We’ve all heard, and maybe seen firsthand, how the mind declines as the body ages. Years ago, scientists believed this was inevitable, but extraordinary research in neurology has shown this to be untrue. In fact, the brain still changes with experience and training throughout our lives. This is known as neuroplasticity.
BUT neuroplasticity isn’t necessarily going to just happen; research shows that we must work for it. Diet, exercise, lifestyle, and education all affect this capability. In other words, the healthier you live, the healthier you’ll age. But the key ingredient may be meditation.
How Meditation Keeps Neuroplasticity
To maintain mental abilities, it’s important to keep the ‘neural reserve’ in good working order. This reserve is the brain’s efficiency capacity, or flexibility. New evidence is showing that meditation helps keep this reserve intact. For example, one review of the evidence linked regular meditation with positive improvements in brain function such as heightened attention, awareness, working memory, and greater mental efficiency.
Studies are showing that daily meditation impacts both brain “states” and brain “networks.” In a recent study published by a group of researchers at UCLA, it was reported that experienced meditators have higher concentrations of tissue in brain regions most depleted by aging. This suggests that meditation practice may help to minimize brain age and protect against age-related decline.
Keeping the Aging Brain Nimble
Life can be a lot of ups and downs, and for those who get stuck in a rut, they have trouble adapting. This can be a source of stress and maybe even illness. But meditation emphasizes an expansion of awareness — thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations without the presence of judgment. Without that sense of judgment or internal narrative, meditation helps to lessen that sense of attachment to outcomes while increasing mental flexibility.
Long-term practice of mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.