Meditating could help to maintain a healthy brain in later life and reduce the risk of developing neurodegenerative conditions.
A new study by scientists at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) has revealed the activity could help to preserve the brain's gray matter - the tissue that contains neurons.
When people are in their mid to late-twenties, the volume and weight of the brain begin to decrease, which can lead to the loss of some functional abilities.
Previous research has shown that people who meditate have less age-related atrophy in the brain's white matter and the new study reveals this extends to gray matter.
The UCLA scientists compared 50 people who had meditated for years and 50 who didn't, and discovered a smaller decline in brain volume among the former group.
Each group was composed of 28 men and 22 women ranging in age from 24 to 77. Those who meditated had been doing so for four to 46 years, with an average of 20 years.
High-resolution MRI was used to scan the participants' brains. While both groups showed a negative correlation between age and gray matter, large amounts of the tissue appeared to be better preserved among those who meditated.
Dr Florian Kurth, a co-author of the study and postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center, said the researchers were surprised by the magnitude of the difference.
"We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating," he said. "Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain."
The researchers cautioned against drawing a causal connection between meditation and gray matter, pointing out that other factors may play a role, including lifestyle choices, personality traits and genetic brain differences.
Nevertheless, Dr Eileen Luders, first author and assistant professor of neurology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, described the results as "promising".
She added that the research could stimulate other studies, leading to the discovery of more evidence of meditation's effectiveness.
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