Improve Caregiver Psychological Health by Changing the Brain Response with Mindfulness

Improve Caregiver Psychological Health by Changing the Brain Response with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“We are set up for short-term stress, but caregiving is long-term stress. Mindfulness is basically coming back into the present moment, so it works to inhibit the stress response. Most of us run around listening to our thoughts, and this is particularly true of caregivers, who are driven by the to-do list. They are never at rest.” – Joan Griffiths Vega

 

Dementia is a progressive loss of mental function produced by degenerative diseases of the brain. Dementia patients require caregiving particularly in the later stages of the disease. Caregiving for dementia patients is a daunting intense experience that can go on for four to eight years with increasing responsibilities as the loved one deteriorates. This places tremendous psychological and financial stress on the caregiver. Hence, there is a need to both care for the dementia patients and also for the caregivers. Mindfulness practice for caregivers has been shown to help them cope with the physical and psychological demands of caregiving. In addition, mindfulness training has been found to help protect aging individuals from physical and cognitive declines.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity.  Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Grief, Mindfulness and Neural Predictors of Improvement in Family Dementia Caregivers.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6530345/), Jain and colleagues recruited dementia caregivers (91% female) and provided for them either 4 weeks of mindfulness training or 4 weeks of relaxation training. Training occurred in a once a week meeting along with home practice. The participants were measured before and after training for grief, depression, and mindfulness. They then had brain scans performed with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) while they viewed pictures of their loved one with dementia or a stranger with the pictures labelled with either grief related words, e.g. disease, dementia, and sick or with neutral words e.g. village, planter and curve.

 

They found that at baseline grief and depression levels were high and strongly related. They also found that the higher the levels of mindfulness the lower the levels of grief and depression. After mindfulness training there were reductions in grief and depression and increases in mindfulness. These findings are similar to previous research of improvements in the mental health of caregivers after mindfulness training.

 

Interestingly, in comparison to pictures of strangers, when showed pictures of their loved ones with dementia the caregivers showed increases in brain activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus and precuneus. Viewing grief related words results in increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex. The greater the decreases in grief following training the greater the activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus.

 

The structures showing activation to the caregiver’s loved one all are components of what is called the default mode network which is involved in self-referential thinking and thinking about others. It would appear that the mindfulness training resulted in greater thinking about the dementia patient and the self when viewing a picture of the patient. This may be reflective of heightened compassion for the self and the patient. This in turn, may produce improvements in the caregivers mental health.

 

So, improve caregiver psychological health by changing the brain response with mindfulness.

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

“By focusing on the fact that families and communities are producers of health and health care, not just clients or consumers, it empowers families and communities to co-create health interventions,” – Alicia Bazzano

 

Study Summary

 

Jain, F. A., Connolly, C. G., Moore, L. C., Leuchter, A. F., Abrams, M., Ben-Yelles, R. W., … Iacoboni, M. (2019). Grief, Mindfulness and Neural Predictors of Improvement in Family Dementia Caregivers. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 155. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00155

 

Abstract

Background: Family dementia caregivers often suffer from an immense toll of grief while caring for their loved ones. We sought to identify the clinical relationship between grief, depression and mindfulness and identify neural predictors of symptomatology and improvement.

Methods: Twenty three family dementia caregivers were assessed at baseline for grief, mindfulness and depression, of which 17 underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). During fMRI, caregivers were shown faces of either their dementia-stricken relative or that of a stranger, paired with grief-related or neutral words. In nine subjects, post fMRI scans were also obtained after 4 weeks of either guided imagery or relaxation. Robust regression was used to predict changes in symptoms with longitudinal brain activation (BA) changes as the dependent variable.

Results: Grief and depression symptoms were correlated (r = 0.50, p = 0.01), and both were negatively correlated with mindfulness (r = −0.70, p = 0.0002; r = −0.52, p = 0.01). Relative to viewing strangers, caregivers showed pictures of their loved ones (picture factor) exhibited increased activation in the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus and precuneus. Improvement in grief but not mindfulness or depression was predicted by increased relative BA in the precuneus and anterior cingulate (different subregions from baseline). Viewing grief-related vs. neutral words elicited activity in the medial prefrontal cortex and precuneus.

Conclusions: Caregiver grief, depression and mindfulness are interrelated but have at least partially nonoverlapping neural mechanisms. Picture and word stimuli related to caregiver grief evoked brain activity in regions previously identified with bereavement grief. These activation foci might be useful as biomarkers of treatment response.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6530345/

Religion and Spirituality are Associated with Brain Difference is Individuals At-Risk for Major Depression

Religion and Spirituality are Associated with Brain Difference is Individuals At-Risk for Major Depression

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

There are two possible explanations. One is that a thicker cortex is more associated with being interested in spiritual questions, the connectedness of people, etc and is simultaneously protective against depression. The other is that a lifelong habit of meditating and/or contemplation of spirituality stimulates the metabolism and neurogeneration in areas of the brain that confer resilience to trauma and therefore reduce the risk of developing depression.” – Emily Deans

 

Spirituality is defined as “one’s personal affirmation of and relationship to a higher power or to the sacred. Spirituality has been promulgated as a solution to the challenges of life both in a transcendent sense and in a practical sense. The transcendent claims are untestable with the scientific method. But the practical claims are amenable to scientific analysis. There have been a number of studies of the influence of spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health.

 

One way that spirituality can have its effects on the individual is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity.  Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread area. and have found that meditation practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. So, religion and spirituality may be associated with changes in the nervous system.

 

In today’s Research News article “A diffusion tensor imaging study of brain microstructural changes related to religion and spirituality in families at high risk for depression.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379589/), Li and colleagues recruited adult (average 33 years old) offspring of patients with major depressive disorder (high risk) and offspring from individuals who have no psychiatric conditions (low risk). Their brains were scanned with a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). They also completed a scale measuring the importance they ascribed to religion and spirituality.

 

They found that in participants who believed that religion / spirituality was of low importance but were of high risk for major depression had significantly decreased integrity and microstructure in white matter regions neighboring the precuneus, superior parietal lobe, superior and middle frontal gyrus, and bilateral insula, supplementary motor area, and postcentral gyrus. Participants who believed that religion / spirituality was of high importance and were of high risk for major depression had significantly decreased integrity and microstructure in white matter regions surrounding the left superior, and middle frontal gyrus, left superior parietal lobule, and right supplementary motor area.

 

These are complex findings that suggest that adults at high risk of developing major depression have lower integrity (functionality) of the connections between brain regions (white matter) potentially making them more susceptible for the development of major depression. These neural changes appear to be different depending upon the individuals’ beliefs of the importance of religion / spirituality. Religion / spirituality may be associated with reorganized connections that may be associated with protection from the development of major depression. This may be a mechanism by which religion / spirituality helps to protect individuals from developing major depression.

 

This is highly speculative and it will take much more research to test these ideas. But, nonetheless, the results suggest that how well the brain operates is damaged by having parents with major depressive disorder. But, being religious / spiritual may alter the disruptions of the brain protecting the individual from the development of a major depressive disorder.

 

people with habitual spiritual practices show cortical thickening in the prefrontal cortex. Intriguingly, she says that individuals who live with chronic depression experience cortical thinning in the same brain region.” – Maria Cohut

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Li, X., Weissman, M., Talati, A., Svob, C., Wickramaratne, P., Posner, J., & Xu, D. (2019). A diffusion tensor imaging study of brain microstructural changes related to religion and spirituality in families at high risk for depression. Brain and behavior, 9(2), e01209. doi:10.1002/brb3.1209

 

Abstract

Introduction

Previously in a three‐generation study of families at high risk for depression, we found that belief in the importance of religion/spirituality (R/S) was associated with thicker cortex in bilateral parietal and occipital regions. In the same sample using functional magnetic resonance imaging and electroencephalograph (EEG), we found that offspring at high familial risk had thinner cortices, increased default mode network connectivity, and reduced EEG power. These group differences were significantly diminished in offspring at high risk who reported high importance of R/S beliefs, suggesting a protective effect.

Methods

This study extends previous work examining brain microstructural differences associated with risk for major depressive disorder (MDD) and tests whether these are normalized in at‐risk offspring who report high importance of R/S beliefs. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data were selected from 99 2nd and 3rd generation offspring of 1st generation depressed (high‐risk, HR) or nondepressed (low‐risk, LR) parents. Whole‐brain and region‐of‐interest analyses were performed, using ellipsoidal area ratio (EAR, an alternative diffusion anisotropy index comparable to fractional anisotropy). We examined microstructural differences associated with familial risk for depression within the groups of high and low importance of R/S beliefs (HI, LI).

Results

In the LI group, HR individuals showed significantly decreased EAR in white matter regions neighboring the precuneus, superior parietal lobe, superior and middle frontal gyrus, and bilateral insula, supplementary motor area, and postcentral gyrus. In the HI group, HR individuals showed reduced EAR in white matter surrounding the left superior, and middle frontal gyrus, left superior parietal lobule, and right supplementary motor area. Microstructural differences associated with familial risk for depression in precuneus, frontal lobe, and temporal lobe were nonsignificant or less significant in the HI group.

Conclusion

R/S beliefs may affect microstructure in brain regions associated with R/S, potentially conferring resilience to depression among HR individuals.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6379589/

 

Alter the Brain to Deal with Stress with Meditation and Yoga

Alter the Brain to Deal with Stress with Meditation and Yoga

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Brain researchers have detected improvements in cognition and emotional well-being associated with meditation and yoga, as well as differences in how meditation and prayer affect the brain.” – Michaela Jarvis

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. One way that mindfulness practices may produce these benefits is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits.

 

In today’s Research News article “Meditation and yoga practice are associated with smaller right amygdala volume: the Rotterdam study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302143/), Gotink and colleagues utilized the data on participants in the longitudinal Rotterdam Study who were 45 years of age and older  at the time of recruitment and at the time of measurement had a mean age of 64 years. They were interviewed to determine if the practiced meditation and yoga and whether these practices improved their coping with stress. They were also measured for body size, blood pressure, blood fat, diabetes, smoking, alcohol use, stress, anxiety, and depression. In addition, their brains were scanned with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI).

 

They found that practitioners of meditation and yoga reported higher stress levels than non-practitioners, but reported that the practice helped them cope with the stress. In addition, meditation practitioners had higher depression levels than non-practitioners. It is possible that people who are under high levels of stress or are depressed tend to engage in meditation and yoga practices to help cope with it.

 

They also report that the practitioners had smaller volumes of the brain structures right side amygdala and left hippocampus. In addition, over a five-year period the practitioners had a significant decrease in amygdala volume. The amygdala is associated with negative emotions and its smaller volume may suggest fewer or weaker negative emotions in practitioners.

 

This was a cross-sectional study and causation cannot be determined. It is possible that people with certain types of brains are more likely to practice. It will require a randomized controlled trial to determine what effects yoga and meditation practice may have on the psychological state and nervous system volumes.

 

Alter the brain to deal with stress with meditation and yoga.

 

“Studies show that yoga increases relaxation in the brain, improves areas of the brain that help us manage pain, and protects us against age-related decline. Together, these benefits begin to reveal the scientifically validated effects of yoga practice on brain health.” – Angela Wilson

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Gotink, R. A., Vernooij, M. W., Ikram, M. A., Niessen, W. J., Krestin, G. P., Hofman, A., … Hunink, M. (2018). Meditation and yoga practice are associated with smaller right amygdala volume: the Rotterdam study. Brain imaging and behavior, 12(6), 1631–1639. doi:10.1007/s11682-018-9826-z

 

Abstract

To determine the association between meditation and yoga practice, experienced stress, and amygdala and hippocampal volume in a large population-based study. This study was embedded within the population-based Rotterdam Study and included 3742 participants for cross-sectional association. Participants filled out a questionnaire assessing meditation practice, yoga practice, and experienced stress, and underwent a magnetic resonance scan of the brain. 2397 participants underwent multiple brain scans, and were assessed for structural change over time. Amygdala and hippocampal volumes were regions of interest, as these are structures that may be affected by meditation. Multivariable linear regression analysis and mixed linear models were performed adjusted for age, sex, educational level, intracranial volume, cardiovascular risk, anxiety, depression and stress. 15.7% of individuals participated in at least one form of practice. Those who performed meditation and yoga practices reported significantly more stress (mean difference 0.2 on a 1–5 scale, p < .001) and more depressive symptoms (mean difference 1.03 on CESD, p = .015). Partaking in meditation and yoga practices was associated with a significantly lower right amygdala volume (β = − 31.8 mm3, p = .005), and lower left hippocampus volume (β = − 75.3 mm3, p = .025). Repeated measurements using linear mixed models showed a significant effect over time on the right amygdala of practicing meditation and yoga (β = − 24.4 mm3, SE 11.3, p = .031). Partaking in meditation and yoga practice is associated with more experienced stress while it also helps cope with stress, and is associated with smaller right amygdala volume.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6302143/

 

Alter the Brain for Improved Memory with Aging with Tai Chi

Alter the Brain for Improved Memory with Aging with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“our brain physiology and memory can be changed with Tai Chi. . . Brain scans show neural changes in the Tai Chi group associated with better memory, especially in cognitive areas associated with spatial memory.” – Paul Lam

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided.

 

Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners. Tai Chi and Qigong have also been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging and to increase brain matter in the elderly.

 

An interconnected system of the brain known as the Default Mode Network (DMN) is involved in internally focused tasks such as recalling memories, daydreaming, sleeping, imagining the future and trying to take the perspective of others. The DMN involves neural structures including the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior and posterior cingulate cortices, precuneus, inferior parietal cortex, and lateral temporal cortex. These areas of the DMN are functionally connected, such that they are simultaneously active during memory retrieval. It is possible that Tai Chi practice improves memory in aging adults by altering the functional connectivity of the DMN.

 

In today’s Research News article “Different Modulation Effects of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin on Resting State Functional Connectivity of the Default Mode Baduanjin is a mind-body training that is very similar to Tai Chi and consists of 8 movements for limbs, body-trunk, and eye movements. Network in Older Adults.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374601/), Liu and colleagues recruited healthy older participants, aged 50 to 70 years, who had not been regularly exercising and randomly assigned them to a health education program or to engage in a Tai Chi or Baduanjin practice for 60 minutes per session, five days per week, for 12 weeks. Baduanjin is a mind-body training that is very similar to Tai Chi and consists of 8 movements for limbs, body-trunk, and eye movements. Before and after the 12-week intervention period the participants were measured for memory function and underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the health education control group the older adults who practiced Tai Chi or Baduanjin had significant improvements in memory function. The MRI scans demonstrated increased Tai Chi Practice produced functional connectivity within the Default Mode Network (DMN) between the medial prefrontal cortex and right putamen/caudate and the cingulate cortex and right putamen/caudate. On the other hand, Baduanjin practice produced decreased functional connectivity between the medial prefrontal cortex and orbital prefrontal gyrus/putamen.

 

These results are interesting and suggest that both Tai Chi and Baduanjin practice improve memory in older adults and also alter the connectivity between structures in the Default Mode Network (DMN). Interestingly, the two practices appear to produce different changes in functional connectivity within the DMN. This suggests that the two practice my improve memory in different ways, both altering the DMN, but differently.

 

The results demonstrate as has previous research that ancient Chinese mindful movement practices help to restrain age related deterioration in the memory processes. These mindful movement practices are gentle and safe, are appropriate for all ages including the elderly and for individuals with illnesses that limit their activities or range of motion, are inexpensive to administer, can be performed in groups or alone, at home or in a facility, and can be quickly learned. In addition, they can be practiced in social groups. This can make it fun, improving the likelihood of long-term engagement in the practice. So, Tai Chi and Baduanjin practices would appear to be an excellent gentle practice to improve memory in aging individuals.

 

So, alter the brain for improved memory with aging with Tai Chi and Baduanjin practices.

 

tai chi is a culturally appropriate mind-body therapy for older adults with mild cognitive impairment . . . It was also effective in improving the activities of daily living and cognition.” – Medical News Bulletin

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Liu, J., Tao, J., Liu, W., Huang, J., Xue, X., Li, M., … Kong, J. (2019). Different Modulation Effects of Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin on Resting State Functional Connectivity of the Default Mode Network in Older Adults. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 14(2), 217–224. Advance online publication. doi:10.1093/scan/nsz001

 

Abstract

The default mode network (DMN) plays an important role in age-related cognitive decline. This study aims to explore the modulation effect of two mind–body interventions (Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin) on DMN in elderly individuals. Participants between 50 and 70 years old were recruited and randomized into a Tai Chi Chuan, Baduanjin or control group. The Wechsler Memory Scale-Chinese Revision and resting-state fMRI scans were administered at baseline and following 12 weeks of exercise. Seed-based resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) was calculated. We found that (i) compared to the Baduanjin group, Tai Chi Chuan was significantly associated with increased rsFC between the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and right putamen/caudate and (ii) compared to the control group, Tai Chi Chuan increased posterior cingulate cortex rsFC with the right putamen/caudate, while Baduanjin decreased rsFC between the mPFC and orbital prefrontal gyrus/putamen. Baseline mPFC rsFC with orbital prefrontal gyrus was negatively correlated with visual reproduction subscore. These results suggest that both Tai Chi Chuan and Baduanjin can modulate the DMN, but through different pathways. Elucidating the mechanisms underlying different mind–body interventions may shed light on the development of new methods to prevent age-related diseases as well as other disorders associated with disrupted DMN.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6374601/

 

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

Reduce Age-Related Decline in the Brain with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Long-term engagement in mindfulness meditation may enhance cognitive performance in older adults, and that with persistent practice, these benefits may be sustained. That’s great news for the millions of aging adults working to combat the negative effects of aging on the brain.” – B Grace Bullock

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners.

 

In today’s Research News article “Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/), Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues review and summarize the research on the effects of meditation practice on brain function and aging focusing primarily on the Default Mode Network (DMN). It is composed of interconnected brain regions including the medial prefrontal cortex, posterior cingulate cortex, precuneus, inferior parietal lobule, and inferolateral temporal cortex. It is active when the mind is wandering and when the individual is involved in self-referential thinking.

 

Increased activation and functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) are associated with the cognitive decline with aging. This makes sense as increased mind wandering would interfere with the attentional focus needed for high level thinking. Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga have been shown to both reduce the cognitive decline with aging and also to decrease the activation and functional connectivity of the DMN. This suggests that mindfulness practices may help prevent the cognitive decline in aging in part by reducing the activity of the DMN.

 

Ramírez-Barrantes and colleagues propose that age-related cognitive decline may be slowed or prevented by engaging in mindfulness practices that reduce the activity of the Default Mode Network (DMN). This would reduce mind wandering and improve attention focus resulting in a greater ability to engage in high level thinking. Much more research is needed to explore this interesting possibility.

 

So, reduce age-related decline in the brain with mindfulness.

 

“experienced meditators have higher concentrations of tissue in brain regions most depleted by aging. This suggests that meditation practice may help to minimize brain age and protect against age-related decline.” – Matt Caron

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Ramírez-Barrantes, R., Arancibia, M., Stojanova, J., Aspé-Sánchez, M., Córdova, C., & Henríquez-Ch, R. A. (2019). Default Mode Network, Meditation, and Age-Associated Brain Changes: What Can We Learn from the Impact of Mental Training on Well-Being as a Psychotherapeutic Approach?. Neural Plasticity, 2019, 7067592. doi:10.1155/2019/7067592

 

Abstract

Aging is a physiological process accompanied by cognitive decline, principally in memory and executive functions. Alterations in the connectivity of the default mode network (DMN) have been found to participate in cognitive decline, as well as in several neurocognitive disorders. The DMN has antisynchronic activity with attentional networks (task-positive networks (TPN)), which are critical to executive function and memory. Findings pointing to the regulation of the DMN via activation of TPN suggest that it can be used as a strategy for neuroprotection. Meditation is a noninvasive and nonpharmacological technique proven to increase meta-awareness, a cognitive ability which involves the control of both networks. In this review, we discuss the possibility of facilitating healthy aging through the regulation of networks through meditation. We propose that by practicing specific types of meditation, cognitive decline could be slowed, promoting a healthy lifestyle, which may enhance the quality of life for the elderly.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6466873/

 

Change Brain Connectivity for Better Attention and Thinking with Mindfulness

Change Brain Connectivity for Better Attention and Thinking with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“mindfulness meditation training increases resting state connectivity between top-down executive control regions, highlighting an important mechanism through which it reduces stress levels.” – Daniel Reed

 

There has accumulated a large amount of research demonstrating that mindfulness has significant benefits for psychological, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. It even improves high level thinking known as executive function and emotion regulation and compassion. Its positive effects are so widespread that it is difficult to find any other treatment of any kind with such broad beneficial effects on everything from thinking to mood and happiness to severe mental and physical illnesses. This raises the question of how mindfulness training could produce such widespread and varied benefits. One possibility is that mindfulness practice results in beneficial changes in the nervous system.

 

The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. The changes are complex and require sophisticated brain scanning techniques to detect. Hence there is a need to continue investigating the nature of these changes in the brain produced by meditation.

 

In today’s Research News article “Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/), Parkinson and colleagues recruited undergraduate students who had never meditated, measured them for mindfulness, and scanned their brains under resting conditions with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). They examined the functional connectivity of a number of established neural networks and their relationship with mindfulness.

 

They found that mindfulness was negatively related to the functional connectivity of the Default Mode Network (DMN) and positively related to the functional connectivity of the Salience Network, the Central Executive Network, and Attention Network. The Default Mode Network (DMN) has been shown to be associated with mind wandering and self-referential thinking. It is not surprising that mindfulness would be associated with lower levels of the functioning of this network. Indeed, previous work has demonstrated that mindfulness is associated with reduced “mind wandering.”

 

The Salience Network is involved in detecting and filtering important stimuli in the environment from the environment and thereby gets involved in a myriad of high level psychological and social functions. The results suggest that being more mindful is associated with being more sensitive to important information.

 

The Central Executive Network has been shown to be associated with high level thinking and behavioral control. Hence, the results further suggest that high mindfulness is associated with improved cognition. Indeed, mindfulness has been shown through extensive research to be associated with better cognitive ability.

 

Finally, the Attention Network has been found to be associated with, no surprise, the ability to attend and focus. This suggests that high mindfulness is associated with improved attention ability. Again, this reflects other research which demonstrated that mindfulness is associated with a greater ability to attend.

 

Hence the study demonstrated the associations with mindfulness with functional connectivity in various neural networks tracks the demonstrated effects of mindfulness on the individual’s ability to focus, think, and stay in the present moment. This further suggests that changes in the operations of the brain are produced by mindfulness and that hese changes in turn produced improved functional capacities.

 

So, change brain connectivity for better attention and thinking with mindfulness.

 

“Just 11 hours of learning a meditation technique induce positive structural changes in brain connectivity by boosting efficiency in a part of the brain that helps a person regulate behavior in accordance with their goals,” – University of Oregon

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Parkinson, T. D., Kornelsen, J., & Smith, S. D. (2019). Trait Mindfulness and Functional Connectivity in Cognitive and Attentional Resting State Networks. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 13, 112. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00112

 

Abstract

Mindfulness has been described as an orienting of attention to the present moment, with openness and compassion. Individuals displaying high trait mindfulness exhibit this tendency as a more permanent personality attribute. Given the numerous physical and mental health benefits associated with mindfulness, there is a great interest in understanding the neural substrates of this trait. The purpose of the current research was to examine how individual differences in trait mindfulness associated with functional connectivity in five resting-state networks related to cognition and attention: the default mode network (DMN), the salience network (SN), the central executive network (CEN), and the dorsal and ventral attention networks (DAN and VAN). Twenty-eight undergraduate participants completed the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), a self-report measure of trait mindfulness which also provides scores on five of its sub-categories (Observing, Describing, Acting with Awareness, Non-judging of Inner Experience, and Non-reactivity to Inner Experience). Participants then underwent a structural MRI scan and a 7-min resting state functional MRI scan. Resting-state data were analyzed using independent-component analyses. An analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was performed to determine the relationship between each resting state network and each FFMQ score. These analyses indicated that: (1) trait mindfulness and its facets showed increased functional connectivity with neural regions related to attentional control, interoception, and executive function; and (2) trait mindfulness and its facets showed decreased functional connectivity with neural regions related to self-referential processing and mind wandering. These patterns of functional connectivity are consistent with some of the benefits of mindfulness—enhanced attention, self-regulation, and focus on present experience. This study provides support for the notion that non-judgmental attention to the present moment facilitates the integration of regions in neural networks that are related to cognition, attention, and sensation.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6473082/

 

Change the Brain to Improve Resilience with Meditation

Change the Brain to Improve Resilience with Meditation

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindful people … can better cope with difficult thoughts and emotions without becoming overwhelmed or shutting down (emotionally). Pausing and observing the mind may (help us) resist getting drawn into wallowing in a setback.” – Badri Bajaj

 

Psychological well-being is sometimes thought of as a lack of mental illness. But it is more than just a lack of something. It is a positive set of characteristics that lead to happy, well-adjusted life. These include the ability to be aware of and accept one’s strengths and weaknesses, to have goals that give meaning to life, to truly believe that your potential capabilities are going to be realized, to have close and valuable relations with others, the ability to effectively manage life issues especially daily issues, and the ability to follow personal principles even when opposed to society. But stress can interfere with the individual’s ability to achieve these goals.  When highly stressed, resilience is required to cope with the stress and continue on the path to psychological well-being.

 

One way that mindfulness practices such as meditation may improve resilience is by altering the brain. The nervous system is a dynamic entity, constantly changing and adapting to the environment. It will change size, activity, and connectivity in response to experience. These changes in the brain are called neuroplasticity. Over the last decade neuroscience has been studying the effects of contemplative practices on the brain and has identified neuroplastic changes in widespread areas. In other words, mindfulness practice appears to mold and change the brain, producing psychological, physical, and spiritual benefits. The changes in the brain, however, that are responsible for increased resilience are unknown.

 

In today’s Research News article “The Immediate and Sustained Positive Effects of Meditation on Resilience Are Mediated by Changes in the Resting Brain.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6448020/), Kwak and colleagues recruited healthy adults to participate in a 4-day retreat. They were randomly assigned to a meditation retreat or a relaxation retreat. They were measured before and after the retreat and 3 months later for mindfulness, resilience, and religious preference. Also, before and after the retreat the participants underwent functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (f-MRI) of their brains.

 

They found that in comparison to baseline and the relaxation retreat participants, the meditation retreat participants at the 3-month follow-up had significant increases in both mindfulness and resilience. They also found that the meditation group had significantly increased functional connectivity between the left rostral anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, and angular gyrus. In addition, the greater the increase in the functional connectivity in the meditation retreat group the greater the increases in resilience and mindfulness. The increase in resilience was associated with the increase in mindfulness and this association was found to be partially mediated by the change in functional connectivity. In other words, increased mindfulness was associated with increased resilience directly and also indirectly by its association with the increased functional connectivity which was in turn associated with greater resilience.

 

The results are interesting and suggest that the effect of meditation on resilience is due to increases in mindfulness that change the brain to produce greater resilience. In particular, meditation appears to increase the functional connectivity between brain regions, the cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex and the precuneus, and angular gyrus, and thus is partially responsible for increased resilience.

 

Resilience is very important for the individual to be able to withstand the stress and negative events in life. Meditation appears to change the brain to help people better cope with the stresses of life. This may underlie, at least in part, the psychological and physical benefits of meditation practice.

 

So, change the brain to improve resilience with meditation.

 

The emotional soup that follows a stressful event can whip up negative stories about yourself or others that goes on and on, beyond being useful. Mindfulness reduces this rumination and, if practiced regularly, changes your brain so that you’re more resilient to future stressful events.” – Shamash Alidina

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

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Study Summary

 

Kwak, S., Lee, T. Y., Jung, W. H., Hur, J. W., Bae, D., Hwang, W. J., … Kwon, J. S. (2019). The Immediate and Sustained Positive Effects of Meditation on Resilience Are Mediated by Changes in the Resting Brain. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 101. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00101

 

Abstract

While recent studies have explored the maintenance of the effect of meditation on stress resilience, the underlying neural mechanisms have not yet been investigated. The present study conducted a highly controlled residential study of a 4-day meditation intervention to investigate the brain functional changes and long-term effects of meditation on mindfulness and resilience. Thirty participants in meditation practice and 17 participants in a relaxation retreat (control group) underwent magnetic resonance imaging scans at baseline and post-intervention and completed the Cognitive and Affective Mindfulness Scale (CAMS) and Resilience Quotient Test (RQT) at baseline, post-intervention, and the 3-month follow-up. All participants showed increased CAMS and RQT scores post-intervention, but only the meditation group sustained the enhancement after 3 months. Resting-state functional connectivity (rsFC) between the left rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC) and the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC), precuneus, and angular gyrus was significantly increased post-intervention in the meditation group compared with the relaxation group. The changes in rACC-dmPFC rsFC mediated the relationship between the changes in the CAMS and RQT scores and correlated with the changes in the RQT score both immediately and at 3 months post-intervention. Our findings suggest that increased rACC-dmPFC rsFC via meditation causes an immediate enhancement in resilience that is sustained. Since resilience is known to be associated with the preventative effect of various psychiatric disorders, the improvement in stress-related neural mechanisms may be beneficial to individuals at high clinical risk.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6448020/

 

Social Mindfulness is Reduced in Patients with Psychosis

Social Mindfulness is Reduced in Patients with Psychosis

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“There is increasing evidence that specially adapted mindfulness techniques can be used safely and effectively in the management and treatment of severe mental health problems, such as psychosis.” – Carly Samson

 

Psychoses are mental health problems that cause people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations; seeing and, in some cases, feeling, smelling or tasting things that aren’t objectively there, or delusions; unshakable beliefs that, when examined rationally, are obviously untrue. The combination of hallucinations and delusional thinking can often severely disrupt perception, thinking, emotion, and behavior, making it difficult if not impossible to function in society without treatment. Psychoses appear to be highly heritable and involves changes in the brain. The symptoms of psychoses usually do not appear until late adolescence or early adulthood. There are, however, usually early signs of the onset of psychoses which present as cognitive impairments.

 

Mindfulness training has been shown to be beneficial for patients with psychosis. Individuals with psychosis almost always have difficulties with social functioning. It is reasonable then to investigate the social mindfulness of patients having their first psychotic episode. In today’s Research News article “). Social Mindfulness and Psychosis: Neural Response to Socially Mindful Behavior in First-Episode Psychosis and Patients at Clinical High-Risk.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6381043/ ), Lemmers-Jansen and colleagues recruited patients having their first psychotic episode aged 16 to 22 years, individuals at high clinical risk for developing psychosis, and healthy control participants..

 

The participants were measured for social mindfulness, intelligence, and positive and negative symptoms of psychosis. In the social mindfulness task, the participants made a choice that would either enhance (socially mindful) or decrease (socially unmindful) choices for another unseen participant. They performed the task initially without instruction and again after being instructed “to keep the other’s best interest in mind.” The participants performed the social mindfulness task while undergoing functional Magnetic Resonance Scans (f-MRI) of their brains.

 

They found that the patients with their first psychotic episode tended to make less socially mindful choices both before and after instruction than either the individuals at high clinical risk for developing psychosis, and healthy control participants. In addition, the patients with psychosis showed less activation of the caudate during mindful choices and less activation of the medial and dorsal prefrontal cortex and the cingulate cortex during unmindful choices that the other groups.

 

The neural findings suggest that the psychotic patients used less higher-level thinking when making socially unmindful choices (prefrontal cortex) and received less reward for making socially mindful choices (caudate). This suggests that the psychotic patients are less mindful because they’re responding with less thought and with less reinforcement for making socially mindful choices. Regardless, it is clear that a laboratory test confirms what is reported in the patients that they respond less well to social situations.

 

Fears about meditation triggering psychosis were holding back progress in this area, despite growing evidence that a specially adapted form of mindfulness training could prove safe and very beneficial for these patients.” – Plastic Brain

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Lemmers-Jansen, I., Fett, A. J., Van Doesum, N. J., Van Lange, P., Veltman, D. J., & Krabbendam, L. (2019). Social Mindfulness and Psychosis: Neural Response to Socially Mindful Behavior in First-Episode Psychosis and Patients at Clinical High-Risk. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 13, 47. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2019.00047

 

Abstract

Background: Psychosis is characterized by problems in social functioning and trust, the assumed glue to positive social relations. But what helps building trust? A prime candidate could be social mindfulness: the ability and willingness to see and consider another person’s needs and wishes during social decision making. We investigated whether first-episode psychosis patients (FEP) and patients at clinical high-risk (CHR) show reduced social mindfulness, and examined the underlying neural mechanisms.

Methods: Twenty FEP, 17 CHR and 46 healthy controls, aged 16–31, performed the social mindfulness task (SoMi) during fMRI scanning, spontaneously and after the instruction “to keep the other’s best interest in mind.” As first of two people, participants had to choose one out of four products, of which three were identical and one was unique, differing in a single aspect (e.g., color).

Results: FEP tended to choose the unique item (unmindful choice) more often than controls. After instruction, all groups significantly increased the number of mindful choices compared to the spontaneous condition. FEP showed reduced activation of the caudate and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) during mindful, and of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), mPFC, and left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) during unmindful decisions. CHR showed reduced activation of the ACC compared to controls.

Discussion: FEP showed a trend toward more unmindful choices. A similar increase of mindful choices after instruction indicated the ability for social mindfulness when prompted. Results suggested reduced sensitivity to the rewarding aspects of social mindfulness in FEP, and reduced consideration for the other player. FEP (and CHR to a lesser extent) might perceive unmindful choices as less incongruent with the automatic mindful responses than controls. Reduced socially mindful behavior in FEP may hinder the building of trust and cooperative interactions.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6381043/

 

Improve Executive and Emotional Control of Grief with Mindfulness

Improve Executive and Emotional Control of Grief with Mindfulness

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

“Mindfulness for grief is not about whitewashing your pain, or “getting over” your loss. It is about learning how to stay present, cultivate compassion, and make wise choices that will help you cope with this new normal known as life after loss.” – Heather Stang

 

Grief is a normal, albeit complex, process that follows a loss of a significant person or situation in one’s life. This can involve the death of a loved one, a traumatic experience, termination of a relationship, loss of employment etc. Exactly what transpires depends upon the individual and the nature of the loss. It involves physical, emotional, psychological and cognitive processes. Not everyone grieves in the same way but there have been identified four general stages of grief, shock and denial, intense concern, despair and depression, and recovery. These are normal and healthy. But, in about 15% of people grief can be overly intense or long and therapeutic intervention may become necessary.

 

Mindfulness practices have been found to help with coping with loss and its consequent grief.  Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)  was specifically developed to treat depression. MBCT involves mindfulness training, containing sitting, walking and body scan meditations, and cognitive therapy That is designed to alter how the patient relates to the thought processes that often underlie and exacerbate psychological symptoms. This would seem to be an ideal treatment protocol to treat intense grief.

 

In today’s Research News article “Mindfulness Improves Emotion Regulation and Executive Control on Bereaved Individuals: An fMRI Study.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6360180/ ), Huang and colleagues recruited participants who had lost a significant relative within the last 4 years and self-reported intense unresolved grief. They completed an 8-week, once a week for 2.5 hours Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) treatment including daily, 30-40 minute, home practice. The participants were measured before and after treatment for grief, anxiety, depression, and emotion regulation.

 

The participants also underwent 3 brain scanning sessions with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). During 2 of the sessions they performed a numerical Stroop task in which they were to report which of 2 numerals was larger. In one session they were to ignore the physical size of the numeral and only report on the numerically larger numeral. In the second session they were to ignore the numerical magnitude of the numeral and only report on the physically larger numeral. This task measures cognitive interference and executive control.

 

They found that after MBCT treatment there were large and highly significant increases in mindfulness and emotion regulation and decreases in grief, anxiety, and depression. They also found that after treatment the higher the level of mindfulness the lower the levels of grief, anxiety, and depression. In addition, the participants after treatment were significantly better at ignoring irrelevant stimuli and respond faster in the Stroop task. This suggests reduced negative emotionality and improved cognitive control.

 

The researchers observed that after treatment during the cognitive task there was a decrease in activity in the cingulate cortex. These areas are involved in what is termed the Default Mode Network which becomes active during mind wandering and self-referential thinking. In other words, the brain areas associated with a lack of attention to the task at hand became less active. This suggests that there was greater attention to the present moment after MBCT training.

 

Long-term intense grief can be very harmful to the psychological and physical well-being of the individual. The present findings suggest that MBCT practice may be an effective treatment. It appears to reduce the negative emotions and improve the ability to regulate them in grieving individuals. It appears to do so, by altering the brain systems associated with mind wandering. It is during mind wandering where rumination occurs that tends to exacerbate anxiety and depression. So, the brain changes produced by MBCT treatment tend to keep the individual focused on the present lowering the impact of the past on their emotional state.

 

So, improve executive and emotional control of grief with mindfulness.

 

Mindfulness reminds us that pain and sorrow, like all else, are impermanent.  Does this mean grief goes away completely?  Of course not.   But it does mean that it will change shape and form, it will ebb and flow, some days it will hurt like hell and some days you will start to smile.  It means that our grief, like everything else, is impermanent and ever-changing.  Once we accept this, even if only on a rational level, some of the need to avoid our grief starts to diminish.  We can stop believing it is permanent and will never change, even when we feel it will last forever.  We can start noticing and accepting our grief for what it really is and the small changes every day in our experiences.’ – WYG

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Huang, F. Y., Hsu, A. L., Hsu, L. M., Tsai, J. S., Huang, C. M., Chao, Y. P., Hwang, T. J., … Wu, C. W. (2019). Mindfulness Improves Emotion Regulation and Executive Control on Bereaved Individuals: An fMRI Study. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 541. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2018.00541

 

Abstract

The grief of bereavement is recognized as a severe psychosocial stressor that can trigger a variety of mental and physical disorders, and the long-lasting unresolved grief has a detrimental effect on brain functionality. Literature has documented mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) as an efficient treatment for improving well-being, specifically related to the mood and cognition, in a variety of populations. However, little attention has been devoted to neural mechanisms with regard to bereaved individuals’ cognition after MBCT intervention. In this study, we recruited 23 bereaved participants who lost a significant relative within 6 months to 4 years to attend 8-week MBCT course. We used self-reporting questionnaires to measure emotion regulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) with the numerical Stroop task to evaluate the MBCT effect on executive control among the bereaved participants. The self-reported questionnaires showed improvements on mindfulness and reductions in grief, difficulties in emotion regulation, anxiety, and depression after the MBCT intervention. The fMRI analysis demonstrated two scenarios: (1) the activity of the fronto-parietal network slightly declined accompanied with significant improvements in the reaction time of incongruent trials; (2) the activities in the posterior cingulate cortex and thalamus were positively associated with the Texas Revised Inventory of Grief, implying emotional interferences on cognitive functions. Results indicated that MBCT facilitated the executive control function by alleviating the emotional interferences over the cognitive functions and suggested that the 8-week MBCT intervention significantly improved both executive control and emotion regulation in bereaved individuals.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6360180/

 

Protect the Brain from Age-Related Atrophy with Tai Chi

Protect the Brain from Age-Related Atrophy with Tai Chi

 

By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.

 

Tai Chi . . improves brain health and can be an effective solution for simple, age-related decline in brain function.” – FAI Education

 

The aging process involves a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body, the brain included. This includes our mental abilities which decline with age including impairments in memory, attention, and problem-solving ability. It is inevitable and cannot be avoided. Using modern neuroimaging techniques, scientists have been able to view the changes that occur in the nervous system with aging. In addition, they have been able to investigate various techniques that might slow the process of neurodegeneration that accompanies normal aging. They’ve found that mindfulness practices reduce the deterioration of the brain that occurs with aging restraining the loss of neural tissue. Indeed, the brains of practitioners of meditation and yoga have been found to degenerate less with aging than non-practitioners. Tai Chi and Qigong have also been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging and to increase brain matter in the elderly.

 

In today’s Research News article “Long-Term Tai Chi Experience Promotes Emotional Stability and Slows Gray Matter Atrophy for Elders.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00091/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_907099_69_Psycho_20190212_arts_A ), Liu and colleagues recruited older (60 to 70 years of age) adults who had been practicing Tai Chi for at least 10 years and control participants who were matched to the Tai Chi group on age, physical activity and gender. They were measured for mindfulness, depression, impulsivity, and personality. They also underwent brain scanning with Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The participants also completed a computerized risk-taking task which had both positive or negative outcomes. They completed emotion ratings after each outcome.

 

They found that the experienced Tai Chi practitioners had significantly greater emotional stability and took less risks than the control group. Additionally, the Tai Chi group had significantly stronger emotional reactions to both good and bad outcomes in the risk-taking task. The brain scans revealed that the Tai Chi group had significantly greater grey matter in the areas of the brain known as the hippocampus and the thalamus. They also found that the greater the grey matter in the thalamus the greater the levels of mindfulness and emotional stability while the greater the grey matter in the hippocampus the greater the levels of emotional stability and lower levels of neuroticism and risk taking.

 

These are interesting results but the study is correlational and cross sectional. So, care must be exercised in interpretation of causation. But the fact that the control group was equally physically active as the Tai Chi group is a strength that suggests that the results were due to Tai Chi practice per se and not just to the physical activity produced by Tai Chi practice. The results suggest that Tai Chi practice may help to protect the brain, particularly the thalamus and hippocampus, from age-related degeneration as has been previously reported, and this protection may be associated with greater emotional stability and lower risk taking.

 

The findings of less risk taking of the elderly Tai Chi participants may be an important observation. The elderly may be vulnerable to injury and falls that can produce serious injuries in this group. One reason that Tai Chi may produce fewer falls in the elderly is that they are being more careful and taking fewer risks. The elderly are also financially vulnerable and may benefit from less financial risk taking in protecting their available resources.

 

So, protect the brain from age-related atrophy with Tai Chi.

 

regular practice of Tai Chi could play an important role in promoting both brain and muscle health in older adults. Tai Chi is a mind-body exercise worth exploring at any age.” – Marilyn Wei

 

CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies

 

This and other Contemplative Studies posts are available at the Contemplative Studies Blog http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/

They are also available on Google+ https://plus.google.com/106784388191201299496/posts and on Twitter @MindfulResearch

 

Study Summary

 

Liu S, Li L, Liu Z and Guo X (2019) Long-Term Tai Chi Experience Promotes Emotional Stability and Slows Gray Matter Atrophy for Elders. Front. Psychol. 10:91. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00091

 

Brain adverse structural changes, especially the atrophy of gray matter, are inevitable in aging. Fortunately, the human brain is plastic throughout its entire life. The current cross-section study aimed to investigate whether long-term Tai Chi exercise could slow gray matter atrophy and explore the possible links among gray matter volume (GMV), long-term Tai Chi experience and emotional stability in a sequential risk-taking task by using voxel-based morphometry. Elders with long-term Tai Chi experience and controls, who were matched to Tai Chi group in age, gender, physical activity level, participated in the study. A T1-weighted multiplanar reconstruction sequence was acquired for each participant. Behaviorally, the Tai Chi group showed higher meditation level, stronger emotional stability and less risk-taking tendency in the sequential risk-taking compared to the control group. Moreover, the results revealed that the GMV of the thalamus and hippocampus were larger in the Tai Chi group compared with the control group. Notably, the GMV of the thalamus was positively correlated with both meditation level and emotional stability. The current study suggested the protective role of long-term Tai Chi exercise at slowing gray matter atrophy, improving the emotional stability and achieving successful aging for elders.

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00091/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_907099_69_Psycho_20190212_arts_A