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Continued Meditation Tied to Slower Age-Related Mental Decline

Researchers point to improved attention spans in long-term study of participants in intensive program

People meditating on hillside

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Meditative moments can stave off mental decline.

About 8 percent of adults meditate, but more might be interested in doing so given the latest research linking the practice to longer attention spans and a slowing of age-related mental decline.

Writing in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement, researchers led by a team from the University of California­, Davis, determined that, as long as one continues to engage in intensive meditation, the mental benefits can persist through life.

Anthony Zanesco, who at the time of the study was a graduate student at UC Davis and is the lead author of the study, said that “intensive and continued meditation practice is associated with enduring improvements in sustained attention” and has the potential to yield long-lasting positive results in terms of cognitive change.

Meditation can take different forms, but its essence is quiet reflection and concentration. A typical session is five or 10 minutes, at home or in another convenient setting. But many practice for much longer sessions and in more remote, presumably less distracting venues.

The current findings are from the Shamatha Project, a longitudinal study of intensive meditation. It follows 60 people who took part in two three-month-long meditation retreats in 2007 in Red Feather Lakes, Colo.

Among those from the retreats who continued to practice more rigorously in the intervening years, “they maintained cognitive gains and did not show typical patterns of age-related decline in sustained attention,” according to the findings.