Meditation and other mindfulness practices may improve your attention, but they won't lead to structural changes in your brain in the short-term, according to a new study.
Previous studies have shown that learning new skills, aerobic exercise and balance training could trigger changes in the brain, and some research has suggested that mindfulness regimens could do the same.
To find out if that's true, researchers at the University of Wisconsin--Madison's Center for Healthy Minds conducted trials with more than 200 healthy people who had no meditation experience.
The participants underwent MRI scans to assess their brains and were then randomly assigned to one of three groups: a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course; a well-being course called the Health Enhancement Program (HEP), or a control group that didn't receive any type of training.
The MBSR course was led by certified instructors. It included mindfulness practices such as yoga, meditation and body awareness. The health enhancement program engaged participants in exercise, music therapy and nutrition practices, but no mindfulness training. Both groups spent additional time following their programs at home.
After eight weeks, all study participants underwent another MRI brain scan. No significant differences in structural brain changes were detected among those in the MBSR, HEP or control group.
However, people in both the MBSR and HEP groups reported increased mindfulness compared with those in the control group. That suggests that any type of wellness program -- not just mindfulness meditation -- may lead to greater self-reported mindfulness, according to the study authors.
The results were published online May 20 in the journal Science Advances.
It "may be that only with much longer duration of training, or training explicitly focused on a single form of practice, that structural alterations will be identified," wrote the researchers led by Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at UW-Madison.
They noted that unlike physical and spatial training, which have been shown to trigger detectable structural brain changes, mindfulness training involves a range of psychological areas like attention, compassion and emotion.
This utilizes a complex network of brain regions, each of which may change to different degrees in different people, making it challenging to detect overall brain changes in a group of people, the study authors explained.
"We are still in the early stages of research on the effects of meditation training on the brain and there is much to be discovered," Davidson said in a university news release.
There's more on mindfulness at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.
SOURCE: University of Wisconsin--Madison, news release, May 20, 2022