Mindfulness meditation may slow aging

Thursday, November 22, 2012 by: Sherry Baker, Health Sciences Editor
Tags: meditation, mindfulness, aging

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(NaturalNews) Meditation techniques centered on being in the present moment have been used in healing and spiritual practices for thousands of years. In recent times, scientists have discovered that these ancient meditation practices have specific, measurable effects on the body -- including, as Natural News has reported, helping treat physical problems like urinary incontinence and even producing beneficial changes in the brain.

Now comes a hint that doing what yogis and other meditation proponents have taught for eons could slow down the aging process. A University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) study just published in the Association for Psychological Science journal Clinical Psychological Science found that people who reported more presence in the moment (having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities) had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress in their lives.

Why is this so important? Telomeres are sort of caps at the ends of DNA that prevent the ends of chromosomes from fusing with nearby chromosomes or deteriorating. They are biomarkers for aging and are known to get shorter and shorter when the body undergoes physiological and psychological stressors. What's more, as earlier research pioneered at UCSF showed, the shorter the telomeres, the earlier disease and death can be predicted.

For the new research, the scientists studied 239 healthy women ranging between the ages 50 and 65 to see how many tended to be focused on the present and how many were inclined to focus on being elsewhere and on things other than the present. Those with more mind wandering had shorter telomeres. Whether the mind wandering causes the aging-linked shortening of telomeres or whether the state of being that focuses on the present actually protects telomeres isn't known yet. But there's certainly reason to suspect that being mindfully aware of the present could be the key.

Here's how this relates to meditation: the UCSF researchers pointed out in a media statement that mindful meditation interventions, which promote attention on the present with a compassionate attitude of acceptance, are known to benefit many aspects of health. And previous studies have found mindfulness mediation is associated with increased activity of an enzyme known as telomerase, which is responsible for protecting and in some cases, replenishing telomeres.

According to the new study, the findings support the possibility that a focus on the present may be part of what promotes health even at the cellular level. "Our attentional state -- where our thoughts rest at any -- turns out to be a fascinating window into our well-being. It may be affected by our emotional state as well as shape our emotional state," Elissa Epel, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and lead author on the study, said in the press statement.

Currently Epel and colleagues are developing a series of classes to promote more mindful presence, to see if this intervention protects telomere maintenance or could even lengthen telomeres. If it turns out mediation can make telomeres longer, it suggests meditation could have an impact on halting or even reversing aging.


About the author:
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA''''s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine''''s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic''''s "Men''''s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.

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