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How Daily Meditation Improves Brain Health and Slows Brain Aging

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

What are the brain health benefits of meditation? Meditation is a stress reliever, but it has other benefits for brain health, too. For example, meditation may help stave off memory loss and Alzheimer's disease. However, this is still a theory that scientists are exploring.

One way meditation calms the mind and body is by lowering the stress hormone cortisol. When cortisol rises, it's also damaging to the brain. Scientists believe that when your body has a high cortisol burden, it negatively affects portions of the brain's cognitive function.

Some studies also show that meditation increases gray matter in a portion of the brain called the cortex. The cortex is a large area of the brain rich in grey matter. When you look at a graphic of the brain, most of what you see is the cortex. Gray matter encompasses all of the neurons of the brain and is responsible for information processing. Since meditation is linked with a boost in grey matter, it may also improve cognition.

The Stress-Relieving Benefits of Meditation

Another way meditation supports healthy brain function is by creating a more balanced mental state. Depression is a risk factor for cognitive decline, and meditation may lower the risk of depression by promoting mindfulness and engaging the mind in the present. Several studies show that mindfulness meditation reduces the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

The stress-relieving benefits of meditation matter because studies link depression with a higher risk of cognitive decline and dementia. So, meditating and becoming more mindful may help relieve the symptoms of mental health disorders and, potentially, reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

Is there scientific proof? An 18-year study of Buddhist monks found that daily meditation reduced the brain ageing of the monks by an average of 8 years relative to a control group.

Meditation Improves Sleep Quality for Better Brain Health

A good night's sleep supports a healthy brain too. Poor quality sleep and not sleeping enough increases the stress hormone cortisol, and that negatively affects brain health and brain ageing. Meditation fights insomnia and helps improve sleep quality.

One type of meditation, mindfulness meditation, is especially effective for improving sleep quality

and preventing insomnia. It focuses the mind on the present. You can practice mindfulness with your eyes closed or open and take place in a quiet room or nature. It's even effective when lying in bed.

Mindfulness meditation teaches you how to focus on one thing, like your breathing, to bring about a relaxation response and calm your mind. It teaches how to tune out distractions in a way that leads to more peaceful and restorative sleep.

Sleep is a Clean-up and Reboot for Your Brain

Why is sleep so important for brain health? It's when you slumber that channels in the brain called g-lymphatics clear misfolded proteins from the brain. During deep sleep, the brain taps into a self-cleaning mechanism that removes the "gunk" that builds up and makes the brain less efficient.

Sleep is the ultimate reboot for your brain. After a day of intense thinking and planning, your brain needs a reset to tackle a new day with fresh challenges. Meditation is like a reboot too. It teaches you to focus on the present moment and let negative thoughts float away like clouds.

Plus, you can meditate any time of the day or night without entering an unconscious state like sleep. It's the ultimate mental break during a busy day of activity and mental stress. Meditation improves concentration, alleviates stress, and relaxes the mind and body.

The Bottom Line

Meditation is a brain-healthy activity in more ways than one. Not only does it preserve and even increase gray matter in the brain, but it also improves mental health. The more you meditate, the more you get to know yourself, the better you get at self-regulating, and the more you can tune out stress, think more efficiently and healthily and enjoy life.

So, why not add meditation to your list of brain-healthy habits? With meditation, you learn to react to your surroundings differently and see them as less intimidating, thereby dialling back the stress response. That's healthy for your brain.

Research even suggests that meditation rewires your brain in a way that improves cognitive function, mental health, and brain health. Plus, it enhances memory efficiency, cognitive flexibility, and emotion regulation.

Despite these benefits, don't use meditation as a treatment for mental health conditions without the advice of your physician first. Ask your healthcare provider whether meditation is right for you.


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