Zen meditation, a Buddhist practice centered on attentional and postural self-regulation, has been speculated to bring about beneficial long-term effects for the individual, ranging from stress reduction to improvement of cognitive function.
In this study, researchers examined how the regular practice of meditation may affect the normal age-related decline of cerebral gray matter volume and attentional performance observed in healthy individuals.
Voxel-based morphometry (VBM), a recent technique to measure gray matter changes from MRI brain scans, and a computerized task of sustained attention were employed in 13 regular practitioners of Zen meditation and 13 control subjects matched for age and education level who never practiced meditation. While both total gray matter volume and attentional performance displayed the expected decrease with age in control subjects, meditators did not show such a trend.
Furthermore, the difference in volumetric decline between meditators and controls was most prominent in the putamen, a basal ganglia structure that has been implicated in attentional processing in general and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in particular. While results will need to be confirmed by a longitudinal study on a larger sample, these findings suggest that the regular practice of meditation may have neuroprotective effects and reduce the cognitive decline associated with normal aging.