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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 May 21, 2020

The Top Fad Diets That Are Actually Worth the Hype

The Top Fad Diets That Are Actually Worth the Hype

You have probably seen enough fad diets to last a lifetime. Many have become popular overnight and left just as quickly.

Some fad diets, though, have actually passed the test of time and are making some headway in the nutritional world.

Outlined below are four fad diets that are actually beneficial for your health and wellness. Read on to find out why you should consider adopting one (or more) of these healthy eating styles today.

An important concept you should keep in mind is to disregard the term “diet” as it is typically used. The word diet implies the idea of restriction and removal. Instead, think of the word diet in this context as a healthy eating lifestyle.

Let’s take a look at some of these healthy eating lifestyles that have been categorized, by no fault of their own, as fad diets.

1. The Paleo Diet

The paleo diet, or ancestral eating, is simply eating the way your paleolithic ancestors would have up to 10,000 years ago, or when the agriculture age began.

The advantage now is you don’t have to do this in a loin cloth, unless you want to… The focus of this diet is proteins, vegetables, some fruits, nuts and seeds and some healthy fats.

In the paleo diet, there aren’t any grains, starchy carbohydrates, sugars, or dairy.

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How Your Health Can Change With Paleo

The paleo diet is a good way to keep your blood sugar under control. It can also have a positive effect on type 2 diabetes, and can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

With this healthy eating lifestyle, people have also achieved good weight loss results and boast improved energy levels. [1]

It’s not just what’s in the paleo diet that’s important, it’s what’s NOT in it. There aren’t any processed and manufactured foods, junk foods, artificial ingredients or chemical additives.

Paleo is a way of eating that gets you more in tune with your body and, therefore, can provide a lot of benefits.

2. Whole30

The Whole30 diet is relatively new and owes its popularity to social media and the #Whole30 Instagram hashtag that allowed people to share and broadcast their success with the diet.

With Whole30 you are taking 30 days and focusing on nutritious whole foods such as meats, nuts and seeds, seafood, eggs, vegetables, and fruits.

During the month you are eliminating:

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  • sugar
  • alcohol
  • legumes
  • grains
  • dairy
  • soy

Whole30 is similar to paleo, but it goes a bit further eliminating sweeteners such as honey or maple syrup.

At the end of the 30 days, you strategically reintroduce those eliminated foods back into your diet to discover any possibility of health consequences from them or even potential food allergies.

Finding Out How Food Impacts You

Most people eat the same things so often and may not realize that certain foods are causing health consequences, as they’ve become accustomed to feeling lethargic and run down.

With Whole30 you get the chance to see how these foods may have a negative impact on your body. You’ll also reset your taste buds, which may have become desensitized from processed and artificial “foods” and excess salt.

This diet will help you regain your love of food… in a healthy way!

3. The Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean diet has been at the top of the list as a very effective diet for some time now.

For people in countries like Italy or Greece, this has simply been a normal way of life–along with higher activity levels, sunlight exposure, proximity to water, and lower stress.

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With the Mediterranean diet, the focus is on heart-healthy foods. It looks like this:

  • Fruits & vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Legumes & nuts
  • Replacing butter with olive oil
  • Using herbs and spices instead of salt
  • Eating fish and poultry at least twice a week
  • Moderate amounts of red wine

Help Your Heart & Overall Health With A Mediterranean Diet

Information from the Mayo Clinic shows that this diet reduces heart disease and lowers your “bad” LDL cholesterol. Studies involving 1.5 million people demonstrated that the Mediterranean diet was associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular mortality, along with overall mortality. [2]

With all these benefits, this is definitely a “fad diet” that’s worth the hype.

4. The Alkaline Diet

The alkaline diet is about changing the foods you eat so that you put your body into an alkaline state and out of an acidic state. When your body is too far on the acidic side it can result in a condition called acidosis. This can lead to issues in your body such as upset stomach, breathing difficulties, headaches, weakness and, fatigue. In extreme cases, it can result in shock, coma, or death.

The goal is to get your body in a more alkaline state, which results in overall better health. The focus is on including alkaline boosting foods such as fruits, nuts, vegetables, and legumes. You’re also wanting to reduce acidic foods such as low quality beef and poultry, dairy, eggs, grains, and alcohol.

Pros & Cons With The Alkaline Diet

The benefits that come from this way of eating is that reduction in inferior quality foods, processed items and alcohol. You may feel improved energy levels, mental clarity and even better joint health.

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People also report weight loss but again this may come from the reduction in calories from junk and processed foods but this is not a bad thing at all.

One con with this diet is that the pH value of the food you eat might not have an impact on blood pH, as your body is able to balance this pretty well on a day-to-day basis.

Follow These Fads for Better Health and Wellness

There can be a danger in categorizing things as a fad diet because fads come and go. People are always looking for the next big thing or a quick fix.

The four examples above buck that status quo. These diets, though mainstream, actually can give you benefits and aren’t going to go away anytime soon because they work.

What makes these diets special is that they boast real whole foods and the eliminate processed and manufactured junk.

The Big Takeaway:

Whatever way you choose to eat, the focus needs to be on whole unprocessed foods. Look for the cleanest, local and most natural things you can find for the benefit of your overall health and wellness. Your body and mind will thank you.

Featured photo credit: Dan Gold via unsplash.com

Reference

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