People who meditate regularly over long periods of time in their lives suffer smaller age-related decreases in brain volume than those who don’t, according to a new study on the long-term effects of practices like transcendental meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other relaxation techniques.
Some of the study’s outcomes confirm what prior research has shown, namely that meditating may be helpful for improving one’s concentration, memory, verbal fluency, and creativity. Surprisingly, though, this latest investigation also found that loss of brain volume – especially grey matter – due to aging was less significant in habitual meditators compared to their non-meditating counterparts.
Although most forms of meditation are rooted in religious and spiritual traditions, millions now practice purely for the enhancement of their health and wellbeing, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Health Statistics (NCHS). Most commonly, meditation and other relaxation techniques are thought of as an essential part of stress management.
While not all experts are convinced of the effectiveness of meditation in promoting both mental and physical health, it is by and large accepted that therapeutic measures to induce calmness can be instrumental in easing psychological stresses like anxiety and depression as well as physical pain. Some studies have suggested that symptoms of medical conditions like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), high blood pressure, and even heart disease and cancer can be better managed with meditation. Also smoking cessation and recovery from alcohol and drug abuse show higher success rates when meditation is included in the process.
Even though the jury may still be out on whether, or to what extent, meditation and other practices of mindfulness can materially alter the brain, it is certain that chronic stress causes real damage. Neuroscientists have long discovered that cortisol, the stress hormone, can indeed create lasting changes to the brain structure and detrimentally affect brain functions. Reducing the impact of stress by engaging in effective countermeasures such as meditation can mitigate at least some of those injuries.
Beginners may find it hard to establish a meditation routine. Not everything works for everyone. While there are many types of exercises, all recommend the following:
First, find a time and place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Second, choose a style that makes you most comfortable. You may prefer to sit, lay down, move, or walk. Third, choose a focal point that is easier for you to maintain such as a particular word, object, or sensation like your breathing. Fourth, keep an open mind towards all that happens during your session. Let inevitable distractions and loss of focus pass. Do not judge or allow yourself to be discouraged. Fifth, do not measure your progress in terms of what you can achieve by outside standards. This is something you do only for your own benefit and your personal growth.
Regardless whether you turn out smarter or not, it will be worth the effort if it makes you feel better, calmer, happier, and lets you enjoy life. What could be more important?
Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.