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Researchers Find Meditation Might Help Preserve Gray Matter In Our Brains

Researchers Find Meditation Might Help Preserve Gray Matter In Our Brains

“In its broadest and most universal definition, meditation is a discipline that involves turning the mind and attention inward and focusing on a single thought, image, object or feeling”.

– The Australian Teachers of Meditation Association

Definitions of meditation vary from one individual practice to another, however the general idea is to train the mind to improve focus. Different forms of meditation focus on different aspects such as breath, an object, a mantra (repeated word or sound), a mental image or positive statements.

The effects of relaxation are an immediate result of practiced meditation and can provide a range of long-term benefits.

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From a physical view, meditation lowers high blood pressure, reduces anxiety attacks, increases serotonin production which improves mood and behavior reduces stress-related pain (e.g. tension, headaches and insomnia, and increases immunity and energy).

Mentally, meditation decreases anxiety, improves emotional stability, provides clarity and peace of mind and sharpens the mind.

To add to the abundance of benefits meditation offers, research by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) now suggest that meditation could slow the age-related loss of gray matter in the brain.

During an individual’s mid-to-late 20s, the brain begins to decrease in weight and volume, by which stage it begins to lose some of its functional abilities. Through the following years, the risk for mental and neurodegenerative disease increases.

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The study by UCLA shows that meditation can actually help lower these risks. It also suggests that meditation can preserve the brain’s gray matter, a neuron-containing tissue which functions to process information.

The study focused primarily on the association between age and the brain’s gray matter, comparing 50 people who meditated and 50 who had not, with both groups already showing signs of loss of grey matter as they aged.

Each group consisted of 28 men and 22 women, aged 24 to 77, with those who meditated for an average of 20 years. Using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), scientists scanned the brains of the participants. Both groups of people naturally showed the degeneration in the gray matter (a loss of brain tissue with increasing age), but the large parts of gray matter in the brains of those who meditated were found to be better preserved.

While other factors, such as lifestyle choices, personality traits and genetic brain differences, need to be taken into consideration, the magnitude of the results was surprising even to the researchers.

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“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.”

– Dr. Florian Kurth, co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center

Many people around the world are well aware of the cleansing and relaxation properties of meditation and most will make an excuse that it is too difficult or too time consuming. However if you think of it in terms of a few hours of your day in exchange for a better sleep at night and a healthier brain as you age, it might be time to reconsider.

To those who are already well-acquainted with the practice of meditation, this might provide encouragement for you to continue on with meditation into older age.

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“Our results are promising…Hopefully they will stimulate other studies exploring the potential of meditation to better preserve our aging brains and minds. Accumulating scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities might ultimately allow for an effective translation from research to practice, not only in the framework of healthy aging but also pathological aging.”

– Dr. Eileen Luders, first author and assistant professor of neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA

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Last Updated on September 20, 2018

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful

Being in a hurry all the time drains your energy. Your work and routine life make you feel overwhelmed. Getting caught up in things beyond your control stresses you out…

If you’d like to stay calm and cool in stressful situations, put the following 8 steps into practice:

1. Breathe

The next time you’re faced with a stressful situation that makes you want to hurry, stop what you’re doing for one minute and perform the following steps:

  • Take five deep breaths in and out (your belly should come forward with each inhale).
  • Imagine all that stress leaving your body with each exhale.
  • Smile. Fake it if you have to. It’s pretty hard to stay grumpy with a goofy grin on your face.

Feel free to repeat the above steps every few hours at work or home if you need to.

2. Loosen up

After your breathing session, perform a quick body scan to identify any areas that are tight or tense. Clenched jaw? Rounded shoulders? Anything else that isn’t at ease?

Gently touch or massage any of your body parts that are under tension to encourage total relaxation. It might help to imagine you’re in a place that calms you: a beach, hot tub, or nature trail, for example.

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3. Chew slowly

Slow down at the dinner table if you want to learn to be patient and lose weight. Shoveling your food down as fast as you can is a surefire way to eat more than you need to (and find yourself with a bellyache).

Be a mindful eater who pays attention to the taste, texture, and aroma of every dish. Chew slowly while you try to guess all of the ingredients that were used to prepare your dish.

Chewing slowly will also reduce those dreadful late-night cravings that sneak up on you after work.

4. Let go

Cliche as it sounds, it’s very effective.

The thing that seems like the end of the world right now?

It’s not. Promise.

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Stressing and worrying about the situation you’re in won’t do any good because you’re already in it, so just let it go.

Letting go isn’t easy, so here’s a guide to help you:

21 Things To Do When You Find It Hard To Let Go

5. Enjoy the journey

Focusing on the end result can quickly become exhausting. Chasing a bold, audacious goal that’s going to require a lot of time and patience? Split it into several mini-goals so you’ll have several causes for celebration.

Stop focusing on the negative thoughts. Giving yourself consistent positive feedback will help you grow patience, stay encouraged, and find more joy in the process of achieving your goals.

6. Look at the big picture

The next time you find your stress level skyrocketing, take a deep breath, and ask yourself:

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Will this matter to me…

  • Next week?
  • Next month?
  • Next year?
  • In 10 years?

Hint: No, it won’t.

I bet most of the stuff that stresses you wouldn’t matter the next week, maybe not even the next day.

Stop agonizing over things you can’t control because you’re only hurting yourself.

7. Stop demanding perfection of yourself

You’re not perfect and that’s okay. Show me a person who claims to be perfect and I’ll show you a dirty liar.

Demanding perfection of yourself (or anybody else) will only stress you out because it just isn’t possible.

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8. Practice patience every day

Below are a few easy ways you can practice patience every day, increasing your ability to remain calm and cool in times of stress:

  • The next time you go to the grocery store, get in the longest line.
  • Instead of going through the drive-thru at your bank, go inside.
  • Take a long walk through a secluded park or trail.

Final thoughts

Staying calm in stressful situations is possible, all you need is some daily practice.

Taking deep breaths and eat mindfully are some simple ways to train your brain to be more patient. But changing the way you think of a situation and staying positive are most important in keeping cool whenever you feel overwhelmed and stressful.

Featured photo credit: Brooke Cagle via unsplash.com

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