Meditating for just one hour a day can buffer the effects of age-related cognitive decline, new research claims.
The researchers at the University of California, Davis, who carried out the study, can’t explain why the practice has this effect, but previous studies have found that it can cause brain changes that help people keep their mental abilities.
The current study, spanning seven years, examines the long-term benefits people gained from meditating.
As cognitive impairment impacts an estimated 16 million people in the US, researchers suggest meditation could help with brain aging.
Meditating regularly can help people keep their cognitive abilities well into old age
For the study, investigators followed-up on previous research they’ve done in 2011, which evaluated the cognitive abilities of 60 people who regularly meditated before and after they went on a three-month-long retreat at a meditation center in the US.
Participants meditated daily at the center using techniques that were supposed to calm them, and help generate compassion, love and kindness among them.
Seven years after the study, researchers asked the 40 participants who had remained in the study how much time over the course of seven years they had spent meditating.
They found that 85 percent of them attended at least one meditation retreat, and they practiced about one hour a day for seven years.
They then completed assessments designed to measure their reaction time and ability to pay attention to a task.
Researchers found that continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, or suppression of actions that are inappropriate.
These effects were significant in older adults who meditated more over the past seven years. They did not show typical patterns of age-related decline in sustained attention.
Previous studies have also found that meditation increase attention span.
A 2011 study conducted by the Massachusetts General Hospital found that people who meditate are able to quickly adjust their brain waves – which regulate the flow of information – so that they can screen out distractions.
Another study published in 2012 by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles found that people who regularly meditate have larger amounts of gyrification, a process that involved the ‘folding’ of the cerebral cortex – which plays a key role in memory, attention and thought.
The gyrification process allows the brain to process information faster and enhances neural processing.
Researchers of the current study said their findings are the first to ‘offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements.’
However, they said more research is needed to determine if it is effective at countering the effects of aging on the brain.