Neuroscientist Sara Lazar, of Mass General and Harvard Medical School, started studying meditation by accident. She sustained running injuries training for the Boston Marathon, and her physical therapist told her to stretch. So Lazar took up yoga.
In her first study, she looked at long-term meditators (those with seven to nine years of experience) versus a control group. The results showed that those with a strong meditation background had increased gray matter in several areas of the brain, including the auditory and sensory cortex, as well as insula and sensory regions.
This makes sense, since mindfulness meditation has you slow down and become aware of the present moment, including physical sensations such as your breathing and the sounds around you.
However, the neuroscientists also found that the meditators had more gray matter in another brain region, this time linked to decision-making and working memory: the frontal cortex.
In fact, while most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as those half their age.
How long do you have to meditate to see such results?
Well, in the study, participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average ended up being 27 minutes a day.
Several other studies suggest that you can see significant positive changes in just 15 to 20 minutes a day.
If all you can do is just a little bit every day, that’s a good thing, too.
Turns out meditating can give you the brain of a 25-year-old.