Richard G. Petty, MD

Zen and the Aging Brain

The two main kinds of meditation that have received a lot of research attention are Zen and Transcendental Meditation. Both produce measurable physiological changes and both may produce changes in the brain.

Zen meditation is centered on attentional and postural self-regulation.

As we age, there is normally some decline of cerebral gray matter volume and attentional performance. As I have pointed out, those changes do not necessarily mean a decline in functioning, but simply a change.

In a new study researchers here in Atlanta examined how the regular practice of meditation might affect the brain. The researchers studied 13 regular practitioners of Zen meditation and 13 matched controls.

They used some sophisticated techniques to calculate the volumes of different regions of the brain. They also performed a computerized sustained attention task.

While the control subjects showed the expected negative correlation of both gray matter volume and attentional performance with age, the meditators did not show a significant correlation of either measure with age.

Interestingly, the effect of meditation on gray matter volume was most prominent in a region of the brain called the putamen, a system of the brain that is strongly implicated in attentional processing.

These findings are intriguing and are consistent with some of the research done in Richard Davidson’s laboratory in Wisconsin, that looked at people practicing a different form of meditation, but also showed that expert meditators produce both structural and functional changes in their brains.

The study on aging suggests that the regular practice of meditation may have neuroprotective effects and reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging.

If that is confirmed, I think that we have something else to add to our list of “things to do to reduce your risk of getting Alzheimer’s.”

About Richard G. Petty, MD
Dr. Richard G. Petty, MD is a world-renowned authority on the brain, and his revolutionary work on human energy systems has been acclaimed around the globe. He is also an accredited specialist in internal and metabolic medicine, endocrinology, psychiatry, acupuncture and homeopathy. He has been an innovator and leader of the human potential movement for over thirty years and is also an active researcher, teacher, writer, professional speaker and broadcaster. He is the author of five books, including the groundbreaking and best selling CD series Healing, Meaning and Purpose. He has taught in over 45 countries and 48 states in the last ten years, but spends as much time as possible on his horse farm in Georgia.

Comments

4 Responses to “Zen and the Aging Brain”
  1. Ari says:

    Dr. Petty, This is an excellent and informative post. I am so excited by the increasing evidence of alternative techniques helping us maintain healthier and more active lives. Meditation, with such an ancient and widespread history, could absolutely help people maintain their cognitive capacities longer than ever. I would also like to recommend a website, the Brain Fitness Channel, bfc.positscience.com which is an excellent source of information on alternative techniques: brain training, diet and lifestyle, and the effects they have on the brain.

  2. Ari says:

    Dr. Petty, This is an excellent and informative post. I am so excited by the increasing evidence of alternative techniques helping us maintain healthier and more active lives. Meditation, with such an ancient and widespread history, could absolutely help people maintain their cognitive capacities longer than ever. I would also like to recommend a website, the Brain Fitness Channel, bfc.positscience.com which is an excellent source of information on alternative techniques: brain training, diet and lifestyle, and the effects they have on the brain.

  3. Reg Adkins says:

    I’m more of a Koan student than Zen. But, I’m for anything that adds light. By the way, after a nasty experience having my site stolen I have moved Elemental Truths to a dot com. http://www.elementaltruths.com would you mind updating it in your “blogroll” and “what I’m reading” list?

  4. Dear Ari,

    Thank you very much for your kind note.

    I have looked at the website that you recommended: very nice. I am going to add a link to it.

    Kind regards,

    RP

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