Meditation and Aging

February 24, 2019 Joe Brady

Recent research has shown improvements in brain structure in long-term meditation practitioners compared to controls. This is not an isolated study and, over the past decade, evidence suggests that meditation may help us keep our brains younger. None of us are getting any younger and daily meditation could be an effective means to better maintain brain tissue, preserve cognitive, and emotional function and to diminish the risk of dementia and other age-related neurodegenerative diseases.

Mindfulness or paying attention versus daydreaming absentmindedly turns out to be the key to brains aging in a healthy manner. The old adage “use it or lose it” becomes a central maxim. “Age-related debilitations can be reversed using meditation, experimental groups showed marked enhancement in intellectual functioning as well as physical health, they felt younger, more in control and had lower mortality rates and mental illness”.   Mindfulness improves memory, both long and short term also alertness and adjustment 2/3 less mortality rate.  

Meditation makes you happier and healthier

Experimental meditation group are more alert, more active, happier and healthier and lived longer than controls 1/2 the mortality rat.e   Aging in 6 different biomarkers used and 3-year survival rates showed mindfulness training showed better biomarkers and survival rates than relaxation alone.  

Moving meditation has additional benefits

Physical activity increases arousal and this, in turn increases serotonin and norepinephrine as well as endorphines – the body’s natural pain killers.  These changes lead to a sort of physiological toughening known as “mastery. ”  After 30 years of experience at the Fort Logan Mental Health Center, recently retired Chief of the Adolescent Unit and former Chief of the Geriatric Unit, George Kerin has found that certain behavioral activities such as daily exercise, meditation, reading, memorizing or learning new things such as T’ai Chi can be extremely useful in combating common depressions by stimulating production of these neurotransmitter chemicals naturally in the body.  Anti-depressant drugs try to replace this process artificially, but as with any drug, there are often side effects. 

Example of Mindfulness training in the Ancient art of T’ai Chi Chuan For centuries now the Chinese Exercises of T’ai Chi Chuan have been used in Chinese Medicine to alleviate many of the psychological and physical problems of aging. T’ai-chi practitioners experienced reductions in mood disturbance (tension, depression, anger, confusion and total mood disturbance) also improvements in general mood over exercise programs that do not include a cognitive component.   Tai Chi practitioners have also been shown to have less, depression, anxiety, confusion and less total mood disturbance.  

Meditation alters the biochemistry

From gene expression to stress response, our mind, endocrine glands, and immune system connect up through chemical messenger molecules sensitive to our thoughts, emotions and reactions, known as neuropeptides.  Neurotransmitters that can greatly effect enjoyment of life are norepinephrine and serotonin.  Norepinephrine is known as the “happiness and contentedness hormone.”  Serotonin, among other functions, determines the quality of our sleep.  The conditions that destroy the quality of life for many people often can be traced to a decline in these chemical messengers.  These conditions include depression, loneliness, boredom and sleep disorders.  In a very real way, the quality of our lives depends in large part on the quality of the way we live our lives on a daily basis.   

Nelson Mandela on Meditation!

“In judging our progress as individuals we tend to concentrate on external factors such as one’s social position, popularity, wealth and standard of education … but internal factors may be even more crucial in assessing one’s development as a human being: honesty, sincerity, simplicity, humility, purity, generosity, absence of vanity, readiness to serve your fellow men – qualities within the reach of every soul – are the foundation of one’s spiritual life … Regular meditation, say of about 15 minutes a day before you turn in, can be fruitful in this regard. You may find it difficult at first to pinpoint the negative factors in your life, but the tenth attempt may reap rich rewards. Never forget that a saint is a sinner that keeps on trying.”

– Nelson Mandela, excerpt from Mandela The Authorised Biography by Anthony Sampson

The Guy in the Glass Poem (Man in the Mirror)

When you get what you want in your struggle for self,
And the world makes you king for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that man has to say.
For it isn’t a man’s father, mother or wife,
Whose judgement upon him must pass,
The fellow whose verdict counts most in life,
Is the man staring back from the glass.
He’s the fellow to please, never mind all the rest,
For he’s with you clear to the end,
And you’ve passed your most dangerous, difficult test,
If the man in the glass is your friend.
You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But the final reward will be heartache and tears,
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.

= Dale Wimbrow, first published in The American Magazine in 1934.

Read More

Front Psychol. 2017; 8: 860. Published online 2017 May 30. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00860PMCID: PMC5447722PMID: 28611710

Promising Links between Meditation and Reduced (Brain) Aging: An Attempt to Bridge Some Gaps between the Alleged Fountain of Youth and the Youth of the Field

Florian Kurth,1,*Nicolas Cherbuin,2, and  Eileen Luders1,2,

See also (Epel et al., 2009; Gard et al., 2014; Koike and Cardoso, 2014; Luders, 2014; Marciniak et al., 2014; Luders and Cherbuin, 2016)