When it comes to doing something good for your cognitive health, skip the “brain games” and try meditation. Regular meditation has proven benefits for your brain, which can sharpen your memory, boost your mood, and make you more compassionate. That’s why Splendido, an all-inclusive community in Tucson for those 55 and better, offers a meditation class for residents—who report they are experiencing these benefits.
Build Your Brain
A major benefit of regular meditation is that it reduces stress, which prevents a lot of wear and tear on our bodies, as well as our brains. More importantly, studies show that meditation can actually grow areas of the brain responsible for:
- complex cognitive processes including planning, decision making, attention, and short-term memory
- positive mood
- improving awareness of body, gut feeling, and empathy
- long-term memory
- paying attention (which is crucial to improving memory)
When you meditate, you are training your attention by tuning out the information overload we live with constantly—and better attention means a sharper memory. Preliminary research seems to strengthen this theory, suggesting that mindfulness meditation may enhance certain brain functions, including working memory.
A Local Example
Residents of Splendido can take a weekly class led by a trained instructor who leads them through an hour-long meditation.
Florence Jaffe takes the class because she is familiar with research findings on meditation and brain health benefits. “I try to practice on my own a few times during the week,” she says. “I’ve noticed I have a little bit less stress.”
Cathy White has lived at Splendido for nearly nine years and says, “They’ve had several meditation classes while I’ve been here, and I’ve participated in all of them. I can’t quantify the benefits the class has given me, but I know I’ve benefitted.”
She says that meditation helps with some of her symptoms of multiple sclerosis. “Depression and anxiety are a couple of the psychological effects of MS,” Cathy explains. “I was never an anxious person before, but now I do have some anxiety. This class is sort of a lifeline in terms of connecting me to how I want to be.” These emotional benefits carry over to days between classes.
Chuck Jonaitis has practiced spiritual meditation for many years, and enjoys the Splendido class as well. “My wife and I try to attend every week when we’re not traveling,” he says. “I believe we’re getting [the brain benefits] from regular mediation.”
Types of Meditation
Meditation is simple and takes as little as a few minutes a day. If you want to enjoy the brain benefits, you’ll need to meditate regularly. Here are a few types of meditation to consider:
Mindfulness sitting meditation is the most common form of meditation. Sit comfortably and concentrate on your breathing.
Visualization meditation involves mental visualization of a meaningful image. While you meditate, try to visualize your chosen image in as much detail as possible.
Walking meditation is similar to sitting meditation. Slowly walk, focusing your attention on each step, the movement of your body, and the feel of each foot on the ground.
Loving-kindness meditation focuses on practicing compassion. As you practice cultivating feelings of loving kindness, gradually move your focus from feeling this toward yourself, then to loved ones, and then to people who are less close to you.
Centering Prayer involves focusing for 20 minutes or longer on a word or a concept that has special meaning for you.
Look for a local meditation class, or purchase audio recordings of guided meditations. Once you’ve mastered the basics, it will become a matter of practicing—and enjoying the benefits that come with it.