more likely to take up meditating.
Those studied had practised various types of traditional mediation for average of 20 years – and some did seven sessions a week or had more than 40 years’ experience under their belt.
It isn’t clear from the results if shorter bursts are also beneficial or if mindfulness, the ‘meditation-lite’ technique that is becoming increasing popular, would have the same effect.
Interestingly, the scans revealed that meditation isn’t the only way to keep the mind youthful – being female also helps. The women’s brains were, on average, three years younger than the men’s, whether they meditated or not.
Meditation is credited with boosting health in numerous ways, from boosting creativity to improving the immune system.
The list of reasons why you might want to consider meditating was already long. Besides its much-touted benefits as a stress reducer, meditation has been credited from boosting creativity to improving the immune system. Plus, getting started with mindfulness is probably easier than you think.
So why not give it a try?