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Meditation builds strong brains
By Megan Keough
Apparently, people who meditate are a bit thickheaded—in a good way of course. A new study led by Massachusetts General Hospital shows that the regular practice of a particular form of meditation appears to thicken areas of the brain associated with attention and sensory processing.
Brain scans of experienced, frequent meditators showed thickening in the insula, an area of the cortex involved in the integration of emotion with thought. Most of the structural changes occurred in the right hemisphere of the brain, in the prefrontal cortex, which regulates memory and attention. This area tends to thin as we age, and yet the thickening was more pronounced in older practitioners. According to Sara Lazar, PhD, the study’s lead author, this evidence suggests that meditation may slow down the atrophy of certain areas of the brain that typically occurs with age.
Perhaps even more interesting, you needn’t don robes and retire to a cave somewhere to achieve these results. Instead of scanning the brains of Buddhist monks who devote their lives to meditation, researchers enrolled 20 people who averaged nine years of experience and about 40 minutes a day meditating. (Fifteen people with no experience in meditation formed the control group.) Those participants who meditated most deeply—as measured by breathing rates—showed the greatest changes in their brains, which suggests that meditation caused the thickening, as opposed to the thickening indicating a predisposition to meditate.
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