Meditation, yoga, and similar stress-reduction techniques have been shown to change the brain in ways that appear to slow the progression of age-related mental disorders like Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
A new study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center found positive changes in the brain are noticeable after just two months of practicing stress-reduction techniques for as little as 15 to 30 minutes each day.
ALERT: 5 Signs You’ll Get Alzheimer’s Disease
"We know that approximately 50 percent of people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment — the intermediate stage between the expected declines of normal aging and the more serious cognitive deterioration associated with dementia — may develop dementia within five years," said Rebecca Erwin Wells, M.D., who conducted her research as a fellow in Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel and Harvard Medical School. "And unfortunately, we know there are currently no [Food and Drug Administration] approved medications that can stop that progression.
"We also know that as people age, there's a high correlation between perceived stress and Alzheimer's disease, so we wanted to know if stress reduction through meditation might improve cognitive reserve."
For the study, Dr. Wells and her colleagues evaluated 14 adults, between 55 and 90 years old, who were diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. Participants divided into two groups: One participated in meditation and yoga classes; the other did not.
The meditating adults met for two hours each week for eight weeks, participated in a day-long mindfulness retreat, and were encouraged to continue their practice at home for 15 to 30 minutes per day.
All participants underwent a functional MRI (fMRI) at baseline and then again after eight weeks to determine if there were any changes in the areas of the brain related to memory, learning, and emotions — the regions that tend to atrophy as Alzheimer's disease progresses.
The results of the study, published online in the journal Neuroscience Letters, showed that the meditating group had significantly improved brain function and less atrophy than those participants who did not engage in meditation or yoga.
"This is a small study and more research is needed to further investigate these results, but we're very excited about these findings because they suggest that [stress-reduction practices] may [improve function] in the same areas of the brain most affected by Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Wells said.
"If [meditating] can help delay the symptoms of cognitive decline even a little bit, it can contribute to improved quality of life for many of these patients."
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
Editor's note: 3 Signs You’re Close to a Heart Attack
© 2014 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.