What does science know about the benefits of meditation?
Follow this link if you are looking for the glossary of scientific terms.
There are an estimated 1,500 published research papers linked to meditation, mindfulness and related forms of brain training. Although they generally demonstrate the positive effects of meditation, drawing precise conclusions from the entire body of work is not possible. However, careful study of the most reliable research, combined with evidence from traditional meditation sources allows for some strong conclusions about the benefits of meditation to be arrived at. Below we provide links to some of the key research cited across the website.
- Age-related cognitive decline begins in the 20s and 30s
- About 50 million people worldwide suffer from dementia, the number of sufferers is expected to grow to around 130 million within 30 years.
- The brains of regular meditators appear several years younger than non-meditators.
- Meditators found to have increased cortical thickness compared to non-meditators, meditation correlated with increased brain structure.
- Research demonstrates that cognitive decline is already evident at the age of 45.
- Meditation linked to lower risks of cognitive decline.
- Long term meditators have increased brain structures.
- Meditation has been linked with improved cognitive function in older adults, even those suffering from age-related cognitive decline.
- Meditation appears to be a key factor in the reduced risk of cognitive decline, although other lifestyle factors may also be important.
- Meditation research has a number of problems to confront, not least methodological flaws. However, this meta-review does point to some evidence that the teacher-student relationship is influential in meditation practice.
References – where to find the original research
- Salthouse, T. A. (2009). When does age-related cognitive decline begin? Neurobiology of ageing, 30(4), 507-514.
- Prince, M., Comas-Herrera, A., Knapp, M., Guerchet, M., & Karagiannidou, M. (2016). World Alzheimer report 2016: improving healthcare for people living with dementia: coverage, quality and costs now and in the future.
- Luders, E., Cherbuin, N., & Gaser, C. (2016). Estimating brain age using high-resolution pattern recognition: Younger brains in long-term meditation practitioners. Neuroimage, 134, 508-513.
- Lazar, S. W., Kerr, C. E., Wasserman, R. H., Gray, J. R., Greve, D. N., Treadway, M. T., … & Rauch, S. L. (2005). Meditation experience is associated with increased cortical thickness. Neuroreport, 16(17), 1893.
- Singh-Manoux, A., Kivimaki, M., Glymour, M. M., Elbaz, A., Berr, C., Ebmeier, K. P., … & Dugravot, A. (2012). Timing of onset of cognitive decline: results from Whitehall II prospective cohort study. Bmj, 344, d7622.
- Marciniak, R., Sheardova, K., Čermáková, P., Hudeček, D., Šumec, R., & Hort, J. (2014). Effect of meditation on cognitive functions in context of ageing and neurodegenerative diseases. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience, 8, 17.
- Luders, E., Toga, A. W., Lepore, N., & Gaser, C. (2009). The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter. Neuroimage, 45(3), 672-678.
- Gard, T., Hölzel, B. K., & Lazar, S. W. (2014). The potential effects of meditation on age‐related cognitive decline: a systematic review. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307(1), 89-103.
- Baumgart, M., Snyder, H. M., Carrillo, M. C., Fazio, S., Kim, H., & Johns, H. (2015). Summary of the evidence on modifiable risk factors for cognitive decline and dementia: a population-based perspective. Alzheimer’s & Dementia, 11(6), 718-726.
- Van Dam, N. T., van Vugt, M. K., Vago, D. R., Schmalzl, L., Saron, C. D., Olendzki, A., … & Fox, K. C. (2018). Mind the hype: A critical evaluation and prescriptive agenda for research on mindfulness and meditation. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(1), 36-61.