People of all ages could probably use better skills for paying attention, but attention decline is something that seems to be particularly related to the cognitive decline seen with aging. Biohackers and nootropics users should not only be looking to improve their present, but also further down the road; because no one wants to feel like they were at their peak performance and watch it slip away. What can you do in one hour that can make a long-lasting impact on your ability to pay attention as you age? The answer may surprise you!
The new way to sharpen your attention is through meditation. Mediation is a meta-cognitive activity that’s found in Buddhist meditation practices—but before you compare yourself to someone who has spent a lifetime practicing meditation, consider recent studies in real-world people whose attention has been improved.
There is compelling research to support developing mindfulness as a tool to improving attention. A study from 2010 found that meditation improved attention and even the ability to distinguish small differences in visual information in healthy adults 21-70 years old, regardless of any previous exposures to meditation in the past. It confirmed previous research that found learning to train your mind to nonvisual perceptions, like focusing on your breathing, enhanced visual perception afterwards. The good news is that a long-term meditation practice leads to a greater increase in sustaining that attention, too!
The good news doesn’t stop there: a 2018 study found that meditation made an impact on attention up to 7 years later. This study followed adults aged 22-69 years old who went to meditation retreats for training and then continued their own routines solo. They were followed after the intervention with tests and assessments occurring at 6 months, 1 ½ years later, and then 7 years later.
Not all of us can go to meditation retreats, so the study accounted for how much time was spent meditating after these initial mediation trainings. Those with the most cognitive gains for sustained attention and response inhibition at the 7-year mark spent about an hour a day in meditation, which is much more achievable for the general population.
What’s more is that the older adults who were dedicated to their meditation practice seemed to escape the age-related cognitive declines that should have occurred! Those older adults who did not practice meditation for the full 7 years were found to have those pesky patterns of cognitive change most of us would like to avoid.
One hour a day of meditation can mean serious gains for your attention and protect your brain as you age. It’s truly fascinating that learning to focus on our own bodies and sensations can lead to enhanced perception of the world around us. As the old saying goes, as within, so without.
MacLean, Katherine A et al. “Intensive meditation training improves perceptual discrimination and sustained attention.” Psychological science vol. 21,6 (2010): 829-39. doi:10.1177/0956797610371339
Zanesco, A.P., King, B.G., MacLean, K.A. et al. Cognitive Aging and Long-Term Maintenance of Attentional Improvements Following Meditation Training. J Cogn Enhanc 2, 259–275 (2018). https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s41465-018-0068-1