Brain shrinkage happens to everyone. You’ll get older, and no matter how well you’ve taken care of your body, the mind that drives it will age, lose its capacity to learn and be flexible, and eventually leave you with a fraction of the mental wherewithal you once had.
But researchers have determined there are ways to buck this brain shrinkage trend, or at least put it off for a long time.
Brain Shrinkage And Getting Older
If we put you in an MRI and look at your brain, we’re left with an image that can be given a chronological age that matches the number of years that you’ve lived1.
This is because your gray matter increases from birth until the age of four and thereafter decreases until you hit your 70s. White matter increases steadily until around the age of 20, and then plateaus. Cerebrospinal fluid also remains steady until you’re around 20, at which point is starts increasing.
So if we feed your MRI brain scans into a computer equipped with an algorithm that can weigh all these factors, we’ll get a very accurate estimate of how old the brain is…unless you meditate.
Meditation And Brain Shrinkage
One of the interesting elements about meditation practitioners is that no matter how old they get, studies find they have better mental function and can more easily learn new skills and recall information when compared whith their non-meditating peers.
Why aren’t they experiencing a normal amount of mental performance and brain atrophy?
This study 2 looked at 50 long-term meditators and compared them to 50 non-meditators.
Members of both groups averaged 50 years old, but the meditators had been meditating for an average of 20 years.
When their MRI brain images were fed into the computer, the meditators had brain shrinkage levels of a person 7.5 years younger than their chronological age. Specifically, their grey matter and Cerebrospinal fluid levels were unusually high and low, respectively.
The control group’s chronological age varied little from what the algorithm suggested their brain age was, but the meditators had significant differences. For every year over 50, for instance, the meditators’ brains were on average an additional 1 month and 22 days younger than their chronological age.
This lead the researchers to conclude that, [pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]…these findings seem to suggest that meditation is beneficial for brain preservation, effectively protecting against age-related atrophy with a constantly slower rate of brain aging throughout life.”[/pullquote]
How To Start Meditating
If you’re like me, you probably want to preserve as much mental wherewithal as you can, and slow your decline to the greatest degree possible.
Luckily, meditation is incredibly simple and free, and can be done anywhere at any time. If you’re intimidated by the idea of meditation or think it’s not for you, check out my free guide, which explains how to get started.
Franke, K. Et al. Estimating the age of healthy subjects from T1-weighted MRI scans using kernel methods: exploring the influence of various parameters. Neuroimage. 2010 Apr 15;50(3):883-92. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.005. Epub 2010 Jan 11.↩
Luders, Eileen. Et al. Estimating brain age using high-resolution pattern recognition: Younger brains in long-term meditation practitioners. Neuroimage. 2016 Apr 11. pii: S1053-8119(16)30040↩