Fitness Magazine

Meditation: A Bench Press for the Brain?

By Ninazolotow @Yoga4HealthyAge
by Nina
Meditation: A Bench Press for the Brain?Two recent articles in the NY Times suggest that practicing meditation may increase our cognitive abilities. The first article, How Meditation Might Boost Your Test Scores, discussed a study published last month in the journal Psychological Science  by University of California, Santa Barbara researchers. The UCSB researchers found that after a group of undergraduates went through a two-week intensive mindfulness training program, their mind-wandering decreased and their working memory capacity improved. They also performed better on a GRE reading comprehension test. Students in the control group had no similar improvement.
Granted, this study was on young adults, but increasing memory capacity in general sounds real good to me! Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, who has studied brain function in long-term and novice mindful meditators, explained it this way, “You can improve the signal-to-noise ratio by reducing the noise. Decreasing mind-wandering is doing just that.”
The second NY Times article, In Sitting Still, a Bench Press for the Brain, discussed the many possible benefits of meditation in older people, citing several different studies. One study that intrigued me was The unique brain anatomy of meditation practitioners: alterations in cortical gyrification published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience journal in February, which looked at the extent to which meditation may affect neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to make physiological changes) Previous studies found that the brains of long-term meditators had increased amounts of gray matter—believed to be involved in processing information and white matter—believed to be the “wiring” of the brain’s communication system.
In the recent University of California, Los Angeles study, M.R.I. scans were used to measure the features of the subject’s brains and compare them to a control group of non-meditators. The meditators had a median age of 51 and had all been practicing meditation of various types for an average of 20 years. The oldest subject was 71 and the longest practitioner had been meditating regularly for 46 years. The study concluded that “the degree of cortical gyrification appeared to increase as the number of years practicing meditation increased.” The Times quotes the lead scientist of the study:
“We used to believe that when you were born, your brain would grow and reach a peak in the early 20s and then start shrinking,” Dr. Luders said. “It was thought there was nothing we could do to change that.”
Now it appears that we can! Although this study does not provide conclusive proof that meditation caused the brain adaptations or that the increased folds meant improved cognitive performance for these older adults, the results were certainly intriguing and I’m sure there will be more research in this area to come.
I don’t know about you, but keeping my cognitive abilities in good shape as I age is pretty high on my priority list! And these two articles at least give me some hope that there is something that I can actually do about it—something completely free, with no dangerous side effects, mind you.

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog