Perhaps even more so than cancer or heart attack, losing one’s cognitive abilities is one of the major fears that people have about getting older. We already know that getting enough sleep can significantly reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s in people over the age of 70. Recent studies have also indicated that low levels of alcohol (two units or less) can have longterm benefits for the brain. But, now, a new study has found that there’s something else that can help someone stay focused and attentive well into old age: meditating.
The longitudinal study, published in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, assessed data completed seven years ago by the University of California. In 2011, 60 people between the ages of 22 and 69, divided into two groups, went on a three-month retreat to the Shambhala Mountain meditation center in Colorado, where they practiced serenity through breathing, being able to focus on a certain object for a sustained amount of time, and empathy towards humanity.
The researchers followed up with the participants six months, eighteen months, and seven years after they completed their retreat, and found that, of the 40 who remained, 85 percent continued to meditate on a daily basis.
Following a series of cognitive tests, the researchers found that these participants had largely maintained their cognitive abilities over the course of the last 7 years, and that those who meditated more seemed more sharp and focused than those who practiced less.
Of course, there may be other variables at play here. The participants who seemed especially coherent could have simply gotten more sleep, eaten more fish, or snacked on more flaxseeds and spinach, all of which has been proven to contribute to a healthy brain.
Still, it’s easy to see the connection between the kind of intense concentrating that meditation requires, and the benefit that exercising your mind can have on your attention span later in life.
“This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person’s life,” lead author Anthony Zanesco of the University of Miami, said in a Springer (the publisher of the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement) news release.
In other words, if it’s not part of your routine already, you should slate 10 minutes of mindfulness into your day-to-day. And if you need some tips, start by mastering the 10 Ways to Focus Better During Meditation.
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