In the past, I've written that Steve Jobs used Zen mindfulness to train his brain, and that neuroscientists recently validated Jobs's theory about the business benefits of meditation.
There was one thing, however, that Jobs didn't know, although he might have guessed it to be true. Meditation does more than just calm you down and make you a better manager. Meditation literally causes your brain to age backwards.
Under normal circumstances, brains deteriorate as they age. According to Psychology Today:
"Brain-scan technology reveals aging can cause the brain to shrink. Nerve tracts in the brain shrivel, making the cerebrospinal fluid cavities larger and even leaving gaping holes in the brain. Shriveling occurs in the neuron terminal branches that form the contact points among neurons. People may lose 40 percent or more of dopamine neurons causing Parkinson's disease."
The deterioration of the brain has many symptoms. Reflexes become slower. Memory starts to fail. It becomes harder to learn new things. Thinking becomes brittle. Mental stamina declines.
These symptoms become measurable as early as age 45, at which point most people have already experienced a 3-4 percent decline in mental agility, and it's all downhill from there. By age 60, the changes are usually obvious; by age 70 they're often debilitating.
Studies have shown that eating well, exercising, and learning new things can ameliorate these difficult symptoms. However, it appears that even when you manage your symptoms, your brain continues deteriorate.
There is, however, apparently at least one way to not just stop the deterioration process but to put it in reverse. A study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that meditating for 30 minutes each day for eight weeks:
- Thickened the posterior cingulate, thereby increasing focus and self-confidence.
- Thickened the left hippocampus, thereby increasing the ability to regulate emotion, to learn, and to remember.
- Thickened the temporoparietal junction, thereby increasing empathy, compassion, and perspective.
- Shrank the amygdala, thereby decreasing stress and likelihood of a "flight or fight" response.
Meditation is so effective at repairing damage that it make your brain as much as 25 years younger than your chronological age, and in some cases potentially even younger than that.
Since Steve Jobs was a regular meditator, when he died at 56 of pancreatic cancer, his brain would have been as healthy, active, and creative as when he was much younger. This shows in the quality of his work, which continued to be superlative right up to his untimely end.