In Brief

Neuroplasticity is the idea that we can shape our brains mentally and physically through controlling our stimulus. Meditation and physical exercise have been shown as two of the most effective ways of doing this.

via Futurism Newsletter Reference : Forbes, Harvard Health Image. pixabay

Neuroplasticity is the idea that you can alter your brain in a physical and mental way by changing its stimuli — which can include environment, behavior, thought patterns or other parts of the body that have an impact on it. While this is a fairly old idea — the term and concept that the brain was not fixed post-puberty was first used in 1890 by William James in The Principles of Psychology — it is only due to the introduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that we can accurately quantify the effects of different stimuli. So, what are some of the ways we can mould our minds?

The Effects of Meditation

There have been many studies into the effect of meditation on mental well-being.

Combating mental illnesses as much as anti-depressants: a study by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health tested the effect of meditation on a variety of mental health issues and found that after eight weeks, it improved anxiety by 0.38, depression by 0.3, and pain by 0.33. While this is not a huge margin, it is as effective as anti-depressant drugs or exercise, which means that doctors have another tool in their arsenal, and can recommend an alternative treatment for those who cannot exercise and/or do not want to take drugs.

Increasing grey matter and combating aging: a study in Frontiers of Psychology shows that meditation can increase the volume of grey matter in the brain significantly. Florian Kurth, a University of California Postdoctoral Scholar in Neurology, one of the authors of the study, said, “We expected rather small and distinct effects […] what we actually observed was a widespread effect of meditation that encompassed regions throughout the entire brain.” This was enforced by Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, who found that “in this one region of the prefrontal cortex, 50-year-old meditators had the same amount of grey matter as 25-year-olds.” In a world that researchers estimate will see 115 million people suffering from dementia by 2050, meditation could be a non-drug dependent treatment for those experiencing the disease.