There is an ever growing body of scientific evidence to support the benefits of mindfulness meditation. It has been found to lead to cause an increase in grey matter density in a number of different brain regions, including the hippocampus. The method is straightforward in theory but can be a challenging thing to practice. It doesn’t require any belief in Buddhist or other religious or spiritual doctrine to be effective.
One sits comfortably, with spine erect. Eyes are closed or half closed, and a few deep breaths taken, while feeling the various sensations of your body wherever you are sitting. Become aware of your breathing, and allow attention to rest on the sensation of breathing. If your mind wanders, bring it back to your awareness of breathing. Sensory phenomena may be experienced; one can notice these but should not engage with them. Allow them to rise and pass away and turn attention back to focus on breathing. If you find your mind has wandered, return focus to breathing. Persevere with this for ten to fifteen minutes a session when you are starting out.
Done at night meditation may also increase melatonin levels, which has a number of beneficial effects, including being supportive of neurogenesis. Yoga may also benefit brain function, with increased hippocampal volume observed in elderly yoga practitioners.
A variety of other life style factors influence neurogenesis. Sleep deprivation reduces hippocampal neurogenesis and is highly detrimental to brain function, but following short term sleep deprivation the brain can recover deficits with a temporary increase in neurogenesis. Recent research suggests sleep plays a key role in brain detox, and doubles the rate of neurogenesis of oligodendrocyte cells, which manufacture myelin which protects the brain’s circuitry. Getting enough good quality sleep is essential for a healthy brain.
Exposure to sunlight is well known for its role in increasing vitamin D, but it also increases serotonin levels, testosterone and GDNF expression in the brain. Exposure to sunlight is a healthy act, if exposure times are limited to times of day when it is safest to do so, when exposure to UV rays is reduced. Only a brief exposure of around ten minutes to the face can have a positive effect on the brain.
Sexual experience is beneficial for brain function, elevating levels of feel good neurotransmitters, while promoting neurogenesis.
Calorie restriction has been linked to increased BDNF and improved memory function with the brain responding to this stress via increasing neurogenesis.
An enriched environment has also been found to have a positive effect on neurogenesis, via increasing the survival rates and assisting in the integration of new neurons into the hippocampus.