Something I’m really passionate about is how mindfulness and meditation actually has the ability to change the brain. A lot of people used to think meditation was very ‘woo woo’ but in fact, the opposite is true. There a lot of exciting new studies emerging that have brought to light how meditation can shape the brain for the better. Here are a few of the key ones: Meditation makes the brain less reactive to stress A nine-month meditation program and study was conducted at the Max Planck Institute of Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany. One aspect of this study was watching how the meditators vs the control group responded to a stressful situation like a job interview of school exam. Amazingly, all of the people who practised meditation were less stressed than those who didn’t practice meditation. The meditators also showed lower levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. The rise of cortisol was lower by 51 percent in the meditators. In addition, studies have also shown that the amygdala, known as our brain’s “fight or flight” centre and the seat of our fearful and anxious emotions, decreases in brain cell volume after mindfulness practice. You can read the full study here. Meditation rewires the brain for happiness It’s long been thought by scientists that everyone is born with a base-line level of happiness. No matter what events happen in people’s lives, they will always revert back to this base-line. Recent research actually suggests otherwise and that you can ‘increase’ this baseline of happiness. In one study, the participants learned a form of meditation called ‘loving kindness’. This technique is used to increase feelings of warm and caring for self and others. The participants meditated five times a week for 20 minutes. The results showed that the participants experienced an increase in positive emotions, increased purpose in life, social support and a decrease in illness. After practicing for an extended period, life satisfaction and reduced depressive symptoms were also evident. You can read the full study here. Meditation makes your brain younger A study by the UCLA School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology compared the brains of meditators to non-meditators and found that the meditators brains were almost a decade younger by the time people reached their mid 50s. Talk about a massive difference! Normal aging is accompanied by a decrease in brain size due to a loss of connective tissue in the brain. This can affect memory, emotional regulation and executive function. Meditators have been shown to have higher concentration of tissue in the brain regions depleted by aging. This indicates that meditation helps minimise brain age and protect against age-related decline. You can read the full study here. So why does your brain change when you meditate? The short answer is, we need to do more research on this. It is thought that the concentration and focused attention required in most forms of meditation may stimulate growth in neural structures and promote increased connectivity and efficiency within neural networks. It is also thought that meditation helps reduce the bodies inflammatory response which is thought to impact on age-related brain change. Whatever the reason, it’s clear that meditation is amazing for your brain, especially as you age.