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  • Researchers have known for decades that meditation can improve someone's

  • physical and mental health.

  • It can relieve stress, lower blood pressure and lift someone's mood.

  • But only in the last few years have neuroscientists taken a serious look

  • at the changes in brain structure underlying some of meditation's benefits.

  • Like everything else we do, meditation rewires our neural circuits.

  • Pruning away the least used connections and strengthening the ones we exercise most.

  • Studies looking for signs of these changes usually focus on "mindfulness meditation"

  • which challenges people to keep their attention fixed on the thoughts and

  • sensations in the present moment.

  • Scientists aknowledge that these studies are small and not ideally designed, but at this

  • point researchers have gathered enough evidence to be confident that

  • their findings are not just flukes.

  • Experiments suggest that Buddhist monks have really robust connections

  • between scattered regions of their brains, which allows for more

  • synchronized communication.

  • Expert meditators also seem to develop an especially

  • wrinkly cortex: the brain's outer layer.

  • We depend on the cortex for many of our most sophisticated mental abilities

  • like abstract thought and introspection.

  • Several studies have confirmed that meditation can increase the

  • volume and density of the hippocampus: a seahorse- shaped area

  • of the brain in the middle of the skull that is absolutely crucial for memory.

  • And although areas of the brain responsible for sustaining attention

  • usually shrink as we age, meditation counteracts this decay.

  • An increasing number of studies show that meditating for as little as

  • 12 to 20 minutes a day for several weeks can sharpen the mind.

  • In these studies, meditators have scored higher on tests of attention

  • and working memory, which is the ability to temporarily

  • store and manipulate information in one's mind.

  • Some lifelong meditators in their 50s and 60s can even

  • outperform twenty-somethings in tests of visual attention.

  • So if you're interested in trying meditation, you should probably start

  • as soon as possible.

  • For Scientific American's Instant Egghead,

  • I'm Ferris Jaybr.

Researchers have known for decades that meditation can improve someone's

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