Can Meditation Make You Smarter?

 

meditationIn the bustling lives we lead today it is difficult to set some time for yourself to relax and rejuvenate. Whether you are consumed by the boisterous honking sounds of traffic, or the crying wails of neighborhood children, the cacophony, chaos, and ringing commotion can never seem to escape you.

Although we are continually consumed by the uphill gains of corporate success in this dog-eat-dog society, a recent study published in the June 2012 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that there may be more to life than arriving to work earlier than your boss: setting at least half an hour a day for meditation may help maintain lasting memory, boost emotional well-being, and enhance one’s quick wits.

Drs. Tang and Posner reported that the practice of integrative body-mind training (IBMT) may have a positive physical effect on the brain, boosting both connectivity and efficiency.  Here, fractional anisotropy (FA) was used as an index for measuring the integrity of white matter fibers. The general rule is as follows: a higher FA value has been related to improved performance, and reduced FA has been found in normal aging and in neurological or psychiatric disorders.

It was reported that as little as eleven hours of IBMT in the course of four weeks can enhance FA in several brain areas involved in white matter communication, including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Functions of the ACC have been attributed to error detection, conflict resolution, task anticipation, attention, motivation, and modulation of cognitive and emotional responses.

In a separate study, Tang and Posner also found increased myelin density—the protective sheath around the brain’s conducting fibers, or axons—after examining MRI scans of undergraduate students post-two weeks of meditation training (five hours total). Physically, such changes manifested into improved attention and self-regulation measured by a standardized profile of mood states. This “pattern of neural plasticity”, as deemed by the authors, is induced by the meditation, which focuses on body relaxation, breathing, posture and mental imagery.

Previous studies have reported similar “mental boosts” after an eight week period of meditation.  In 2010, a group of researchers conducted a controlled longitudinal study to investigate pre-post gray matter concentration changes attributable to participation in a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program, one of the most widely used mindfulness training programs available.

After enrolled in an eight-week program, sixteen healthy, meditation-naïve participants demonstrated increased gray matter concentration in brain regions involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking.

The stresses of life can catch up to you quickly and unexpectedly. The important thing to remember is to spend a few moments of solitude each day to cleanse the mental noises bombarding your head. By doing so, you may soon find your concentration, memory, attention, motivation, and emotional well-being improved. This may translate into a positive cycle where “quicker smarts” will help you decrease everyday stresses, allowing you to power your mental acuteness for optimal efficiency even during your bluest days.

Click Here For Article References:

Tang YY, Lu Q, Fan M, Yang Y, Posner MI. Mechanisms of white matter changes induced by meditation. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Jun 26;109(26):10570-4.

Hölzel BK, Carmody J, Vangel M, Congleton C, Yerramsetti SM, Gard T, Lazar SW. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Res. 2011 Jan 30;191(1):36-43. Epub 2010 Nov 10.

Photo Credit: ©Shutterstock/Kati Molin

 

Amy Wong

Amy Wong, MS, is a medical writer and conducts traumatic brain injury research at St. Michael’s Hospital, a large academic institution located in Toronto, Canada. She holds a Master’s of Science from the University of Toronto under the department of Pharmacology. Her studies pertained to the selective field of neuropsychopharmacology examining the biological implications of post-stroke depression. Outside of brain injury research, Amy is also involved with cancer research at the University Health Network. Currently, she is examining both genetic and environmental factors that influence individual susceptibility to hepatocellular carcinoma risk.

Comments

  1. Great info! It can also help you live longer. The effects of stress on the brain often result in illness and disease that can be prevented with stress relieving practices like mediation.