According to recent studies, it has been projected that 152 million people across the world will be affected by Alzheimer’s disease by 2050. (“meditative practice” 2021)
According to the science daily article, the best treatments to date focus on prevention rather than cure. These include “targeting lifestyle and vascular risk factors” which appear to be beneficial to overall cognitive performance. The study suggests that a 12-minute meditation practice may reduce multiple risk factors associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Meditation has been observed to provide more than just a reduced risk of Alzheimer’s too. In today's fast-paced world, filled with deadlines, instant communication, advertisements, and a multitude of other things constantly trying to grab your attention. Our minds tend to take a beating without much reprieve. The practice of mindfulness aims to take a step back from the chaos of modern life, there are many branches of the practice. See this article from Healthline.com for more info on the types of meditation.
Zazen for example aims to completely empty the mind, allowing thoughts to come and go when they do happen, and pass them along without judgment or further thought. But mindfulness can be other things too, meditation can be accomplished laying down (though I don’t suggest it, you may fall asleep!) it can also be done with a simple walk. The objective isn’t the walk though, it's not about how far you walk either, or whether you meet your apple watch’s fitness goal reminder. It's about being mindful of the world around you, stopping to observe nature, and allowing the mind to relax and simply exist without the intrusive thoughts in your life dominating the space inside your head.
If you’ve never tried mindfulness meditation, I urge you to try it sometime. We can talk all day long about its health benefits. However, until you give it an honest try you won’t know just how frantic your mind is, and how much internal dialogue you are processing every moment. The joke here perhaps is that in meditation you don’t “try” to clear the mind, you simply do it or you don’t.
It makes sense to me why these findings show improved cognitive function. Meditation is about the discipline of the mind. The ability to instruct your brain to focus on the task at hand. In a way, it’s like an exercise, which strengthens the mind and hones your focus.
All that being said, these practices can fall under spirituality. Either in a religious sense if you wish, or in a general connection with the world around us. However you view it, we all can benefit from it. Just as in the previous blog, treating your mind better helps treat the body better too. This is completely overlooked by most of us in our lives. The science daily article goes on to point out that “psychological wellbeing may reduce inflammation, cardiovascular disease, and disability. Significantly, individuals who have a high score on a ‘purpose in life (PIL) measure, a component of psychological wellbeing, were 2.4 times more likely to remain free of AD than individuals with low PIL” (“Meditative practice” 2021)
It's also worth mentioning that meditation has been shown to increase blood flow to the areas of the brain which involve cognition and emotional regulation. (“Meditative practice 2021”)
The results of these studies are documented in the Journal of Alzheimer’s disease, the work is not complete and we can expect many more studies on the topic in the future, perhaps paving a way forward to more healthy lives for us all. This information once again teaches us that taking care of ourselves is so important and often overlooked in our society. So be kind to yourself and others, and you may just live a healthier life both Spiritually and Physically.
Bertone, Holly J. “Which Type of Meditation Is Right for You?” Healthline, Healthline Media, 2 Oct. 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/types-of-meditation#progressive-relaxation.
IOS Press. "Meditative practice and spiritual wellbeing may preserve cognitive function in aging." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 May 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/05/210511123727.htm>.
Dharma Singh Khalsa, Andrew B. Newberg. Spiritual Fitness: A New Dimension in Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 2021; 80 (2): 505 DOI: 10.3233/JAD-201433
Photo by Ed Dunens; Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)