If you are practicing a Martial Art that includes meditation you are probably luckier than those who do not mediate. In the recent article “Forever Young(er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy” published in the Frontiers in Psychology, Eileen Luders and her colleagues suggest that meditation helps preserve the brain’s gray matter, the tissue that contains neurons. Why is grey matter important? Because it serves to process information in the brain and the capacity of doing so decreases with aging.

It’s generally accepted that people who are in their mid-to-late-20s start to see the effects of brain ageing, grey matter starts to disappear and its volume and weight begin to decrease. This leads to a decline of mental capability, increasing signs of dementia and a general reduction in the quality of life. Since life expectancy has risen dramatically in the last 40 years, with people living more than 10 years longer, this issue has become even more significant.

The researchers compared equal numbers of people who had mediated for years (Meditators-who on average had been practicing for 20 years) with those who didn’t (Controls). The mixture of men and women in each group was nearly the same. The participants’ brains were scanned using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging.

Negative correlations between global gray matter and age. The X-axis displays the chronological age (in years); the Y-axis displays the global gray matter volume (in ml). Note the less-steep slope of the regression line in meditators (yellow) compared to controls (cyan).

Figure 1: Negative correlations between global gray matter and age. The X-axis displays the chronological age (in years); the Y-axis displays the global gray matter volume (in ml). Note the less-steep slope of the regression line in meditators (yellow) compared to controls (cyan).

The results showed that in both groups the grey matter of the brain was reduced when people were getting older (Figure 1). However, the deterioration process of the Meditators (yellow line) was significantly slower and that large parts of the gray matter in the brains of those who meditated seemed to be better preserved.

The researchers expected to find rather small but distinct effects located in some of the regions of the brain that had previously been associated with meditating. Instead, they observed a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain and the magnitude of the differences was significant.

Therefore, this may suggest that doing Martial Arts and meditating in the class will not only give you a better physique and self-defense skills but may potentially extend your mental capability.

The Take home messages:

  • There is a scientific evidence that meditation has brain-altering capabilities,
  • Meditation may help to slow down brain deterioration,
  • If you practice a Martial Arts that includes meditation then you increase your chance of staying mentally healthier, and
  • If you practice a Martial Art that does not contain a meditation component then you should consider taking up additional activity that includes mediation to compensate for it.