April 28, 2009

Meditation and prayer can improve your physical, intellectual, and emotional well-being and may even slow the brain's aging process, according to a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania.

Writing in his new book, "How God Changes Your Brain," Andrew Newberg, reports the results of brain scans that he and his team conducted on more than 100 meditating or praying people.

Newberg, director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind, says his research shows that the physical and emotional benefits of spiritual observances “dramatically accrue over years of practice, but even recent converts exhibit healthier brains,” according to the San Francisco Chronicle’s David Ian Miller.

In one of Newberg’s studies his team did brain scans on people who had never meditated before and went on to teach them simple meditative methods, Miller writes. After a mere eight weeks of just 12 minutes a day of meditation, there was a considerable improvement in memory scores and a measurable decrease in anxiety and anger.

Newberg told Miller, "A lot of the new research that we've been doing shows that when people engage in religious or spiritual activities and practices, or they have religious experiences, by and large they tend to have a positive impact on a person's mental health and wellbeing. That helps them accomplish their goals, to set a path for themselves, and therefore helps them survive. At the same time, religion and spiritual pursuits help us change and grow over time by giving us a model for transforming ourselves. Ultimately, they're our way of asking ourselves to follow the ideals of what we think a good human being should be".

Newberg’s study echoes a 1999 study, "Scientific Research of Prayer: Can the Power of Prayer Be Proven?" by researcher Debra Williams.

Williams looked at more than 4,000 participants over the age of 65. She learned that those who pray and attend religious services on a weekly basis, especially those between the ages of 65 and 74, had lower blood pressure than their counterparts who did not pray or attend religious services, according to Jet magazine.

Moreover, they found that the more religious a person, particularly those who prayed or studied the Bible weekly, the lower the blood pressure. These people, the study showed were 40 percent less likely to have high diastolic pressure or diastolic hypertension than those who did not attend religious services, pray, or study the Bible.

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