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Science Shows Meditation Can Keep the Brain Young (and Guide for Beginnners)

Science Shows Meditation Can Keep the Brain Young (and Guide for Beginnners)

Plenty of scientific studies have shown that physical exercise is a powerful tool to slow down the effects of aging. Among other benefits, regular exercise helps us maintain our strength, endurance, and flexibility as we age.

Now it turns out that there’s an easy way to slow down the aging in our brains! An exciting new study from Harvard University shows that a simple practice, if done regularly, can prevent aging in the brain. The tool? Meditation. We’ve all heard that it produces feelings of relaxation and peace, and is good for stress reduction. Now, for the first time, scientists have actual proof that meditation can actually reverse the aging process in the brain. Using sophisticated medical technology, Harvard researchers have shown that meditation produces measurable changes in crucial parts of the brain that control emotion, memory, and learning.

The Study

In the 8-week study, Harvard researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the brains of two groups. One group practiced mindfulness meditation exercises for 27 minutes per day during the 8-week period, and the other group did not meditate during the study. Both groups also filled out questionnaires before and after the study that measured participants’ levels of stress and anxiety. MRI scans of participant’s brain were taken both before and after the study. At the end of the study, the MRI images showed striking differences between the two groups in crucial areas of the brain that control emotion and thought.

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The Results

The researchers found that the hippocampus, which usually shrinks with age, was thicker in the meditators after the 8 weeks, and unchanged in the nonmeditators. The hippocampus controls memory, learning, self-awareness, and compassion; functions associated with mindfulness meditation.  The amygdala, which controls emotions such as stress and anxiety, showed a decrease in density in the meditators. The researchers associated this decrease with the reduction reported by the meditators, but not by the other group.

Benefits of Meditation in Daily Life

So, how would these brain changes brought about by meditation translate into real life? The meditators reported feeling less stress and anxiety than the control group. Meditation causes you to slow down repeatedly and to practice focusing on your breath (or a mantra or image, depending on what kind of meditation you are doing). This can build the habit of stopping before you react, instead of just reacting without thinking. Say an angry coworker approaches you with an angry comment, accusing you of making a mistake. If you aren’t prepared, your instincts would probably be to go on the defensive, and you might find yourself in an argument. If you stopped and took a breath before you began your conversation, however, you could approach the conversation in a way that would help your coworker to relax and to release his or her anger. If someone cuts you off on the highway, your habit of pausing to breathe before reacting might stop you from reacting with a loud honk or an angry gesture.   Feeling less angry and stressed can enhance your life and the lives of those around you, as well. In addition, your brain will remain active and retain the ability to learn and remember, functions that we tend to lose as we age.

How to Meditate

If you’ve never meditated, but would like to start, there are many resources available. If you’re interested in meditating with a group, just Google “meditation groups” and see what you can find near you. Many excellent books and tapes with meditation instructions and guided meditations are available on Amazon. Tara Brach and Pema Chodron are two widely popular teachers who have published books and tapes on meditation. There are many other wonderful teachers in addition to those two.

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A Meditation for Beginners

Here’s a very simple meditation you can do anywhere,  anytime – in your living room, your office, even your car.

1. Take a comfortable position: you can sit cross-legged on a cushion, or upright on a chair, whichever is most comfortable. Your spine should be upright but not stiff, shoulders relaxed. Keep your head up, as if lifted by a invisible string. Place your hands firmly on your thighs, palms down or upright, whichever feels more comfortable.

2. Direct your gaze a few feet in front of you. Hold a soft, steady gaze.

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3. As you breathe in and out, taking deep, natural breaths, keep your attention on your breath. When your mind wanders (and it will) gently bring your attention back to your breath. In the beginning your mind will be very busy and full of chatter; don’t worry! Just let your thoughts rise and fall and keep coming back to the breath.

4. Start with 10 minutes per day. Gradually increase your time as you feel more comfortable with the practice.

Again, if you want to go further, seek out some of the resources mentioned in this article.  As you go along, know that not only are you reducing your stress and anxiety, but you are keeping your brain young and healthy, too!

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Featured photo credit: Pray by belgian chocolate via imcreator.com

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Last Updated on November 11, 2019

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

How to Improve Memory and Boost Your Brainpower

Have you ever noticed that some people are able to effortlessly remember even the most mundane details and quickly comprehend new things? Well, you can too!

To unlock the full potential of your brain, you need to keep it active and acute. Wasting time on your couch watching mindless television shows or scrolling through facebook is not going to help.

Besides getting out flashcards, what can you do to help remember things better and learn new things more quickly? Check out these 10 effective ways on how to improve memory:

1. Exercise and Get Your Body Moving

Exercising doesn’t just exercise the body, it also helps to exercise your brain. Obesity and the myriad of diseases that eventually set in as a result of being overweight can cause serious harm to the brain.

Furthermore, without regular exercise, plaque starts to build up in your arteries, and your blood vessels begin to lose the ability to effectively pump blood. Plaque buildup leads to heart attacks and it also reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain. When the nutrients don’t make it there, the brain’s ability to function is compromised.

To prevent this from happening, make sure you get moving every day. Even if it’s just a brisk walk, it’ll help you maintain and increase your mental acuity. Brisk walking, swimming and dancing are all excellent activities. Take a look at these 5 Ways to Find Time for Exercise.

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2. Eliminate Stressors and Seek Help If You’re Depressed

Anything that causes you major stress, like anger or anxiety, will in time begin to eat away the parts of your brain that are responsible for memory. Amongst the most brain-damaging stressors is depression, which is actually often misdiagnosed a a memory problem since one of its primary symptoms is the inability to concentrate.

If you can’t concentrate, then you might feel like you are constantly forgetting things. Depression increases the levels of cortisol in your bloodstream which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus which is where short-term memories are stored.

Prolonged depression can thus destroy your brain’s ability to remember anything new. Seek professional help to combat your depression – your brain will thank you.

3. Get a Good Night’s Sleep and Take Naps

Getting a consistent 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night will increase your memory. During sleep, the brain firms up memories of recently acquired information.

Getting enough sleep will help you get through the full spectrum of nocturnal cycles that are essential to optimal brain and body functioning during the waking hours. Taking a nap throughout the day, especially after learning something new, can also help you to retain those memories as well as recharge your brain and keep it sharper longer.

4. Feed Your Brain

Fifty to sixty percent of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages and the quicker you will be thinking.

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This is precisely why parents are advised to feed their young children whole milk and to restrict dieting – their brains’ need fat to grow and work properly. Skimping on fats can be devastating even to the adult brain.

Thus, eating foods that contain a healthy mix of fats is vital for long-term memory. Some excellent food choices include fish (especially anchovies, mackerel and wild salmon) and dark leafy green vegetables. Here’re more brain food choices: 12 Foods that Can Improve Your Brain Power

Deep-fried foods obviously contain fat but their lack of nutritional value is not going to help your brain or your body, so think healthy foods and fats.

5. Eat Breakfast and Make Sure It Includes an Egg

According to Larry McCleary, M.D., author of  The Brain Trust Program, an egg is the ideal breakfast. Eggs contain B vitamins which help nerve cells to burn glucose, antioxidants that protect neurons against damage; and omega-3 fatty acids that keep nerve cells firing at optimal speed.

Other foods to add to your breakfast include fruits, veggies and lean proteins. Avoid trans fats and high fructose corn syrup. Trans fats diminish the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other and HFCS can actually shrink the brain by damaging cells.

Having a healthy breakfast in the morning has been shown to improve performance throughout the day. If you’re too busy to have a healthy breakfast, this maybe just right for you: 33 Quick And Healthy Breakfasts For Busy Mornings

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6. Write it Down

If there’s something you want to remember, writing it down can help.

It may sound like a no-brainer, but do you really know why? Writing it down creates oxygenated blood flow to areas of your brain that a responsible for your memories and literally exercises those parts of it. Here’s How Writing Things Down Can Change Your Life.

You can start a journal, write yourself emails or even start keeping a blog – all of these activities will help to improve your capacity to remember and memorize information.

7. Listen to Music

Research shows that certain types of music are very helpful in recalling memories. Information that is learned while listening to a particular song or collection can often be recalled by thinking of the song or “playing” it mentally. Songs and music can serve as cues for pulling up particular memories.

8. Visual Concepts

In order to remember things, many people need to visualize the information they are studying.

Pay attention to photographers, charts and other graphics that might appear in your textbook; or if you’re not studying a book, try to pull up a mental image of what it is you are trying to remember. It might also help to draw your own charts or figures, or utilize colors and highlighters to group related ideas in your notes.

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Here, you can learn How to Become a Person Who Can Visualize Results.

9. Teach Someone Else

Reading material out loud has been shown to significantly improve memory of the material. Expanding further upon this idea is the fact that psychologists and educators have found that by having students teach new concepts to others, it helps to enhance understanding and recall.

Teach new concepts and information to a friend or study partner, and you’ll find you remember the information a lot better.

10. Do Crossword Puzzles, Read or Play Cards

Studies have shown that doing crossword puzzles, read or play cards on a daily basis not only keep your brain active but also help to delay memory loss, especially in those who develop dementia.

So pick up the daily newspaper and work on that crossword puzzle, read a book or enjoy a game of solitaire.

Pick one to two of these tips first and start applying them to your everyday life. Very soon you’ll find yourself having better memories and a clearer head!

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Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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