It seems that every day there’s research news adding to the growing body of evidence that meditation benefits the aging human brain, and may be the single most most powerful lifestyle factor when it comes to brain health support.

Several studies at UCLA have suggested that meditating for years strengthens the connections between brain cells. Now a further report by UCLA researchers suggests yet another benefit.

Eileen Luders, an assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, and colleagues, have found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification ("folding" of the cortex) than people who do not meditate. Further, a direct correlation was found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain's neuroplasticity, or ability to adapt to environmental changes.

The more folding that occurs in the cerebral cortex, the better the brain is at processing information, making decisions, and forming memories.

In this recent study, the researchers took MRI scans of 23 meditators and compared them to 16 control subjects matched for age, handedness and sex. The scans for the controls were obtained from an existing MRI database, while the meditators were recruited from various meditation venues. The meditators had practiced their craft on average for 20 years using a variety of meditation types -- Samatha, Vipassana, Zen and more.

While there was no perceived difference in the type of meditation practiced, there was a strikingly positive correlation between the number of meditation years and the amount of insular gyrification.

Brain researchers recently have turned their attention to meditation in light of the potential anti-aging benefits. Some of their findings:

  • Certain regions of the brain in long-time meditators are larger than non-meditators – specifically, the hippocampus and other parts that regulate emotions. Psychologists think this may account for the strong evidence that meditation helps lift depression in their patients.
  • People who meditate also have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy.
  • People who meditate regularly find pain less unpleasant because their brains anticipate the pain less.
  • After being interrupted by a word-recognition task, experienced meditators' brains returned faster to their pre-interruption condition. This is significant because many older people in the initial states of cognitive decline report the inability to return to a task once they are distracted.

Have you tried meditation?  How has it helped you?