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Aging Well: The many ways that meditation benefits your brain

Regular meditation is terrific for your brain health

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

When it comes to doing something good for your cognitive health, skip the “brain games” and try meditation. Regular meditation has proven benefits for your brain, which can sharpen your memory, boost your mood and even make you more compassionate.

Build Your Brain

A major health benefit of regular meditation is that it reduces stress, which prevents a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, as well as prevents damage to our brains. More importantly, studies show that meditation can actually grow, or increase the volume of, areas of the brain responsible for:

  • complex cognitive processes including planning, goal setting, decision making, attention and short-term memory
  • positive mood
  • improving awareness of body, gut feeling and empathy
  • long-term memory
  • paying attention (which is crucial to improving memory)

When you meditate, you are training your attention by tuning out the information overload and jumbled thoughts we live with constantly — and better attention means a sharper memory. Preliminary research seems to strengthen this theory, suggesting that mindfulness meditation may enhance certain brain functions, including working memory.

Types of Meditation 

Meditation is simple and takes as little as a few minutes a day. But remember — if you want to enjoy the brain benefits, you’ll need to meditate regularly and ideally that means every day.

Here are a few types of meditation to consider:

Mindfulness sitting meditation is the most common form of meditation. Sit comfortably with your back, neck and head straight but not stiff. Concentrate on your breathing and the sensations it creates. When your mind wanders or you become distracted, gently return your focus to your breath. Try this for just five minutes at first, gradually increasing the time.

Visualization meditation involves mental visualization of an image, which is usually meaningful or religious. While you meditate (as above), you try to mentally visualize your chosen image in as much detail as possible. As you do so, you may also reflect on the meaning of your image.

Walking meditation is similar to sitting meditation. Slowly and comfortably walk, focusing your attention on each step, the movement of your body and the feel of each foot on the ground. When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the movement of walking.

Loving-kindness meditation focuses on practicing compassion. As you practice cultivating feelings of loving kindness, gradually move your focus from feeling this toward yourself, then to loved ones and then to people who are less close to you.

Look for a local meditation class, or purchase audio recordings of guided meditations. Once you’ve mastered the basics of your chosen type of meditation, it will become a matter of practicing — and enjoying the benefits that come with it.

The Mather, projected to open in Tysons, VA, in 2024 for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. The community’s biophilic design is planned to include a live herb wall, spa lounge with Himalayan sea salt wall, and much more — plus meditation and mindfulness programs for residents to enjoy.

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