More recently, researchers have begun to dive into how social, emotional and even spiritual practices might play a role in long-term brain health as well. We're learning that social isolation can lead to quicker declines in cognition over the lifespan, and a new review just published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease suggests that a consistent meditation routine can reduce stress—as well as the risk of memory loss, cognitive impairment and even Alzheimer's disease as we age.
Experts predict that about 152 million humans globally will receive a Alzheimer's disease diagnosis by 2050, and we've yet to discover a medicine that can significantly move the needle to reverse or prevent this form of cognitive decline. (By the way, Alzheimer's is the most common cause of dementia; dementia is the overarching title for a decline in mental abilities that's large enough to impact daily life, explains the Alzheimer's Association.)
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Since doctors can't write a prescription for Alzheimer's disease prevention (yet), scientists are trying to pin down which lifestyle factors might be our brain's best Rx. In this new study, a team of researchers found that religious and spiritual involvement can keep our cognitive function strong as we age. In addition, a 12-minute meditative practice might also reduce multiple Alzheimer's disease risk factors.
The specific meditation they studied is called "Kirtan Kriya," which is a 12-minute singing meditation that includes sounds, breathing and repetitive finger movements. It stems from the Kundalini yoga tradition, which has been practiced for thousands of years. (This guide will show you through exactly how to do it!) It's been proven to reduce stress, improve sleep, decrease depression, improve overall well-being and even increase blood flow to parts of the brain that play a role in cognition and emotions. (That latter point is why they think this practice has such a strong link to Alzheimer's disease prevention.)
Among the currently healthy participants and those with cognitive decline involved in the study who performed this singing meditation daily, the overall trend was improved cognition, slower memory loss and better mood.
"Mitigating the extensive negative biochemical effects of stress with meditation practices, in tandem with the creation of heightened levels of spiritual fitness, may help lower the risk of Alzheimer's disease. Small shifts in one's daily routine can make all the difference in Alzheimer's disease prevention," explain the two co-authors Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, of the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, and Andrew B. Newberg, MD, of the Department of Integrative Medicine and Nutritional Sciences at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, in a brief about their research.
As a result, Dr. Khalsa and Dr. Newberg promote leaning into "spiritual fitness," which combines psychological and spiritual wellness into one term.
"Making a commitment to a brain-longevity lifestyle, including spiritual fitness, is a critically important way for aging Alzheimer's disease-free," Dr. Khalsa and Dr. Newberg add. "We hope this will inspire scientists, clinicians and patients to embrace this new concept of spiritual fitness and make it a part of every multi-domain program for the prevention of cognitive disability."
While this singing meditation was the one they studied, chances are any consistent meditation practice that cools your jets may provide similar brain benefits. Check out 3 other benefits of meditation, plus learn how to start your own practice today.