Meditation can be calming and, according to a new study, it can also limit the effects of aging on the brain. A study from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) investigated how meditation can impact the volume of the brain’s grey matter. As people age, brain volume and weight decrease, which can cause the brain to lose some functional abilities. Decreased brain volume increases the risk of mental illness and neurodegenerative disease in older adults. The study demonstrated a link between grey matter volume in the brain and meditation. Meditation may offer a way to maintain one’s quality of life into old age.
The researchers built the present study on past work suggesting that people who meditate have less age-related atrophy in the brain’s white matter. For this study, the researchers evaluated 100 people—50 who meditated and 50 who did not meditate. Each group, the meditators and the non-meditators, consisted of 28 men and 22 women. The participants ranged in age from 24 to 77 years. Those who meditated had been doing so for 4 to 46 years, with an average meditation practice of 20 years.
Using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers evaluated the relationship between the participants’ age and grey matter. MRI scanning revealed that meditation supports the preservation of the brain’s grey matter. Both meditators and non-meditators lost grey matter volume with age. However, meditators exhibited a smaller decline in grey matter volume than the non-meditators.
Co-author of the study Dr. Florian Kurth, postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, explains that the findings exceeded expectations. “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.”
Meditation could be one way to maintain brain health as people age. Although the study does not prove a direct causal link between meditation and gray matter volume, the results are promising. The researchers hope that their study will motivate more research on the subject.
This research is published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.