Benefits of Meditation: Brain, Telomeres and Aging

Meditation is a practice with a long list of benefits. It improves mental and physical health and has many benefits for emotion and cognition. Meditation has a direct effect on the brain that has been scientifically studied in order to understand the different benefits this practice has to offer. One of the benefits of meditation is it would seem to have a positive effect on aging.

Meditation has been studied for a while now, and the effect of it slowing down and improving the aging process has been described by different researchers.

In study done at the University of California, people who meditated for as many as fifty years, considered as long-term meditators, showed a significantly lower loss of gray matter than those people who did not meditate. An important finding was that this lowered loss of matter occurred in many areas of the brain, rather than just small parts of it, showing that meditation could benefit the whole brain on a physiological level.

The gray matter in the brain is the tissue that contains neurones, the cells that make up the nervous system, so this finding has many implications for the possibility of a longer life with better health, improved cognitive function at an older age rather than deterioration and in general, the possibility for less deterioration and more health during the aging process.

However, reducing the loss of gray matter is not the only benefit meditation has for the aging process. Other studies have found that meditation has an increase in telomerase activity. Telomerase is a specific enzyme that is related to the health of the cells in the body. Increased activity is linked to the long-term health, improving it.

The changes in telomerase activity were linked to positive psychological changes. Meditation could help the person cope with stress in better and healthier ways. It was also found to be a practice that contributes to a greater well-being.

Researchers have suggested that meditation leads to direct physiological changes, but also that it acts as a mediator. Here is how it happens. The person who is experiencing stress will feel the effects on their body, aging more quickly, losing more gray matter, being less healthy and so on. However, a person that is able to manage stress effectively and can maintain a state of psychological well-being, doesn’t feel the same effects of stress and has more health, both in the physical and psychological sense.

However, these psychological benefits affect individuals on a neurological and even cellular level. It’s not just that the person feels healthier, but that their brain and cells reflect this improved health. Changing psychologically helps the person change physically for the better.

Positive states of mind lead to different hormones being released into the blood. The whole body responds differently to states of well-being rather than to states of stress, where the body remains alert and active, although on the long-term scale stress begins to wear down the body. Meditation reduces the stress’ effects on the body, helping the person age better. It’s worth noting also that meditation begins to have more effect if the person meditates more, so when people grow older, if they practice meditation consistently, they will experience more of the positive effects.

In general, it can be said that meditation is a practice that is good for our physical health. It has a direct effect on how well our body functions and an indirect effect as well. Meditation has been found to have a positive effect on the aging process. Specifically, there are two things that improve with meditation: people who meditate a lot tend to lose less gray matter with age and tend to have increased telomerase activity, which leads to better cellular health.

References

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3057175/
http://journal.frontiersin.org/article/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551/full

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