As we age our cognitive abilities tend to decline. We begin misplacing items more often (keys and glasses, anyone?), it becomes more difficult to solve problems, or we may have trouble remembering names. It’s all just a natural part of aging, right? Maybe it doesn’t have to be!
Research shows that the adult brain changes with experience and training. The healthier and more active your lifestyle, the better your cognitive performance will be as you age. But a healthy lifestyle isn’t limited to just diet and exercise, new research is finding that meditation may also be a key factor in maintaining brain health as we age!
Although there’s no “right” age to start mindfulness meditation, sooner may be better when it comes to improving your brain!
How Does Meditation Help Improve the Aging Brain?
Keeping your brain sharp relies on many factors, one of which is called your neural reserve. The neural reserve refers to our brain’s natural efficiency, capacity, and flexibility. The mental training that occurs during a mindful meditation practice helps to improve this neural reserve.
Practicing meditation each day also help with state and network training within the brain. State training activates large networks within the brain, networks that control a broad range of mental processes, both mental and emotional. Network training, on the other hand, is more focused on working smaller areas of the brain to improve a more focused area of the brain.
For many people, aging can come with the inability to accept changes—thoughts, feelings, and opinions become set in stone. As the world changes and conflicting opinions, develop, this can cause stress and even illness. The good news is that mental flexibility is another factor that may be improved through daily meditation. We become more open to new ideas and more aware of our own thoughts and feelings.
What do the studies show?
There has been a link shown between meditation and positive improvements in brain function. Heightened attention and awareness, better working memory, and mental efficiency were a few of the improvements.
Another study found that those who practiced meditation regularly had higher concentrations of brain tissues in specific areas of the brain typically lessened by aging. This suggests that meditation may be a key in minimizing, or slowing, the aging of the brain.
But we have to note that there are still mixed results coming out of studies meditation’s long term impacts on cognitive abilities. While there are many positive studies coming out, there are also studies that show that meditation has little to no effect on the aging brain. Many studies have shown that regular meditators performed similarly on tasks as non-meditators did. Others have studied introducing mindfulness to older adults—mindfulness intervention—and found very little change, or that improvements couldn’t be maintained.
Either way, the already proven benefits of meditation are enough to encourage anyone to start practicing meditation!