Can meditation keep you young?

Escaping from daily stress, finding yourself in religion, achieving enlightenment: these are all reasons people may practice meditation, a widespread tradition in Eastern cultures. Meditation is also a very interesting subject for scientists who see it as a highly effective way of developing the brain, and more recently as a way to fight the effects of aging. Stay young through meditation? Why not?

A team from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) studied the impact of meditation on the brain using an MRI and two groups of volunteers who either did or did not engage in the practice. In the first group, the participants had been practicing meditation for several years (from 4 to 46) and were between 24 and 77 years of age. Participants in the second group, or control group, were in the same age range, but had never meditated for any significant length of time. The experiment consisted of viewing the brain of each participant with the goal of measuring the differences between each group using the images obtained from the MRI.

It's a well-known fact among scientists that brain volume naturally declines with age beginning at the age of 25, an inevitable phenomenon linked to aging. The decline is progressive, becoming more pronounced after the age of 50. The consequences of the process can be seen particularly through a slowing in cognitive and motor abilities. While inevitable, this decline is manifested quite differently depending on the person, and is particularly influenced by personal habits.

In this experiment, the researchers observed a decrease in brain volume in both groups, but it was less pronounced in the meditation group. Other studies have shown that those with the most experience display a greater number of brain folds than beginners or non-meditators. The number of convolutions is directly correlated with brain volume and is a reflection of periods of intensely stimulating activity.

This type of study offers proof of the correlation between meditation and a slowing in brain decline linked to aging. These results can't prove a causal link between the two, so we can't be sure if meditation actually preserves brain function. In other words, if you've been meditating for a long time, you most likely have slower decline, but it may not be the consequence of meditation.
Source: Luders E., Cherbuin N., Kurth F. Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy. Front Psychol. 2015 Jan 21;5:1551. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551. eCollection 2014.

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