Long-term meditators, with seven to nine years of experience, have increased gray matter, according to researchers findings. Structural changes were found in several areas of the brain, among them the auditory and sensory cortex and in the frontal cortex, the region linked to decision-making and working memory.
Researchers found “meditation may impact age related declines in cortical structure.” In other words, meditation may result in a much younger brain. Most people see their cortexes shrink as they age, but 50-year-old meditators in the study had the same amount of gray matter as people half their age.
To make sure this wasn’t because long-term meditators have more gray matter to begin with, researchers conducted a second study. In this study, researchers observed people with no experience with meditation in an eight-week mindfulness course.
In just eight weeks, people’s brains changed for the better. Several regions of the brain became thicker: including the left hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory; and the TPJ, which impacts empathy.
Researchers also found the amygdalae shrank in the brains of the new meditators. The amygdala is a region of the brain associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression. The reduced size of the amygdala is correlated to reduced stress levels.
In the study, participants were told to meditate for 40 minutes a day, but the average participant ended up meditating just 27 minutes a day.