Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga have long been touted for their immediate benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, and enhanced happiness. Studies have shown these beneficial effects can be experienced in as few as eight weeks. Now scientists from UCSF and Harvard have provided another reason for you to start or stick with your meditation routine. It seems that meditation may slow down the aging at the cellular level by extending telomeres, which could potentially lead to far-reaching benefits such as adding years to your live and improving cognitive function well into old age.
Telomeres are the protein end-caps of our chromosomes. They function to protect the integrity of our DNA. Like a cellular biological clock, they’re extremely correlated with age; each time a cell replicates, we lose a tiny bit of the end-caps. Therefore, the older we get, the shorter our telomeres. Eventually, the telomere gets so short that our DNA frays like a shoelace lost its protective plastic end-cap, our cells can no longer replicate, and our body can no longer renew and recover.
Telomerase is an enzyme in the body that prevents telomere shortening. In certain circumstances, telomerase can even add telomeric DNA back to the telomere and help our cells stay young. Unfortunately, as cell ages, telomerase becomes less active leaving us at the mercy of the relentless of time.
Previous study has shown that higher levels of stress in woman seemed to correlate with shorter length of telomeres when compared to woman with lower stress. In some cases, the researchers have observed as much as a decade worth of additional aging in high stress woman.
Given that mindfulness practice has been historically connected to reduced ruminative thinking and stress, UCSF scientists suggested in a 2009 paper that mindfulness meditation may have potential positive effects on preservation of telomere length and telomerase activity.1
A group of scientists from the Harvard Medical School investigated this idea by leading a study comparing telomere length of experienced loving-kindness meditation practitioners with that of non-meditators. Results revealed that those with more years of meditation practice had longer telomere length overall, and that women meditators had significantly longer telomeres as compared to women non-meditators. These findings support meditation’s positive effect on healthy cellular aging.
Life can be crazy sometimes. Once in the while, I would catch myself in the mirror with my hairs fraying and face frowned. If you are in the same boat, relax and take a few deep breaths. A 5-minutes meditation could do wonders to our psychological wellbeing and appearance too.
Thanks for reading.
- Elissa Epel, Jennifer Daubenmier, Judith Tedlie Moskowitz, Susan Folkman, and Elizabeth Blackburn, Meditation Slow Rate of Cellular Aging by extending Telomeres, Annuals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 2009,1172: 34–53, DOI: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04414.
- Elizabeth A.Hoge, Maxine M.Chen, EstherOrr, Christina A.Metcalf, Laura E.Fischer, Mark H.Pollack, Immaculata DeVivo, Naomi M.Simon, Loving-Kindness Meditation practice associated with longer telomeres in women Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, August 2013, 32: 159-163.
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