55+ Living Guide Winter 2018 Winter 2018 55+ issue for Joomag - Page 46

HEALTH & WELLNESS SERIES: PART 2 Ways Meditation Can Help the Aging Brain tsu by Alice G. Walton . reference: Forbes.com Meditation-and-the-brain research has been rolling in steadily for a number of years now, with new studies coming out just about every week to illustrate some new benefit of meditation. Or, rather, some ancient benefits that are just now being confirmed with today's technol- ogy. The practice appears to have an amazing variety of neurological benefits – from changes in grey matter volume to reduced activity in the “me” centers of the brain to enhanced connectivity between brain regions. Below are some of the most exciting studies to come out in the last few years and show that meditation really does produce measurable changes in our most important organ. Skeptics, of course, may ask what good are a few brain changes if the psychological effects aren’t simultane- ously being illustrated? Luckily, there’s good evidence for those as well, with studies reporting that meditation helps relieve our subjective levels of anxiety and depression, and improve attention, concentration, and overall psychological well-being. Meditation Helps Preserve the Aging Brain In 2015, a study from UCLA found that long-term meditators had better-preserved brains than non-meditators as they aged. Participants who’d been meditating for an average of 20 years had more grey matter volume throughout the brain — although older meditators still had some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it wasn’t as pronounced as the non-meditators. “We expected rather 46 small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that en- compassed regions throughout the entire brain.” Meditation Reduces Activity in the Brain’s “Me Center” One of the most interesting studies in the last few years, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network (DMN), the brain network responsible for mind-wander- ing and self-referential thoughts – a.k.a., “monkey mind.” The DMN is “on” or active when we’re not thinking about anything in particular, when our minds are just wander- ing from thought to thought. Since mind-wandering is typically associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about the past and future, it’s the goal for many people to dial it down. Several studies have shown that meditation, through its quieting effect on the DMN, appears to do just this. And even when the mind does start to wander, because of the new connections that form, meditators are better at snapping back out of it. Its Effects Rival Antidepressants for Depression and Anxiety A review study in 2014 at Johns Hopkins looked at the relationship between mindfulness meditation and its ability to reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and pain. Researcher Madhav Goyal