NSSince 1970, human life expectancy has increased by more than 10 years all over the world. This can be called a consequence of significant progress in the field of health, if not for one “but”: it was noticed that the brain begins to decrease in volume and weight when a person reaches the age of 20. This structural deterioration gradually leads to functional impairment and is accompanied by an increased risk of mental and neurodegenerative diseases. Due to the aging of the population, the incidence of cognitive impairment, dementia (acquired dementia, persistent decline in cognitive performance) and Alzheimer’s disease have increased significantly over the past decades. Of course, it is important that the increase in life expectancy is not accompanied by a decrease in its quality.
Meditation can be a candidate for this positive endeavor because scientists have ample evidence of its beneficial effects on a range of cognitive functions (attention, memory, verbal fluency, processing speed, and even creativity). This wealth of cognitive research has not only confirmed the idea that the human brain is plastic throughout life, but has also led to a number of related concepts and theories; suggested that the development of meditative skills is associated with increased control over the distribution of mental resources, as well as learning that requires a non-standard approach (as opposed to stimulus and task-based learning).
To expand this area of research, American and Australian scientists decided to study the relationship between age and brain atrophy. The study included 50 meditation practitioners (28 men, 22 women) and 50 people in the control group (28 men, 22 women). Meditators and participants from the control group were matched by age ranging from 24 to 77 years (meditators: 51.4 ± 12.8 years; controls: 50.4 ± 11.8 years). Experience in meditation practices ranged from 4 to 46 years.
The study was carried out using an MRI machine. Having studied the relationship between age, as well as the state and amount of gray matter of the brain, scientists noticed a significant negative correlation in general, both in the control group and among meditators, which indicates an age-related decrease in the content of gray matter, but this negative correlation (the older, the less ) was traced much more clearly among the control group than among the meditators. In general, the conclusion confirms the hypothesis put forward that meditation improves the functional state of the brain and is able to prevent age-related decrease in the amount of gray matter. However, it is important to recognize that the observed effects may not only be a consequence of meditation, but other factors accompanying successful long-term practice.