Preserving the brain's most important tissue — the neuron-rich gray matter — could be accomplished through meditation, according to a new study at the University of California at Los Angeles.
As early as the mid-to-late 20s, the brain starts to show the effects of aging, as its volume and weight start to dwindle.
Previous research has suggested that those who practice meditation have less age-related degradation in their white matter, so the UCLA team, whose study was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, sought to build on these findings.
"We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating," says co-author Dr. Florian Kurth, a postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center. "Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain."
In the study, the team compared 50 participants who had years of experience in meditation against 50 more who had none in order to understand the relationship between age and gray matter.
Participants ranged in age from 24 to 77 and each group consisted of 28 men and 22 women.
In the group that consisted of people who meditated, the average amount of experience was 20 years and the most experienced among them had been doing so for 46 years.
The research team captured the state of participants' brains using scans taken with high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology and found that gray matter declines with age, although less so for those who meditate.
While the findings are encouraging, the researchers caution that they were unable to establish a casual connection between practicing meditation and preserving gray matter.
Yet studies on the brain benefits of meditation are increasingly numerous and positive.
In 2012, a study also conducted at UCLA provided evidence that long term-meditators have increased brain folding, which is referred to in scientific terms as "gyrification." This, say the researchers, could allow for faster processing of information.