How Does Meditation Affect The Brain

How Does Meditation Affect The Brain

As you motor through your busy life, your brain is front and center for every aspect of each daily interaction. From tiny nuances like peeling an orange to huge tasks such as working a backhoe.

Yet, it is easy to take this incredible organ for granted. It is always there for you, guiding your way like a helping hand.

As you age, your brain can begin to slow down and your body inevitably follows. Before you know it you may be having difficulty with memory and other cognitive functions as well as various physical challenges, but there are methods to enhance brain health, memory, cognition, clarity and focus. Whether you are at this point or still enjoying the perks of a youthful constitution, it turns out that meditation may be an advantageous addition to your life.

The effects of meditation on brain aging has always been a focus of researchers with minimal study results. Now, new studies show meditation to be a potentially enormous benefit that could stave off so many negative aspects of getting older.

The practice of sitting in silence is no longer relegated to mystics and monks but rather an easy addition to anyone’s life from a few minutes to a deeper practice everyday.

White Matter Support

Your brain is made up of grey and white matter. The grey matter is a combination of cell bodies, neuron axon terminals and dendrites. This is where all synapses (functioning) takes place. White matter is the essential component to connecting different parts of grey matter together. Therefore, white matter is an integral part of enabling the brain to function properly. As you age, your white matter may become compromised.

A review article in the Journal of Aging Research (5/11) stated,

“Age-related white matter changes (WMC) are considered manifestation of arteriolosclerotic small vessel disease and are related to age and vascular risk factors. Most recent studies have shown that WMC are associated with a host of poor outcomes, including cognitive impairment, dementia, urinary incontinence, gait disturbances, depression, and increased risk of stroke and death.”

With this kind of grim diagnoses, along with exercise and a plant-based diet, meditation may be an excellent tool to avoid some or much of this decline. A 2016 study published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience titled ‘Effects of Long-Term Mindfulness Meditation on Brain’s White Matter Microstructure and its Aging’ concluded that,

“…meditators showed a weaker negative slope for FA [fractional anisotropy –  measure of connectivity in the brain] values compared to non-meditators. This could be an indication that the regular practice of MM [mindfulness meditation] may contribute to the preservation of fiber integrity in the WM [white matter] around the selected ROIs [regions of interest].”

Enhance Cognitive Abilities

Meditation may not only be able to slow white matter decline and strengthen a young brain but it could increase cognitive abilities for older adults. With your brain being pulled in so many directions due to a rapid, digitally enhanced world, it may be a challenge to stay sharp. Practicing meditation could give you that extra edge you need, particularly if you are in the demographic of fifty years of age or older.

In a study, The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review published in Ann NY Academy of Science it was stated that,

“On the basis of a growing body of research that shows that meditation has positive effects on cognition in younger and middle-aged adults, meditation may be able to offset normal age-related cognitive decline or even enhance cognitive function in older adults.”

Younger Brain Neuroplasticity

Neuroplasticity is a term given to the various levels of cognitive ability. It was once believed that as you age your neuroplasticity would inevitably decline with no ability to reverse it. New research shows how something as simple as mindful meditation could increase neuroplasticity and even rebuild new neural pathways to maintain a younger acting brain.

This was specifically shown when the brains of lifelong meditators were studied. Compared to non-meditators it turns out that those who meditated daily had the workings of significantly younger brains by a decade. Therefore someone in their fifties would have cognitive abilities similar to those in their forties.


Certain repetitive meditations are considered by some to be ‘brain network training’. This is described in an article by Dr. B Grace Bullock in Mindful (8/3/17) which reported,

“Brain network training, [] is more focal in that it improves specific cognitive abilities by repeatedly activating a network associated with one function, like paying attention. This is equivalent to repetitive mental bicep curls. Both state and network training are believed to be important ingredients for keeping the brain sharp.”

To enter the world of meditation it is best to start slow. Some recommend simply sitting in silence and quieting any thoughts that arise by breathing through them. Eventually, when your mind receives a distracting thought you will be able to ignore it and get to the deeper stuff. There are apps on your phone that offer meditation in small increments and there are Buddhist temples that welcome meditators. Either way, search for what speaks to you. It needn’t be religious it just needs to be about sitting, breathing, and quieting your mind.

The effects of meditation on brain aging show how bringing it into your life could essentially save your life. Take the opportunity to block out life once a day and learn to look within.