LOS ANGELES, July 14 (UPI) -- Just as pushups help the physical body, meditation may be pushups for the brain by combating brain shrinkage, U.S. researchers suggest.
Eileen Luders, a visiting assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Laboratory of Neuro Imaging and colleagues used a new imaging mode that provides insights into the structural connectivity of the brain.
The researchers found people who meditate have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy -- brain shrinkage due to age which is linked to dementia.
Having stronger connections influences the ability to rapidly relay electrical signals in the brain and these effects are evident throughout the entire brain, not just in specific areas, Luders says.
The study involved 27 active meditation practitioners -- average age 52 -- and 27 control subjects, who were matched by age and sex.
Those who practiced meditation did so for 5-46 years. Fifty-five percent said they used the meditation styles of Shamatha, Vipassana and Zazen, either exclusively or in combination with other styles, Luders says.
"Our results suggest that long-term meditators have white-matter fibers that are either more numerous, more dense or more insulated throughout the brain," Lauder's says in a statement.
However, a particular brain anatomy may have drawn an individual to meditation or helped maintain an ongoing practice, meaning that the enhanced fiber connectivity in meditators constitutes a predisposition towards meditation, rather than a consequence of the practice.
The study appears in the current online edition of the journal NeuroImage.