The Continuum of Meditation on Brain Health
The practice of meditation has been promoted to improve mental health for centuries, as the Buddhist meditation practice and was developed as a stress coping strategy in the 1980s and reported to be associated with improved attention-related cognitive processes, including memory and attention span.
Moving forward to 2011…
A study published in Emotion examined the impact of mediation on self-regulation on regular meditators; more specifically, the cognitive abilities of people who regularly meditated before and after a three-month-long retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center nestled high in the Colorado Rockies.
Researchers specifically investigated response inhibition, the ability to inhibit one’s own response to distractions, and adaptive functioning, which refers to skills necessary for us to navigate through environmental demands effectively (including practical, conceptual, and social skills).
Following the retreat, researchers discovered improved in response inhibitions and adaptive functions over time, which were also sustained five months later.
Fast forward seven years later to 2018…
The researchers followed up with additional assessments after the meditation training at the center. The participants were asked how much time over the course of seven years they spent meditating, including through daily practice.
All participants reported some form of continued meditation practice, with average amounts practiced comparable to an hour a day for seven years. Furthermore, 85 percent attended at least one meditation retreat.
The participants again completed assessments designed to measure reaction times and their abilities to pay attention to tasks at hand. While there were no noticeable improvements, the cognitive gains after the 2011 training were partially maintained many years later.
The gain was especially true for older participants who practiced meditation consistently and frequently. In fact, compared to those who practiced less, regular meditators did not show typical patterns of age-related decline in prolonged attention!
It’s Okay to Go Gray
Further evidence reported by the American Association for the Advancement of Science backs the link between meditation and a sharp brain.
Researchers compared brain scans of regular meditators and those who did not practice. The scans showed the meditators had more gray matter in certain areas, including the insula, which is associated with the integration of thoughts, senses and emotions, and the prefrontal cortex, which handles working memory and IQ.
Nonetheless, the more shades of gray is indicative of more brain and neuronal activity, leading researchers to insinuate meditation enhances cognition in various facets.
How to Keep Your Brain Sharp with Meditation
In addition to the studies detailed above, the EOC Institute touts mediation is the number one method of building a better brain. And luckily, the practice is feasibly accessible through structured classes or even enjoyed leisurely at home.
Seek Out Classes and Workshops
Especially if new to the practice, you can dip your toes into the water by attending classes and workshops. Even after becoming acclimated to meditation with knowledgeable instructions, you can continue the journey
Lessons.com can help link you to the best meditation classes in your local area, while Sahaja Meditation offers free classes across the country. Thumbtack is also a way to practice meditation while simultaneously stretching and flowing into yoga poses.
Practice at Home
You can also practice meditation in the comfort of your own home (and even at work, the park, and really, virtually anywhere)!
This beginner’s guide to meditation is a valuable resource, as it describes how to get started and techniques, including introductory steps of sitting still and walking meditation that involved movement.
But Include Other Mind-Sharpening Activities
Whereas meditation grants numerous mental health benefits, keeping the mind sharp also involves additional of physical, mental, and social activities.
So in addition to meditating, keep the brain busy and young by partaking in mind-stimulating activities, exercising, fueling the body and mind with brain foods, dancing and listening to music, and scheduling meaningful activities with loved ones.