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How to boost your brain power, no matter your age

by Gemma Hartley

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I still remember the first week I tried meditation. I felt out of place and a little bit silly sitting quietly in my living room while the voice on my app instructed me to breathe and be present with my body. It felt a little too “woo” for me, but by the end of that week, I was hooked.

I felt more in control of my mind. I yelled at my kids less. I felt less overwhelmed. I was hesitant to believe that meditation had helped in such a short amount of time, but it was true.

It doesn’t take long for meditation to produce positive physical and psychological results. In fact, much of the research related to meditation follows subjects through 2-6 week meditation courses before testing for results—and those findings are often significant. Even newbie meditators have been found to have more compassion, reduced stress, lower blood pressure, better memorization skills, and a slew of other beneficial side effects.

Meditation doesn't just exercise the brain, it changes it permanently.

But what about the longer term effects of meditation? What kinds of results are possible for those who practice for years, even decades?

According to research on long-term meditators (5+ years), meditation doesn’t just exercise the brain, it changes it permanently.

While the brain won’t technically grow “larger” through meditation, it can become more dense with cells (gray matter) in the hippocampus, an area associated with memory, learning, and emotion. The study found that long-term meditators can have a far better ability to focus, cultivate positive emotions, sustain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior. These traits don’t come simply from the act of daily meditation but from structural changes in the brain caused by meditation over time.

If we think of meditation as a “work out” for our brains, we may consider the changes to be temporary—if we were to stop practicing, our brains might go back to a base setting. New research shows that these changes are not as fleeting as binge dieting—the changes taking place in the brain are permanent and compound over time. The longer we practice meditation, the more benefits we retain.

The ability to increase neurogenesis through meditation can help you build (and keep) a better brain for life.

It was once common knowledge that the brain develops new neurons rapidly in the first few years of life, then that pace tapers off and becomes fairly static during adulthood—eventually deteriorating in later years. However, the notion that our brain structure is stagnant in adulthood is being challenged by new research which shows that we can enable change (neuroplasticity) and growth (neurogenesis) no matter our age. Although the changes may not be as dramatic as those occurring during early childhood, the ability to increase neurogenesis through meditation can help you build (and keep) a better brain for life.

While you may feel a little out of place at first, the benefits of meditation are well worth any discomfort you may experience. You are changing your brain—making it clearer and stronger one minute at a time.

The author of this post is an editorial contributor to Headspace. These are their views, experiences and results and theirs alone. This contributor was paid for their writing.

Gemma Hartley

Gemma Hartley is a freelance writer with a BA in writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. Her work has appeared on Yahoo Parenting, Ravishly, Role/Reboot, and more, in addition to being a writer for SheKnows, Romper, and YourTango. She lives in Reno with her husband, three young kids, an awesome dog and a terrible cat.

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