A team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Harvard Medical School found evidence to suggest daily meditation may slow brain aging. In their paper published in the journal Neurocase, the group describes their study of a Buddhist monk who meditates daily and what they learned from him.
Studying the brain of a monk who meditates every day
The job involved studying the brain of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a 41-year-old Tibetan Buddhist monk who has practiced meditation almost every day of his life. During his lifetime, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche demonstrated above-average ability to meditate and taught the practice to others for many years. The team from the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison wondered if such a life could have an impact on the monk’s brain, and if so, what kind of impact.
An artificial intelligence that compares the gray matter of several brains
To find out, researchers have scanned Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s brain via an MRI machine four times over the past 14 years. During the same period, the researchers also obtained MRI brain scans from a control group of 105 other adults from the area who were close to Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s age. The researchers then ran all the brain scans through an AI system called “BrainAge.” He had been taught to make educated guesses about a person’s age by looking at brain scans. This artificial intelligence does its job by noting the structure of gray matter in the brain, which normally decreases in mass with age.
A meditator’s brain is younger
The BrainAge system estimated Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s age at 33; others in the control group fell into what the team described as the “typical aging band.” The researchers interpreted this result as evidence of brain aging at a slower rate than the control group. The researchers note that the BrainAge system found parts of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s brain that had aged in a manner similar to the control group, suggesting that differences in brain aging between individuals may be due to coordinated changes in a person’s gray matter.
Nagesh Adluru et al. BrainAGE and regional volumetric analysis of a Buddhist monk: a longitudinal MRI case study, Neurocase (2020). DOI: 10.1080/13554794.2020.1731553