Meditation can prolong the efficacy of your brain, so you can live a longer, happier life.
Living longer is a reality that many of us will face. The life expectancy for people living in the United States is currently 78.93 years old, and the UN projects that by 2050 that number will be 83.50 years old (1). That’s an average increase in life expectancy of almost 5 years for anyone who is currently over the age of 30 years old.
Kind of exciting right? There is a lot of living that can be enjoyed with an extra 5 years of life. More time spent travelling the world, volunteering for a cause that means a lot to you, enjoying the company of friends and family, or even just time spent enjoying your favourite hobbies.
But the sad truth is that living a longer life doesn’t necessarily mean living a happier life. For many of us, those extra years might not come with the ability to fill our days with the activities that we love most.
Research shows that the other reality we all face is that our brain starts deteriorating in our mid-twenties. And that deterioration gets worse as we age; leaving us increasingly vulnerable to mental illness and disease. (2)
But don’t worry, there are things you can do now, like meditation, that helps increase the quality of life in those later years.
The Effectiveness of Meditation
Meditation Increases Parts Of Your Brain Linked to Learning, Memory & Emotional Regulation
One of the most effective ways to ensure brain health as you age is to engage in a regular meditation practice.
In a joint study between Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital showed that people who meditated at least 27 minutes a day for a period of 8 weeks were able to increase the volume of their brains linked to learning, memory, emotional regulation, empathy, compassion and self-relevance. (3)
These abilities: learning, memory, emotional regulation- to name just a few- are essential to living a better quality life in the later years.
Without the ability to learn, something as simple as remembering the names and faces of new loved ones, like your grandchildren, can become a challenge. Something more complex like learning to find your way in a constantly changing world, could seem impossible.
Without the ability to remember, your long term memory could begin to fade, and key details about your life like who you are, where you live or who your partner is could easily be forgotten. Equally serious- your short term memory could begin to fade, and things like where you are and what you are doing could easily begin to fade as well.
One’s ability to learn, and one’s ability to remember are closely linked to the ability to retain independence. The other ability; the ability: to regulate emotions, also has a huge impact on independence in later years where it is common to experience increased anxiety and depression.
Good news, this same study showed people who meditate regularly also saw a reduction in size of “their amygdala, the fight or flight part of the brain which is important for anxiety, fear and stress.” (3)(4)(5)
Meditation Also Slows Down The Degeneration Process Of The Brain
Meditation not only increases key functions of the brain, it also slows down the degeneration process of the brain, reducing symptoms typically experienced from cognitive dysfunction as we age.
In another study later published by Frontiers in Psychology called “Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy,” the effects of meditation were examined on 100 people- 50 of whom practiced regularly. The study concluded that meditation helps slow down the brain’s aging process. How? By slowing down the decline of gray-matter in the brain.
Overall Health Benefits of Meditation
These studies, alongside countless others, show that long-term meditators can better preserve their brains as they age, than non-meditators. A consistent meditation practice will both simultaneously increase the volume of the brain linked to learning, memory and emotional regulation- all essential to maintain quality of life and independence in later years, as well as decrease the rate at which the brain declines.
Now, knowing that living longer is probably not a question, but rather a probability, doesn’t it make sense to incorporate meditation into your daily life so that you can ensure a better quality of life in your later years? We think so.
Starting Your Meditation Practice
Starting a daily meditation practice can feel daunting at first. The key is to start slowly. Start by practicing only a few minutes a day, and gradually increase the time you practice once you feel more comfortable.
Many people choose to begin their practice by enrolling in a meditation course, or by taking one of the many free guided meditations that are available online.
Others prefer to join a meditation studio where they can experience different types of meditation, or join a mindfulness meditation program.
Either way, the trick to starting a successful meditation practice is to ensure that it doesn’t feel like an obligation. The minute it does, you will no longer want to practice.
Instead, think of ways to make your mediation experience feel like a cherished part of your day. For some that could mean practicing with a friend or loved one, and for others that could mean setting up a beautiful meditation space in their home and incorporating meditation tools that enhance the experience.
Whatever you choose, it won’t be long until the benefits of your practice kick in. Until then, feel proud of the fact that you are doing everything you can to protect your brain as it ages, and that you will enjoy a better quality of life in your later years as a result.