A growing body of research suggests that meditation practices are associated with substantial psychological as well as physiological benefits. In searching for the biological mechanisms underlying the beneficial impact of meditation, studies have revealed practice-induced alterations of neurotransmitters, brain activity, and cognitive abilities, just to name a few. These findings not only imply a close link between meditation and brain structure, but also suggest possible modulating effects of meditation on age-related brain atrophy. Given that normal aging is associated with significant loss of brain tissue, meditation-induced growth and/or preservation might manifest as a seemingly reduced brain age in meditators (i.e., cerebral measures characteristic of younger brains). Surprisingly, there are only three published studies that have addressed the question of whether meditation diminishes age-related brain degeneration. This paper reviews these three studies with respect to the brain attributes studied, the analytical strategies applied, and the findings revealed. The review concludes with an elaborate discussion on the significance of existing studies, implications and directions for future studies, as well as the overall relevance of this field of research.
Keywords: MRI; aging; brain; meditation; preservation.
© 2013 New York Academy of Sciences.