Whether meditation is your thing or not, you can't deny all the benefits associated with the practice: better sleep, cognitive improvement, antianxiety aid, stress relief, and more. And now, a recent study that came out of the University of California, Davis further confirms the notion that meditation is far more than just a way to achieve zen. According to its findings, intensive meditation training produces cognitive improvement that can last up to seven years.
Researchers at the UC Davis Center For Mind and Brain based their study off of the Shamatha Project, a longitudinal study that looked at the cognitive, psychological, and biological effects of meditation. The Shamatha Project is also the "most comprehensive longitudinal study of intensive meditation," according to Science Daily — in fact, it was even endorsed by the Dalai Lama himself. The original study dates back to 2007 at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, CO, where two intensive meditation retreats took place. Throughout the three-month retreat, 60 "experienced meditators" attended group meditations twice a day and practiced on their own about six hours a day. Their training included shamatha techniques that focused on sustained attention, mindful breathing, and other practices.
Participants showed immediate "improvements in attention as well as in general psychological well-being and ability to cope with stress." Researchers followed up with them six months later, a year and a half later, and most recently, seven years later. Among the 40 remaining participants, those (especially older participants) who continued to meditate for about an hour each day partially maintained those cognitive improvements that showed immediately after the retreat. They also "did not show typical patterns of age-related decline in sustained attention" compared to those who didn't practice as frequently. Interestingly, the study found that the benefits of meditation seemed to have plateaued after the retreats for everyone. The key to cognitive preservation was continuing to practice regularly.
Though it's not realistic for everyone to commit to full-time meditation, it's amazing to see what it can be capable of. Plus, even practicing 15 to 20 minutes a day has been shown to help with stress levels — and that's something we can all do.