Aging the Brain Healthily with Mindfulness
“He who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition, youth and age are equally a burden.” – Plato (427-346 B.C.)
If we are lucky enough to survive long enough we’ll all have an opportunity to experience the aging process. It is a systematic progressive decline in every system in the body. It cannot be avoided. But, there is evidence that it can be slowed. Contemplative practices such as meditation, yoga, and tai chi or qigong have all been shown to be beneficial in slowing or delaying physical and mental decline with aging (see links below).
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 have found that contemplative practices of meditation and yoga restrain the loss of neural tissue with aging. The brains of practitioners degenerate less than non-practitioners.
The hippocampus is a large subcortical structure that has been shown to decrease in size and connectivity with aging. It also has been found that long-term meditators are somewhat protected from this deterioration. A part of the hippocampus known as the subiculum is of particular interest because it decreases in size with aging and is associated with memory and spatial ability, both of which decline with aging. In addition, the subiculum appears to be larger in long-term meditators. But it has yet to be seen if the age related deterioration of the subiculum is spared with meditation.
In today’s Research News article “Reduced age-related degeneration of the hippocampal subiculum in long-term meditators”
Kurth and colleagues investigate this question by looking at the size of the subiculum in meditators and non-meditators ranging in age from 24 to 77 years. They found that the non-meditators showed the expected decrease in size of the subiculum with aging. But there was no significant decline in the subiculum size on the left side with aging with the meditators.
Hence, the findings of Kurth and colleagues suggest that meditation practice protects an important part of the brain from deteriorating with age. This is interesting and important and could reflect the mechanism by which meditation decreases the aging individual’s loss of memory and spatial ability.
Meditation is known to decrease the physiological and psychological responses to stress. In addition, stress including childhood trauma is known to produce a reduction in the size of the subiculum on the left side. It follows then the neuroprotective effects of meditation on the age related deterioration of the left subiculum may result from meditations known ability to reduce stress. Further research will be required to test this idea. Regardless, the results clearly demonstrate that meditation can result in less deterioration with aging of an important part of the brain.
So, meditate to reduce brain loss with aging.
“There are no drugs that will make you immune to stress or to pain, or that will by themselves magically solve your life’s problems or promote healing. It will take conscious effort on your part to move in a direction of healing, inner peace, and well-being.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
Mindfulness practices are known to increase the activity, size, and connectivity of neural structures (see http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/01/this-is-your-brain-on-meditation/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/19/spirituality-mindfulness-and-the-brain/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/03/make-the-brain-more-efficient-with-meditation/).
Yoga practice has been shown to decrease age related brain deterioration. ( See http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-protect-the-brain-with-yoga/).
Meditation improves sleep in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/31/age-healthily-sleep-better-with-meditation/
Mindfulness improves emotions in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-mindfulness/
Qigong improves responses to stress in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/09/28/age-healthily-with-qigong-soothing-stress-responses/
Yoga practice improves the symptoms of arthritis http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/14/age-healthily-yoga-for-arthritis/
Yoga practice can reduce indicators of cellular aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-yoga-and-cellular-aging/
Yoga decreases musculoskeletal deterioration in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/age-healthily-yoga/
Tai Chi reduces inflammation and insomnia in aging http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/08/06/age-healthily-treating-insomnia-and-inflammation/ and http://contemplative-studies.org/wp/index.php/2015/07/17/aging-healthily-sleeping-better-with-mindful-movement-practice/