Can meditation keep your brain youthful?

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As you age, your brain shrinks, but UCLA researchers say the key to keeping your brain youthful might be meditation. (KABC)

As you age, your brain shrinks, but researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles say the key to keeping your brain youthful might be meditation.

Making meditation easy and accessible is at the heart of what Diana Winston teaches her students. She started her practice 25 years ago.

"I feel a youthfulness, a happiness, from a meditating mind," Winston said.

Could meditation be behind her younger outlook?

Researchers with the UCLA Brain Mapping Center scanned the brains of people who have been meditating for years as well as those who haven't meditated at all.

After about the mid-20s, our brain tissue begins to wither. This may be one reason why we become more forgetful.

"Less brain matter in some regions is associated with less cognitive functioning," said Dr. Florian Kurth.

Kurth and his colleagues found that in the brains of people who meditated, the shrinkage of gray matter was less.

"What was kind of surprising about this was we found this effect throughout the whole brain, basically," Kurth said.

How meditation protects the brain is going to be the subject of further study, but Kurth theorizes it might be a two-pronged approach. First, meditation reduces stress and protects the brain. Second, it can help build up certain parts of the brain.

"Imagine body building, and it may just be that some regions in the brain grow bigger and stay bigger over time, and this makes a difference," Kurth said.

While this study doesn't prove meditation is directly responsible for preserving the brain, Winston said it doesn't hurt - so why not give it a try?

"You can do it with a guided meditation. You can do it by yourself, and what we see is that people do it over time, there is an effect on their lives," Winston said.

Some people in the study meditated for four years while some meditated for 46 years, but Kurth said some research shows that you can gain some brain benefits within the first two months.

To get more information about meditation, visit www.ucla.edu.


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