Recently, Harvard researchers examined a Tibetan monk named Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche who teaches meditation at a monastery. When researchers scanned his brain, they discovered a wonderful surprise.
Despite being 41 years old, Mr. Rinpoche possessed a brain that’s almost a decade younger. Researchers found that his gray matter, when compared to another man the same age, is more like that of a 33-year-old.1
How is this possible? Recent studies suggest that mindfulness practices such as meditation can reshape your cellular chemistry in measurable ways, which can offset symptoms of aging within your brain and your body.
Researchers at West Virginia University, in coordination with other institutions, performed a study investigating how our thoughts affect aging.
As part of the study, they looked at how a meditation practice affects chemicals in the blood linked to Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory-robbing dementia.2
Not all Amyloid Beta Protein is Bad
Much of the investigation centered on measuring levels of amyloid beta protein. Amyloid beta is a protein that can form clumps in the brains of people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. However, there’s another kind of amyloid beta found in the bloodstream that we never hear about and, believe it or not, researchers say this form is actually good for your memory. In fact, research suggests having higher levels of the good form means that more of the “bad” amyloid protein is being shuffled out of the brain and eliminated.
Keeping that in mind, West Virginia University researchers measured the levels of the “good” amyloid protein in the blood of five dozen adults between the ages of 50 and 84.
These people were suffering from what researchers call “subjective cognitive decline.” That means they all reported they were having significant memory issues that were complicating their daily lives. What’s more, they were all growing worried about these memory lapses.
The researchers instructed one group to practice a meditation called Kirtan Kriya for 12 weeks, while another group did no meditation as a control group. Researchers found the meditation group had higher blood levels of good amyloid beta in their blood stream than the control group.
In addition, the scientists found that increasing the blood levels of the good amyloid beta improved cognitive abilities along with boosting memory, mood and sleep.
While additional research is needed, researchers hope that measurements of a ratio among different types of amyloid beta proteins circulating in the blood stream may eventually yield a more accurate indication of what’s going on in an aging brain. But they also say the fact that meditation affects amyloid beta levels in a positive way is a good sign.
The researchers also analyzed age-related changes in these folks’ telomeres. Telomeres are the material attached to cellular DNA that protects the ends of chromosomes from shredding or sticking to one another.
Telomeres generally grow shorter as you get older, but after the meditation program, telomeres in the participants’ immune cells lengthened. There were also increases in the activity of telomerase – an enzyme that helps telomeres remain long and protects chromosomes more effectively.
A Middle-Aged Attitude
Another important aspect of improving your health with mindfulness, according to researchers at Flinders University in Australia, is that being able to be more mindful and focus on the present moment non-judgmentally is “especially important for well-being with advancing age.”
This Australian research shows that from middle age on, mindfulness helps generate more positive emotions and better enables you to cope with age-related physical and emotional challenges.3
“The ability to appreciate the temporary nature of personal experiences may be particularly important for the way people manage their day-to-day goals across the second half of life,” says researcher Leeann Mahlo.
If you decide to use meditation to help your brain and body age more slowly, there are a number of “how to” videos and books available online to help you get started. In fact, the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation offers instruction in the Kirtan Kriya meditation. You’ll find it here: https://alzheimersprevention.org/research/kirtan-kriya-yoga-exercise/ .