Can meditation prolong your life by protecting and rebuilding your telomeres?
Telomeres, what are they? Before I talk about what telomeres are, what they do and what their connection is to meditation, let me ask you: Do you meditate? If yes, that’s great. If not, have you thought about it? Or is this concept so foreign to you that maybe you feel a bit uncomfortable with the idea?
The practice of daily mediation appears to be far removed from mainstream science. And yet, at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), a team of biochemists is immersed in a study about how meditation affects our physical health. Not what you would expect mainstream western science to be doing. Here is a recap of findings from the research at UCSF.
In the 1980s, working with graduate student Carol Greider at the University of California, Berkeley, Elizabeth Blackburn discovered an enzyme called telomerase that can protect and restore telomeres. Even so, our telomeres decrease over time. And when they get too short, our cells start to lose their ability to divide – a phenomenon that is now recognised as a key process in ageing.
*A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromatid, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighbouring chromosomes. This is important because they shield the ends of our chromosomes each time our cells divide and the DNA is copied. But in the process they wear down with each division. Scientists have found a correlation between deteriorating telomeres and stress levels of patients.
Reducing stress levels
**A pilot study of dementia caregivers, carried out with UCLA’s Mike Irwin and published in 2013, found that volunteers who did an ancient chanting meditation called Kirtan Kriya, 12 minutes a day for eight weeks, had significantly higher telomerase activity than a control group who listened to relaxing music. And a collaboration with UCSF physician and self-help guru Dean Ornish, also published in 2013, found that men with low-risk prostate cancer who undertook comprehensive lifestyle changes, including meditation, kept their telomerase activity higher than similar men in a control group and had slightly longer telomeres after five years.
What We Loose With Age
New research suggests major depression also is linked to shorter telomeres.
Illustration from Wall Street Journal.
There are many types of meditations. If you don’t meditate, don’t get discouraged by thinking that a meditation session has to be long. The consistency of this daily routine is much more important then the length of the session. 10 – 20 minutes a day, every day, will do much more for you then a one hour session once a week.
So make it a part of your life and embrace the stillness and tranquility for a few minutes a day.