Meditation and the Brain [10 Ways to Slow Brain Aging]
As the life expectancy continues to rise as it has for the last century, the percentage of the population that we are seeing with problems that we associate with an aging brain such as dementia or Alzheimer’s continues to grow. By 2050, the percentage of the population that is age 60 and older is expected to triple, and as a result, there is an expectation that dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases will also increase (World Health Organization Source).
Finding the path to slowing the cognitive effects of aging on the brain will be critical to the quality of life for our aging population.
Science Research on Meditation and the Brain
Science shows that meditation can decrease the rate at which our brain is aging. Age triggers a natural aging process of our mind. The cortex of our brain coats the surface of the cerebrum and cerebellum. Think of the cortex is commonly referred to as “gray matter” and it has the responsibility of processing information. The gray matter in our brain shrinks over time and leads to memory loss, verbal changes, and a decrease in the ability to process some forms of information. (Source)
Recent research shows that there is a correlation between age and brain gray matter in those who consistently practice meditation long-term. In fact, meditation can help us to preserve cognition, maintain the health of our brain tissue while also reducing the risk for conditions like dementia or Alzheimers.
Meditation and the Aging Brain
Meditation is useful in helping you to manage depression, stress, anxiety or pain. Studies show that mindful meditation is particularly helpful in supporting brain health through telomere elongation, hemodynamics, and cerebral blood flow.
In one study, thirty-three individuals who regularly practice meditation were required to participate in a study looking to examine the effects of regular meditation habits on the brain. The study demonstrated that individuals who regularly engaged in the continued practice of mindful meditation experienced multiple benefits including increased sensory perception and sensitivity, and emotional awareness (Laneri, Schuster, Dietsche, Jansen, Ott, and Sommer, Effects of Long-Term Mindfulness Meditation on Brain’s White Matter Microstructure and its Aging Source).
Another study analyzes the link between age and cortical thickness. That study demonstrates that meditators have a thicker cortical layer than those who do not indulge in meditation and was even similar to that of a twenty to thirty-year-old (by Lazar et al. Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness Source).
A third study evaluates the link between age and total gray matter volume as well as local gray matter volume. Those individuals who did not participate in meditation experienced a loss of gray matter over a period, while those who did engage in meditation had a gain of total gray matter (by Pagnoni, Age effects on gray matter volume and attentional performance in Zen meditation. Neurobiol. Aging Source).
This research demonstrates that meditation ignites a biological response in brain aging and neurodegeneration. It may slow, stall or even reverse age-related brain degeneration. (by Luders et al., Forever younger: potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on grapy matter atrophy).
10 Ways Meditation Benefits Your Life
As more people are realizing the physical and mental health benefits of meditation, it is increasing in popularity. The process of training your brain to remain focused, as well as to redirect your thoughts at will is the foundation of meditation.
Meditation can be used to gain better control over your impulses and emotions as well as to lower stress, anxiety, pain, and even your blood pressure. Scientists are studying the effects of meditation more and developing a greater understanding on the mind-body connection that can be observed in those who meditate regularly.
So, what are some of the many ways meditation can benefit your health? Here are our top ten!
#1. Meditation Lowers Stress
When you are stressed, your body releases stress hormones, which can cause a whole range of negative effects on your health, including depression, anxiety, sleeplessness, high blood pressure, and many more.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins University, meditation has been shown to effectively reduce stress hormone production, lower stress-induced inflammation, and improve symptoms of disorders known to be stress related.(Source)
#2. Meditation Helps Controls Anxiety
When you lower stress, you also lower the triggers for feelings of anxiety. In addition to being helpful for decreasing general anxiety, meditation can also reduce symptoms related to paranoia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, panic attacks, phobias, and social anxiety (Source). Lowered anxiety is seen in those who practice regular meditation, with results becoming more pronounced the longer one practices.
#3. Meditation Supports Your Emotional Health
Meditation helps those with depression by lowering the production of cytokines, which can affect your mood.
Additional research by Davidson, et al. indicate that those who regularly meditate have more electrical brain activity in the areas responsible for positive emotions (Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation Source).
#4. Meditation Can Improve Your Sleep
By helping you control your thoughts and focus, meditation can be used to help you sleep better, as well. Meditation can help you fall asleep more quickly and stay asleep longer.
Meditation leads to a more relaxed body and the release of tension, which are helpful when you are trying to find peace and rest.
#5. Meditation Can Control Pain
By lowering stress and controlling your mental state, you can also control your perception of pain. Those who suffer from chronic pain and terminal diseases can benefit from practicing mindfulness meditation to help mitigate their pain. Meditation also helps you cope with the negative emotions that pain can cause.
#6. Meditation Lowers Blood Pressure
Those who use meditation can learn to lower their blood pressure, which is good news for your heart. Meditation can help you learn to relax the nerve signals that control heart function, which can reduce your blood pressure in meaningful ways.
#7. Meditation and the Brain Benefits
When you are able to focus and find clarity, you can reduce your memory loss as you age. Meditate teaches you both of these, and researchers have confirmed these results in multiple studies with people of all ages (The Potential Effects of Meditation and the Brain on Age-Related Cognitive Decline: A Systematic Review, Gard, et al. Source). Meditation can enhance mental quickness, attention, and can even help those who are starting to feel the signs of dementia.
#8. Meditation May Help Combat Addiction
Meditation teaches you mental discipline, which can help some who are wanting to break chemical or alcohol dependencies. Meditation can enhance self-control as well as awareness of those emotions or events that trigger addictive behaviors. Those who regularly practice see an increase in willpower and are able to redirect attention, which can be helpful when battling addiction.
#9. Meditation Promotes Self-Awareness
If you want to get to know yourself better, try meditation. Some forms of meditation are designed to enhance self-inquiry and awareness, allowing you to develop a greater understanding of yourself and your relationships with others.
Meditation can help you identify harmful feelings and their triggers and even build your self-esteem. According to researchers at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, meditation could be used to rebuild unhealthy self-images and reform neural pathways that lead to unhealthy behaviors, as well.(Source)
#10. Meditation Can Promote Kindness
When you meditate, you learn to listen to your body and your mind, which increases your positive feelings toward yourself and other people. Regular meditation, especially using Metta, a type of meditation known to promote kindness and loving, can help you develop your own self-kindness, which then becomes extended to others. So, if you are working on developing compassion, try meditation.
Meditation can be a powerful tool for healing the mind and the body. Because you can meditate just about anywhere, it is an excellent health tool to learn and cultivate. There are many styles of meditation, and some are better for accomplishing specific health goals. Find one or more that work well for you and start your practice today. (Source)
Reduce Age-Related Memory Loss with Meditation
Meditation has been around for centuries, and millions of people practice it every day. Touted as one of the most natural remedies for stress, high blood pressure, and depression, meditation and the brain preventing age-related memory loss.
Aging and Memory
Unfortunately, with age, our risk for memory loss increases. During our 20’s, the brain’s volume reaches its peak before embarking on a slow but steady decline for the remainder of our life.
As we enter our 40’s, the cortex of our brain, which coats the surface of the cerebrum and cerebellum, begins to shrink. Think of the cortex as our “gray matter” and carries the duties of processing information.
As we age, so does our brain and the ability to maintain simple things like someone’s name for example slowly materializes. Our behavior may change, and our verbal fluency and ability to find the best words slowly changes with time. Each of these characteristics is the direct result of those physiological changes our brain undergoes including a reduction in the amount of blood flowing, carrying nutrients to our brain and its various centers of operation (American Psychological Association Source).
While there are several studies, such as Michael Marsike’s the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (Source) research demonstrate that adults who regularly engage in short mental workouts can sustain their memory performance other studies are pointing to meditation and the brain as being key to reducing age-related memory loss.
Meditation for Memory Loss
Meditation requires us to intentionally focus and regulate our attention to achieve the relaxation and calm of the mind and body. It allows for beneficial changes to several chemicals in the brain including triggering CNS dopaminergic and other neurochemical systems. Meditation improves blood flow in the brain which in turn improves oxygen delivery (Source).
Establishing long-term meditation and the brain practices can help to thicken the cortex and increase gray brain matter throughout various regions of the brain that we associate with performance and memory.
Another asset? It can help to offset the cortical thinning we associate with aging thereby slowing memory loss. Our frontal lobe becomes more active during meditation, allowing us to focus and dedicate our attention to one thing. The parietal lobe reaps the benefits of meditation by enabling us to retrieve our memories.
Kirtan Kriya (KK) Meditation and Memory
So, what’s the best form of meditation? Research is giving high marks to Kirtan Kriya (Keer-tun Kree-a). A study, conducted at the University of Pennsylvania demonstrated that those who engaged in meditation daily for eight weeks were able to increase brain activity to those areas that are central to memory and even improved cognition in some patients suffering memory problem (Source).
Kirtan Kriya (KK) belongs to the Kundalini, yoga family. This tradition of yoga has been around for thousands of years. It is a 12-minute singing exercise that utilizes a repetitive mantra of the primal sound Saa Taa Naa Maa.
How to Perform Kirtan Kriya Meditation
Sitting with your spine straight, eyes closed and your concentration in an L form, you repeat the sounds of Saa Taa Naa Maa. Two minutes are spent singing in your normal voice before moving into two minutes of a whisper. Next, you chant silently to yourself for four minutes before whispering to yourself for two minutes, then in your normal tone for two more minutes until reaching the twelve-minute mark.
As you are saying the words, your finger positions match your words as follows:
• Saa -Index finger touches your thumb
• Taa -Middle finger touches your thumb
• Naa -Ring finger touches your thumb
• Maa -Pinky finger touches your thumb
KK improves focus, attention span, concentration efforts, mood, and short-term memory (Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation Source).
Meditation is a cost-effective way for not only reducing stress and improving mood, but it can help to improve cognition.
Meditation and the Brain Benefits Summary
We are all growing older each day. Although we cannot stop it from happening, we may be able to take action based on the scientific evidence to slow its impact on our brain.
There is still a great deal of research to be done to examine further the positive effects that meditation may have on the health of minds. It is a cost-effect approach that has the opportunity for integration into our everyday health routines.
Meanwhile, you can take the first step to add routine meditation practice into your daily regimen to begin reaping the benefits of reducing age-related brain deficits.
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