Since 1970, life expectancy around the world has risen dramatically, with people living more than 10 years longer. That’s the good news. The bad news is that starting when people are in their mid-to-late-20s, the brain begins to wither — its volume and weight begin to decrease. As this occurs, the brain can begin to lose some of its functional abilities. So although people might be living longer, the years they gain often come with increased risks for mental illness and neurodegenerative disease. Fortunately, a new study shows that meditation could be one way to minimize those risks. Building on their earlier work that suggested people who meditate have less age-related atrophy in the brain’s white matter, a new study by UCLA researchers, together with a colleague from the Australian National University, found that meditation appeared to help preserve the brain’s gray matter, the tissue that contains neurons. The scientists looked specifically at the association between age and gray matter. They compared 50 people who had mediated for years and 50 who hadn’t. People in both groups showed a loss of gray matter as they aged. But the researchers found that, among those who meditated, the volume of gray matter did not decline as much as it did among those who didn’t. The article describing these new results was published online on January 21, 2015 in Frontiers in Psychology. Dr. Florian Kurth, a co-author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow in the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, said the researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the difference. “We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” he said.
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