Can meditation help protect your brain as you age?

Meditation has ancient roots, but modern science is finally catching up to what spiritual traditions have long known – this simple practice of focusing the mind can have profound effects on mental and physical wellbeing. As stress levels rise and attention spans dwindle, more people are turning to meditation than ever. But does it really work? A growing body of research suggests that the answer is yes.

Meditation in some form has been practised for millennia by religious traditions around the world. Today, meditation apps such as Headspace and Calm make the practice accessible to millions via smartphones. Many schools now teach meditation to students, and an increasing number of workplaces offer mindfulness programs to employees.

The anecdotal evidence of meditation’s benefits is plentiful, with stories of individuals experiencing profound changes in their lives. Yet, it’s the scientific scrutiny that has begun to unveil the true potential of it. Research has shown that meditation can have a multitude of health benefits, from stress and anxiety reduction to pain management and cognitive preservation.

Meditation reduces stress and anxiety

One of the most well-documented benefits of meditation is its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Harvard psychologist Dr Sara Lazar and her team have shown through various studies that meditation can significantly diminish anxiety symptoms, which often mirror those of stress. By training the mind to focus and redirect thoughts, meditation can help break the cycle of worry and fear that fuels anxiety.

In one of Dr Lazar’s studies, participants underwent mindfulness-based stress reduction training, which included meditation and yoga. Compared to a control group that engaged in light exercise, the meditators showed a better ability to let go of their fear response to anxiety-inducing stimuli. Brain scans revealed changes in how their brains processed memories and fears, suggesting that meditation can rewire our neural pathways for a calmer, more resilient mind.

Meditation may improve cognitive health 

A 2022 UCL study found that long-term meditators maintain better-preserved brains compared to non-meditators as they age. Those who had been meditating for an average of 20 years exhibited greater grey matter volume throughout their brains. Although older meditators still experienced some volume loss compared to younger meditators, it was less pronounced than that observed in non-meditators.

“We expected rather small and distinct effects located in some of the regions that had previously been associated with meditating,” said study author Florian Kurth. “Instead, what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.”

Meditation can help you stay calm 

The ability to remain calm in the face of adversity is a superpower in today’s fast-paced world. Meditation, particularly techniques that involve rhythmic breathing, has been shown to help individuals maintain their composure in stressful situations. 

Breathing exercises can activate the body’s relaxation response, reduce stress hormones, and slow the heart rate. For example, practising box breathing, where you inhale deeply through the nose for four seconds, hold the breath for four seconds, and exhale slowly through the mouth for four seconds, can quickly induce a sense of calm and reduce anxiety.

Meditation reduces pain

Neuroscientist Professor Fadel Zeidan, from the University of California, San Diego, has been studying how the power of meditation can alter physical sensations. 

In a recent study, Prof. Zeidan and his team divided volunteers into two groups: one that received mindfulness training and a control group that did not. Initially, all participants rated their pain after a hot probe was applied to the back of their leg for 10 to 14 seconds (they could withdraw their leg at any time). Next, they repeated the process, but this time the mindfulness group meditated, while the control group listened to an audio recording of The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, an 18th-century book about nature. 

Participants who meditated reported a 33 per cent drop in pain intensity and unpleasantness.

This wasn’t just a subjective feeling; brain scans indicated reduced activation in neural networks associated with self-awareness and pain processing. It appears that meditation helps to detach the sense of self from the experience of pain, providing genuine relief.

Is meditation worth a try?

Meditation is not a panacea, but there’s certainly a lot of evidence that it may do some good for those who practice it regularly.

Luckily, meditation is accessible to everyone. It does not require special equipment or extensive training. Simple practices, such as mindfulness or focused breathing, can be done anywhere and at any time. 

Choosing the right practice 

With so many forms of meditation available, it’s important to find a practice that resonates with you. Whether it’s mindfulness, transcendental meditation, or guided visualisation, the key is consistency and finding joy in the practice.

Have you tried meditation? What has your experience been like? Share your stories and tips in the comments section below.

Also read: How to keep your brain sharp in your 50s and beyond

Ellie Baxter
Ellie Baxter
Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.


  1. I’ve been meditating and/or practising mindfulness techniques for nearly 40 years. Totally transformed my life and I highly recommend it. While it’s great to see that a range of meditation apps are now available it’s also helpful to link in with a meditation group or organisation, particularly if you find it difficult to practice consistently. Access to the expertise of long term practitioners and teachers can help you to understand the psychology behind meditation which then helps to build a consistent practice. As with most things, regular practice is critical if you wish to experience real change.

- Our Partners -


- Advertisment -
- Advertisment -