Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could literally make our brains younger? We’d all be sprightly things with a new lust for life – and we wouldn’t misplace our glasses and keys so often perhaps. Well, it’s good news, as a new study has shown that by meditating for just 15 minutes every day, we can half our brain age. Wow.
Neuroscientist Sara Lazar from Mass General and Harvard Medical School developed an interest in meditation after she took up yoga to recover from a running injury. After a sceptical start, Sara noticed she was becoming calmer and better able to cope with difficult situations, along with feeling more compassion. The change in herself drove her to research mindfulness meditation, which has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, among other ailments.
Sara decided to conduct a study into the link between practiced meditation and grey matter in the brain – and what she discovered was truly remarkable.
In her first study, the scientist focussed on a group of 50-year-old people who have meditated for between seven to nine years, against a control group. The meditating group’s brains had more grey matter in many areas of the brain, two key areas being decision making and memory in the frontal cortex. This was astounding because the frontal cortex is known to reduce in size as people age, however the 50-year-olds’ grey matter equalled the same as that of 25-year-olds.
Spurred on by this incredible result, Sara began a second study to see what happened with meditators with no experience of the practice. They participated in an eight-week course. Sara discovered that after this short timescale, several areas of the brain had thickened including those connected to learning, empathy, memory and perspective. Even more amazing was the area of the brain associated with anxiety shrunk.
This is life-changing news. So how do we go about meditating to produce these changes in our own brains?
Participants in the study meditated for an average of 27 minutes a day, but it’s known that 15 minutes’ practice a day can show changes to the brain. It’s all about finding a space to practice where you feel calm, so you can quiet your mind.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position, close your eyes and focus solely on your breath. If you find it helpful to have a one-word or one-sentence mantra to repeat, you can do this. Your mind will naturally lose focus and wander off but every time you notice this, bring it back to your breath or mantra. Soon you will begin to feel much calmer. Do this as long as you are able; over time your brain will become more accustomed to the practice and you’ll find it much easier to maintain focus.
The great thing about mindfulness meditation is you can actually do it anywhere – while walking, while preparing dinner or just sitting on the sofa. Focus solely on the task in hand and centre your brain on your breath or a mantra. You’ll be amazed at how calming it is.
Here’s to the next generation of youthful 50-year-olds!
Ready for more? New York-based fitness instructor Bethany Meyers tells us her tips for how to love exercise, or check out the A-list workout that you can do without going anywhere near a gym, And here’s why you should consider throwing away your weighing scales and heading to your local park instead.