Evidence has been piling up for a while now that meditation can work wonders for brain function, improving attention, reducing anxiety and improving cognitive functioning. Now, a study from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Brain Mapping Center has shown that regularly meditating over the course of one's lifetime can help to preserve the brain's tissues against the degeneration that comes with old age.
In a collaboration between UCLA and the Australian National University, researchers examined the brains of 50 people who had been meditating for a substantial amount of their lives (an average of 20 years) and compared them to the brains of 50 participants who had never meditated. Using fMRI scanning technology, the researchers discovered that the regular meditators' brains lost less gray matter as they aged than those of the non-meditators. Gray matter is the tissue in the brain that contains neurons and is responsible for information processing, and some portion of it is lost during the normal aging process.
The researchers note that they didn't control for lifestyle factors, so they are not able to claim a direct causal relationship between meditation and gray matter preservation, but the findings were striking nonetheless because they were more widespread and dramatic than the researchers had expected.
Team member Dr. Florian Kurth of UCLA expressed his surprise at the results in a statement: "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."
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