The positive effects at the neurological level are wide ranging, from changes in the volume of grey matter to the improvement of the connection between brain areas. Below I show you some of the most interesting studies that have come out in recent years.
1- Reduces activity in the “brain centers of the ego
One of the most interesting studies of recent years was conducted at Yale University and found that mindfulness meditation reduces activity in the brain network responsible for self-referential thinking.
This network is active when you don’t think about something in particular, when the mind goes from one thought to another. Rumination and worry are associated with less happiness and this brain network participates in them. Even when the mind begins to ruminate and worry, meditators with practice have formed neural connections that allow them to get rid of them.
2- Slows down brain aging
A University of California, Los Angeles study found that people who meditate long-term have better preserved brains than those who don’t.
Participants who meditated for 20 years had a greater volume of gray matter in their brains, more so the younger they were. According to study author Florian Kurth, “We expected small, region-specific effects that had been studied before. Instead, we saw a dispersed effect that spanned regions throughout the brain.
3- Helps control depression and anxiety
A John Hopkins University study studied the ability of mindfulness meditation to reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain and found that its effects are equal to those of antidepressants.
Research has also shown the benefits of meditation on generalized anxiety and social phobia: a Stanford University research group found that it changes brain regions related to attention and reduces symptoms of social anxiety.
4- Improves memory and concentration
One of the most outstanding benefits of meditation is that it improves attention, memory and concentration.
A recent study found that just a few weeks of meditation improves concentration and memory.
5- Helps to control addictions
One study compared the effects of mindfulness meditation with those of an American Lung Association’s freedom from smoking cessation program and found that people who practiced mindfulness were more likely to quit smoking than those who took conventional treatment.
6- Less stress
According to this study, after an 8-week course of mindfulness meditation, the brain’s fighting or response centers – the tonsil – decrease in size. This brain region, associated with fear and emotions, is involved in the stress response.
As the amygdala shrinks, the prefrontal cortex-associated with functions such as concentration and decision making-increases in size.
In addition, the connection between the amygdala and other brain regions decreases, while the connections between areas associated with attention and concentration increase.
The scale of these changes correlates with the number of hours you meditate, according to researcher Adrienne Taren of the University of Pittsburgh.
7- Feeling less pain
Another study has found that people who have an advanced level of meditation experience less pain. The interesting thing is that the brain images show more activity in the areas associated with pain.
According to Joshua Grant of the Max Plank Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, it doesn’t fit the classic pain reduction models, such as those of drugs, where you see less activity in those areas.
8- Improves social skills
A 12-year University of Wisconsin study compared meditation experts to beginners.
When both groups heard the voice of stressed people, two brain areas known to be related to empathy showed more activity in the expert meditators. This suggests that people who meditate regularly have a greater ability to respond to the feelings of others and to empathize.
9- Reduces feelings of loneliness
A study from Carnegie Mellon University found that mindfulness meditation is helpful in reducing feelings of loneliness, which in turn reduces the risk of mortality and depression.
10- Allows you to live longer
Telomeres are an essential part of the cells in the human body that affect the aging process. Although research has not yet concluded anything, there is evidence to suggest that some forms of meditation have effects on telomere length by reducing stress.
11- Helps control heart rate
According to this study published by the Korean Association of Genuine Traditional Medicine, meditation practitioners show a drop in heart rate and breathing rate 8 months after the training period.
12- Reduces the risk of Alzheimer’s and premature death
The results of this study published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity show that just 30 minutes of meditation a day reduces the risk of premature death, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and depression.