Posts Tagged ‘Affective Neuroscience’

The Benefits of Meditation

October 26, 2011

The benefits of meditation are many.1 There is evidence that meditation boosts the immune system in vaccine recipients and people with cancer. Meditation protects against relapses in major depression and soothes skin conditions. It has even been shown to slow the progression of HIV.

There is even some evidence that meditation might slow the aging process. A proposed theoretical process by which this might happen is interesting. It is believed that telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes play a role in aging. These telomeres get shorter every time a cell divides. It is thought that this process fosters aging. Research conducted by Clifford Saron of the Center for Mind and Brain at the University of California, Davis, found that the levels of an enzyme that builds up telomeres were higher in people who attended a three-month meditation retreat than in a comparable control group who did not meditate.2 The increase in this enzyme and the build up of telomeres, could play a role in slowing aging.

It is also likely that meditation works by influencing stress response pathways. Meditators tend to have lower cortisol levels. A study sowed that meditators also have changes in their amygdalae.3 Amygdalae are brain areas involved in fear and the response to threat.

The good news is that you do not need to be a monk meditating in a monastery or a participant in a three-month study to benefit from meditating. Imaging studies have shown that meditating can cause structural changes in the brain in as little as 11 hours of training. A psychiatrist at the University of California at San Francisco, Elissa Epel, suggests that fitting in short “mini-meditations” during the course of a day, such as taking a few minutes at your desk to focus on your breathing can be effective. “Little moments here and there all matter.”

Previous Healthymemory Blog posts on this topic can be found by entering “The Benefits of Meditation” in the search block.

1Much of this post is based on an article, Meditate, by Jo Marchant in the New Scientist, 27 August 2011, pp. 34-35.

2Psychoneuroendocrinology, 36., p.664

3Social and Affective Neuroscience, 5, p.11.