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As we age, our cognitive capability slowly slides.
It may also influence our ability to focus and concentrate.
Since people in america are currently living longer lives, researchers are eager to find ways to keep our brains healthy and awake for more.
To help us maintain a sharp focus, scientists have trialed a variety of possible interventions -- such as computer-based cognitive training programs and lifestyle changes.
Meditation and mindfulness as interventions also have shown promise. As an example, meditation is thought to boost a variety of cognitive skills, such as mental clarity, stability, and imagination, while increasing the duration of time that somebody can hold their attention.
Significantly, meditation is easy to practice at home, comparatively cost-effective, and unlikely to cause side effects.
Several studies have investigated mindful interventions and observed certain advantages, like a decrease in mind wandering. But, few have assessed whether meditation's benefits can survive over longer intervals.
Meditation within the long-term
Over the last few years, a continuing study was trying to fill this gap in our understanding.
Their study was recently released in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement.
The "Shamatha Project" was directed by Anthony Zanesco, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami, FL, who began on the project before starting his Ph.D. in psychology at UC Davis.
The attendees were schooled by a Buddhist scholar, teacher, and writer Named B. Alan Wallace, by the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies in California.
During the retreats, the participants had two group meditation sessions daily, and, for the rest of their days, they meditated for an average of 6.75 additional hours.
The attendees were evaluated before, during, and just after the escape.
From the end of the study, 40 subjects were involved, all of whom reported they continued to use meditation in some form for a mean of 1 hour every day.
Straight after the escape, the participants were compared with a control group who had traveled to Santa Barbara but never been a part of the program. The meditators demonstrated improvements in overall emotional well-being, their capacity to deal with stress, and keeping attention.
Seven decades later, the gains in focus were still present to a degree -- especially among elderly team members who practiced meditation that the most frequently. These people did not reveal the expected levels of age-related decrease in sustained attention.
The authors conclude, "These findings provide first, yet provocative, signs that continued meditation practice could be related to a moderation of age-related decline in attentional components known to be sensitive to aging."
As the meditation-based benefits seemed to plateau right after the retreats, Zanesco considers that this may inform us about how much sway meditation can have. Perhaps the ceiling has been reached in this relatively brief intervention.
Cautions and Possible issues
While this is the largest and longest study of its type, more work will have to be done. At this point, we can't definitively conclude that meditation has been responsible for the benefits that they measured.
As an example, somebody who attends a meditation retreat and proceeds to meditate is very likely to have other lifestyle differences, like a healthier diet. They're also more likely to read up about meditation and related mindfulness texts, which might impact cognitive ability and overall outlook on life.
It's thus critical that more study is conducted before recommending meditation practice as an intervention for cognitive aging."