Believe it or not, the practice of meditation that has been around for approximately 5,000 years and is widely utilized across a variety of religions has recently been shown to have anti-aging effects. For many years, mindfulness and meditation have been studied as methods of lowering stress levels in humans, increasing cognitive acuity, and inducing other positive health transformations. Studies have also made connections between meditation and reduction in depressive symptoms in patients who suffer from chronic depression, and less anxiety in patients with manic disorders.
This new study called “Meditation and Vacation Effects Have An Impact On Disease-Associated Molecular Phenotypes” published in Translational Psychiatry measures the actual cellular health implications of meditative practice. The researchers utilized blood samples to measure for changes in aging-related biological markers to assess whether or not meditation plays any role in suppressing aging. Researchers built this study on the basis of former research initiatives that have linked tai chi, yoga, and meditation to gene expression associated with inflammatory pathways.
Subjects & Method
The researchers recruited healthy women divided the sample into two groups. One group was to live at a resort for 6 days and relax, while the other group was to stay at the same resort but participate in short-term intensive residential meditation. The researchers decided to use the resort as a controlled setting to remove external variables such as the stresses of everyday life activities.
Not only did the participants report on overall well-being at various intervals after the retreat (5 days, 1 month, and 10 months later), but blood samples were also drawn from all participants. The researchers obtained RNA sequencing of these blood samples to observe changes in protein markers that are associated with influencing age expression. Researchers were looking for any significant differences in both self-reported measures of well-being, as well as biological markers in the blood samples.
Findings in Self-Reported Measure
Not only did the meditation sample group score more favorably on measures of depressive symptoms, stress, and mindful awareness 5 days after the retreat, but they also scored higher 1 month and 10 months after the retreat as well. These measures were compared to the participants’ baseline scores that were taken prior to the retreat, showing that they sustained significantly higher improvement long after the retreat was over.
Findings in Gene Expression Changes
Researchers found that the distinct network of genes associated with aging were significantly influenced in the sample that participated in the meditation on the retreat. This was compared to the changes that the vacation-only sample experienced, which revealed that although a vacation can benefit the expression of the network of anti-aging genes as well, these benefits are not as well sustained compared to those who consistently practice meditation. Measures of baseline telomerase activity were also taken, showing that this activity was reduced for regular meditators.
Getting into the habit of sitting for only 5-10 minutes every day can not only improve focus, decrease depressive symptoms, and lower stress, but it can also reduce inflammatory bodily reactions that are linked to aging. Especially for those who work late hours and rely heavily on caffeine for energy, it is important to be aware that these stressors take a toll on the human body. Want to look younger? Meditate!