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Meditation May Stop Your Brain From Withering Away

Scientists have uncovered yet another perk of meditation.

Meditation May Stop Your Brain From Withering Away
[Photo: Flickr user Erin Stoodley]

It seems we can barely go a week without hearing about some new virtue of mindfulness meditation. It’s as though the universe is trying to tell us something: That vow you made to yourself to start meditating more (or at all)? You should stop futzing around on the Internet and actually do it. Seriously.

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Not only can meditation decrease stress, rewire your mental circuitry, and even physically alter your DNA, but the practice has a new perk: It might help prevent you from losing your marbles as you get older.

A new study from UCLA suggests that meditation can help preserve gray matter in your brain as it ages. In the 50-person study, researchers found that while everybody’s gray matter withered with time, those who actively practiced meditation lost less of the neuron-packed tissue.

The difference was actually pretty significant.

“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” study co-author Dr. Florian Kurth said in a press statement. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”

The study divided people up into two groups composed of 22 women and 28 men, all between 24 and 77 years old. On average, the people who meditated had done so for 20 years, so it’s clearly not an overnight effect.

The researchers were cautious about drawing too direct of a cause-and-effect line between meditating and the preservation of gray matter, since there are several other potential factors at play, from genetics to lifestyle choices. Still, they called their results “promising” and called for additional research into the correlation between meditation and gray matter preservation.

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That may take some time to shake out, but by all means, don’t wait around for the science to firm up before ramping up your own mindfulness routine. There are still plenty of well-documented benefits that come with meditating, and the list only gets longer with time.

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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