ULCA researchers have shown that mediation may help preserve brain's gray matter, the tissue that contains neurons, that is lost due to aging.
The brain begins to wither and its volume and weight begin to decrease when people are in their mid to late 20s. This leads to loss of its functional abilities. So although people might be living longer since 1970, the years they actually gain often come with increased risks for mental illness and neurodegenerative disease.
The scientists studied the association between age and gray matter. The study included 50 people who had mediated for years and 50 who did not, aged between 24 to 77 years. People who meditated had been doing so for 4 to 46 years, with an average of 20 years. It was seen that people in both groups had loss of gray matter as they aged. But the researchers found that among people who meditated, the volume of gray matter did not decline as much as it did among those who did not.
Co-author of the study Dr. Florian Kurth said, "We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, we actually observed that there was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain. Although we found a negative correlation between gray matter and age in both groups of people, suggesting a loss of brain tissue with increasing age, we also found that large parts of the gray matter in the brains of those who meditated seemed to be better preserved."
However, the researchers cautioned that they cannot draw a direct, causal connection between meditation and preserving gray matter in the brain. Other factors including lifestyle choices, personality traits, and genetic brain differences are likely to play a role.
The study appears online in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.