Does meditation slow down aging?

 In Science of Yoga

Why do we age?

Scientists talk about aging not only at the body level but also at the cell level. Each cell of our body can age and die. One of the ways this happens is when DNA information in the cell degrades.

DNA information is packed in molecules called chromosomes. To protect DNA from degradation, there are small caps on each end of the chromosome called 'telomeres'. An enzyme called telomerase keeps the telomeres long — which is a good thing! If this enzyme activity in a cell is high, the DNA information in the chromosomes is well protected, and the cell continues to function and replicate.

In 2009 a group of scientists received a Nobel Prize for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres. Ten years later, we have learned new intriguing facts about cell aging. An article published in December 2018 in Current Opinion in Psychology summarises studies on telomeres and meditation published over the last five years.

Two studies out of 19 compared experienced meditators to people who never meditated and found longer telomeres in those with more meditation experience. The other 17 studies compared the telomeres before and after a meditation training.

A meditation course as short as one week may increase the length of telomeres, and the activity of telomerase in body cells. These studies show that meditation seems to delay cell aging.

"POSITIVE CHANGES IN THE BODY induced by meditation seem to delay cell aging."

How can a purely mental exercise affect molecules inside body cells? 

Researchers assume that stress is the critical link — shorter telomeres and lower telomerase levels are associated with stress. Regular meditation practice reduces psychological stress and anxiety and improves the regulation of emotions. At the body level, this means a reduction in the stress hormones and an increase of the vagal tone (the physiological mechanism responsible for the state of calm and relaxation, more about this in the upcoming posts).

It seems that the positive changes in the body induced by meditation lead to a delay in cell aging. However, researchers still need to understand this link better, and it is not clear if the molecular changes are meaningful — that is, if meditation can postpone aging at the body level. More research on these questions is on the way. It is remarkable how the popularity of meditation pushes forward research on the complexity of the mind–body connection.

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What about you?

What effects of yoga and meditation on the body and mind are the most interesting for you? Share/comment below!

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hi, i am IRINA

I am a yoga teacher and a scientist. In this series of blog posts for the Network Yoga Therapy, I will write about the most recent scientific research on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness.  

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