Meditation: Even A Little Helps

Just a few minutes a day can make you sharper, smarter, research shows.

ByABC News
April 27, 2010, 2:38 PM

April 28, 2010 — -- You don't have to be a monk.

Scientific literature is brimming with research showing that transcendental meditation literally changes the structure of the human brain, at least among persons who practice "mindfulness," as it is sometimes called, for many years.

But new research shows that even 20 minutes a day, four days a week, can produce an impressive increase in critical cognitive skills.

"Simply stated, the profound improvements that we found after just four days of meditation training are really surprising," psychologist Fadel Zeidan said in releasing the study. "It goes to show that the mind is, in fact, easily changeable and highly influenced, especially by meditation."

Zeiden led the study while finishing his doctoral studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is now a researcher at Wake Forest University School of Medicine.

If other scientists replicate his work, it means it may not be necessary to lock yourself in a closet for hours at a time to benefit from this Far Eastern therapy.

That said, however, this research does not suggest that more would not be better, and Zeidan cautioned that while a modest effort can produce big results, they are not likely to last long unless you keep it up over an extensive period of time. Like years.

And while there are many books out there explaining "do-it-yourself" techniques, the participants in the North Carolina study were trained professionally, although for a total of only 80 minutes. Those who received the training were as much as 10 times better in their ability to remain focused on a subject while retaining other information.

All 63 participants were students, and only 49 completed the experiment, suggesting this may not be as easy as it sounds. The students were divided into two groups, and all were subjected to a broad range of behavioral tests on mood, memory, visual attention, and vigilance. Then one group listened to a reading of J.R.R. Tolkein's "The Hobbit."