Scientists Surprised by Meditation's Effect on the Brain

Consider meditation one of the best ways you can protect important brain tissue.

February 9, 2015
older woman meditating alone
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Meditation doesn't just make you calm; it can also protect the gray matter in your noggin, according to research published in Frontiers in Psychology. Gray matter is the tissue in the brain that contains neurons. The researchers found that those who meditated in the study lost less grey matter volume as a result of aging than those who didn't meditate.

"We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating," says Florian Kurth, MD, PhD, coauthor of the study and a postdocotoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center. "Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain."

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And, considering that studies show that brain volume begins shrinking in your mid-to-late 20s, it's definitely time to start today, so a beginner's meditation session will get you started. 

"Even though I had been reading studies about the benefits of meditation in my job as the editor of Women's Health magazine, I still harbored the notion that meditation was too 'woo woo' for a hard-charging, type A like me," says Michele Promaulayko, author of 20 Pounds Younger. In fact, just the opposite is true: "Practicing meditation changed my entire demeanor—so much so that friends started asking if I'd done something different with my hair!"

More: 6 Surprising Benefits of Meditation

Try her 3 tips to get the most out of your next "ohm session":

1. Don't worry about "failing." 
It's easy to get sidetracked with to-do lists and to fret over deadlines while you're trying to meditate, and the best thing is to forgive yourself for this. "You could freak out and decide you're not cut out for meditation, but that'd just be feeding the very cycle of thinking that you're trying to overcome," says Promaulayko. "Simply acknowledge the thought without judgment, and refocus on your mantra or your breathing. It's really as simple as that."

More: 5 Meditation Myths, Busted

2. Set a timer. 
It's not cheating; it's making sure that your mind doesn't wander toward "How long have I been meditating?" Plus, Promaulayko points out, if your spouse or kids are around, they'll know how long to wait so they don't disturb you.

3. Don't meditate on a full stomach. 
It's kind of like swimming: Wait to digest before doing it. Being too full will make it hard for you to be comfortable and relax, says Promaulayko.