Memory Mondays: Cognitive Benefits of Meditation

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Study after study indicates the cognitive benefits of meditation, from mental clarity and stability to creativity and focus. New research endorsed by the Dalai Lama himself concludes that there are additional cognitive benefits of meditation, including protection against age-related cognitive issues.

Scientists at the University of California, Davis Center for Mind and Brain followed 60 individuals who meditated regularly. The participants had attended a meditation retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, Colorado. Before, during and after the retreat, researchers assessed the meditators, with follow-ups at 6 months, 18 months and 7 years.

At the end of the study, 40 participants remained. All said they continued to use meditation for an hour a day on average. Researchers compared their results with a control group that had not attended the meditation retreat.

The cognitive benefits of meditation discovered in this comparison were positive. Specifically, the meditators demonstrated improvements in their ability to maintain attention. They didn’t show expected levels of age-related decline in sustained attention.

“This study is the first to offer evidence that intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention and response inhibition, with the potential to alter longitudinal trajectories of cognitive change across a person’s life,” study leader Anthony Zanesco said, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami in Florida. He launched the project before starting his Ph.D. at UC Davis.

Despite these results, it’s difficult to determine whether meditation was the sole contributor to the benefits measured in the study. Someone who meditates daily, for example, may be more likely to have a healthier diet and participate in other mindfulness activities.

“Causation cannot be attributed to the moderation of aging-related decline with continued meditation practice in our sample,” the authors wrote in their study report. “It is therefore critical that more research is conducted before advocating meditation practice as an intervention for cognitive aging.”