Brain health in middle age; the science of meditation and mindfulness

Meditation and mindfulness may help to keep your brain young

man sitting on chair beside table

 

Authors: Fotuhi, M., Lubinski, B., Trullinger, M., Hausterman, N., Riloff, T., Hadadi, M., & Raji, C. A.

Year: 2016

Title: A personalized 12‐week ” Brain Fitness Program” for improving cognitive function and increasing the volume of hippocampus in elderly with mild cognitive impairment.

Summary: The idea that brain function inevitably declines as people grow older is firmly established in both clinical and cognitive branches of psychology. This particular study is one of only a handful that I have seen to suggest, that even in retirement, people can maintain and even increase both structure and function in the brain. Participants of retirement age with a diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) were asked to engage in a number of activities linked to brain health. They included: cognitive stimulation, Omega 3 supplements, some physical exercise, a change in diet and mindfulness meditation. Participant undertook a range of cognitive tests before the interventions and at the end of the experiment.

Results showed that 84% of participants saw an improvement in their cognitive performance. Further neuroimaging examinations revealed that a majority of a sample of the participants also demonstrated no decline or an actual increase in the volume of the hippocampus. Although this was a preliminary study with a number of methodological problems, it is suggestive that people may have a lot more control over brain structure and function than is generally assumed. This kind of ‘shotgun’ approach can support general theories but adds little to our understanding of the extent to which particular interventions (or combination of interventions) may offer benefit. It also makes the establishment of robust scientific theory a challenge, as no single theory can incorporate such a wide range of activities. For example with a new diet, can cognitive changes be attributed to the food that was no longer being eaten or the new food? Or a combination of the two? However simply to demonstrate that older adults can experience increased structure in certain brain regions is an important contribution to our understanding of the human brain.

Link: https://neurogrow.com

Mindfulness Practice Leads To Increases in Regional Brain Grey Matter Density

Mindfulness increases some brain matter dentsity

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Authors: Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W

Year: 2011

Title: Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain grey matter density

Summary: An investigation into the neural mechanisms that may be impacted by the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) form of mindfulness meditation.  16 participants with no prior experience of meditation were put through an eight week MSBR training programme. Any changes to grey matter concentration within the MBSR group were investigated and compared to the control group. Analyses indicated the MBSR group experienced increased grey matter in the left hippocampus, posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum. The findings suggest a potential relationship between the practice of MBSR and changes to concentration of grey matter in parts of the brain connected to learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

Perspective: Neuroscience

Link: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071182