Meditation isn’t just for the Buddhist or the yoga-enthusiast--it’s now a proven way to relieve stress and anxiety, and one more thing that the business world may start to increasingly latch onto: It can potentially restore a 50-year-old brain to 25-year-old thinking capacity. Neuroscientist Sara Lazar, of Mass General and Harvard Medical School, shows that meditation literally changes our brain.
In a first study, Lazar revealed that meditators with seven to nine years of meditation experience had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex and insula and sensory regions.
How does it work?
Time is an undiscerning villain, and as it goes by, our brains age, losing both weight and volume--and intellectual function.
The study showed that meditators had more gray matter in another part of the brain - frontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and working memory.
With meditation, 50-year-olds in the control group managed to maintain the same amount of the gray matter in their brains as 25-year-olds, while their peers who were not meditating experienced brain shrinkage.
In a second study, researchers worked with a group of people for whom the idea of meditation was entirely foreign--they’d never tried it before.
After being immersed in an eight-week “mindfulness program”, which showed changes in the meditators’ hippocampus, which usually shrinks with age. For those in the control group who were meditating for eight weeks, the hippocampus--which controls memory, learning, self-awareness and compassion--was thicker in the mediators. In those from the control group who were not meditating, the hippocampus remained unchanged.
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A similar development unfolded with another part of the brain--the pons, where neurotransmitters are generated that regulate mood, motivation, cravings, energy, libido and sleep.
In addition, meditators in the control group showed a decrease in density in the amygdala--which controls emotions (for our purposes, think: stress and anxiety).
Lazar's study is also not the first to show empirical proof of the benefits of meditation for keeping your brain young.
A 2016 study from UCLA showed similar effects for meditation, but the results were quite as compelling.
After analyzing 50 people of the average age of 51 and who had been meditating for two decades and then comparing those their brain scans to 50 people who had never meditated, the study showed that the meditators’ brains were, on average, 7.5 years younger.
The results were more pronounced among the elderly.
Another seven-year study released in 2018 in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement also confirmed that meditation has “the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person’s life,” preventing age-related mental decline, which was more pronounced in older people.
So, how long should you meditate every day? No one’s quite sure what the cutoff is for ensuring a younger brain.
But regardless, it’s a practice that might benefit the corporate world and its employees. We see meditation rooms increasingly popping up, and 15-minute breaks where employees do and think nothing and replenish their thought base. In the end, the studies really suggest that not only could it keep your brain working at 25-year-old capacity, but it could also result in creative problem-solving benefits for companies whose employees are paying attention to their brains.
By Michael Scott for conil.me