If we want to build up strong muscles, we assume we've got to hit the gym and lift some weights. But what if we want to strengthen our brains? Try meditation, according to a recent study.
In the study, published in the journal NeuroImage, UCLA neuroscientist Eileen Luders and her colleagues compared the brains of 22 people who had practiced various forms of meditation—for anywhere from five to nearly 50 years—with the brains of 22 people (of similar ages and education levels) who had never practiced any kind of meditation. Using a brain imaging technique that allowed them to view changes across the entire brain, the researchers looked to see if any particular brain regions were bigger in one group or the other.
They found that two brain regions were bigger in the meditators than in the non-meditators, while non-meditators showed no advantage in any brain region. The regions that had greater volume in the meditators have both been linked to our ability to manage our emotions; one of them, the hippocampus, located in the temporal lobes of the brain, near the ears, has also been found to play a role in our skills of attention. Additionally, the authors found evidence that meditation may actually improve the hippocampus' ability to grow new neurons into adulthood, which may be particularly important to keeping our brains sharp as we age.
Previous studies have shown that an active meditation practice is associated with a stronger ability to regulate one's behavior and emotions, and with reductions in physical and psychological symptoms of illness. With this study, Luders and her colleagues have found further evidence for these links, down to the neural level. They note that more research in this area is necessary before they can draw any definite conclusions. But they argue that if effects of meditation are linked to the particular brain changes they observed, then meditators are strengthening the brain regions necessary for the "singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior
For more tips on how to strengthen your brain, check out Jill Suttie's Greater Good article this month, "How to Keep Your Brain Young (Even as You Grow Old)."
Thanks for this article! I have been debating the importance of doing regular meditation. This article is convincing me to make it a more regular part of my routine.
Roopali Desai | 10:07 am, November 5, 2009 | Link
My husband is about to undergo prostate surgery. This week we were invited to a special seminar that Coleen, the wholistic nurse holds at Our Lady of Lourdes hospital in Camden, NJ. She and the program are incredible. She talks about research related to meditation and healing/pain management, guides participants in meditation activities, and sends the men home with a CD and a book to meditate twice a day before surgery. We are going this week and feel much more peaceful about what is to come and the healing process. She is beginning to develop pain management programs as well. THANKS Coleen and Lady of Lourdes!!
Martie Mollenhauer | 5:41 am, November 7, 2009 | Link
I have long felt that the 21st Century will be the “century of inner space,” just as the 20th century was the “century of outer space.” If we are ever to overcome the fears that beget ethnic hatreds and wars, we must start by taming the inner, primordial spaces of our lives.
The articles I have read so far on your website are profound… simple… beautiful… Thanks for the pioneering work that you are doing.
Siddhartha Banerjee | 1:38 pm, November 13, 2009 | Link
Meditating is the best way to improve all kinds of living things. As Buddha had said that meditating can improve our brain and we can even gain merits by meditating. It is a key to go to haven.
Kyaw Naing Lin | 10:33 pm, October 5, 2010 | Link
I always find the effects of meditation fascinating to me. I believe it also can help reduce the levels of cortisol, a stress related hormone. Even though I know meditation has such great side effects, I still find it hard to find time to practice it everyday. It is nice to know that it makes your brain stronger too.
Cory Cook | 2:04 pm, March 13, 2011 | Link