Numerous research studies have found that grey matter in the brain is better preserved in individuals who regularly meditate.
Grey matter primarily covers the outside surface of the brain, and makes up about 40% of the brain’s total volume. Nerve cells that make up grey matter help create and hold on to memories, enable communication and control movement. For example, grey matter helps a person think and move at the same time. It also plays an important role in regulating emotions, making decisions and knowing how to behave in social situations.
Brain Changes with Age
The brain naturally changes with age. It’s estimated that after the age of 40 the brain shrinks about 5% every decade. On MRI scans, grey matter is one of the first parts of the brain to show changes and shrinkage. This has been noted in areas of the frontal, parietal and temporal lobes of the brain.
Of interest, individuals who develop Alzheimer’s disease have further grey matter loss in the hippocampus and something called the entorhinal cortex of the brain. The entorhinal cortex is a hub in the medial temporal lobe that helps coordinate memory and navigation.
Grey matter is very important to higher order functions, so finding ways to slow its degeneration has been of interest to researchers for many years.
Meditation and Grey Matter
In a recent study, researchers enrolled 100 individuals. Half of those had never meditated, and the other half had meditated between 4 and 40 years.
While everyone had some grey matter loss as expected with aging, those who meditated had much more intact grey matter. According to the researchers:
“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”
In another study by researchers out of Harvard, Mass General Hospital, MIT and Yale, researchers found that individuals who meditated just 40 minutes a day had increased sub-cortical thickness in regions associated with vision, hearing, sensing, and internal perception, which is related to breathing and heart rate.
According to the researchers, “Our initial results suggest that meditation may be associated with structural changes in areas of the brain that are important for sensory, cognitive and emotional processing.”
If you want to start meditating, but aren’t sure how, there are many resources to help newbies develop meditation skills. For example, UC Berkeley provides videos and instruction right HERE.
The information contained on this site is for educational purposes only and should not be used as a substitute for diagnosis or treatment rendered by a licensed medical professional. It is essential that you discuss with your primary care provider any symptoms or medical problems that you may be experiencing.
Lazar et al. (2005) Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport. 2005 Nov 28; 16(17): 1893–1897.
Peters, R. (2006) Ageing and the brain Postgrad Med J. 2006 Feb; 82(964): 84–88.
Florian Kurth, et al., (2015) Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy, Frontiers in Psychology, doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01551