The harm caused by being in a constant state of stress, for months or years on end, can hardly be exaggerated. There seems to be no part of the body that’s not damaged.
Brain, bones, skin, digestion, blood vessels, sex hormones, immunity — whatever you name, stress is harmful.
In fact, chronic stress can mess you up so badly that you age ten years faster.1
So what can you do about it? Well there’s one activity that will combat stress and all its bad health effects including accelerated aging.
A Meditation Retreat Worked Wonders For These People
Chronic stress is linked to shorter telomeres and less active telomerase,1 the enzyme that can re-lengthen telomeres.
If meditation can successfully combat stress, it should have positive effects on these markers of aging.
To test this idea, a group of researchers from the University of California, Davis Center for Mind and Brain enrolled 30 participants to participate in a meditation retreat in the Rocky Mountains for three months. They were matched to a control group of experienced meditators who were put on a waiting list to attend the retreat.
The findings were that the attendees experienced greater emotional wellbeing and an increased sense of purpose in life. They were also less anxious and neurotic, more resilient and empathetic, had longer sustained focus, and were better able to inhibit their habitual responses.
They also wound up the three months with 30% more telomerase than the control group.2
Interestingly, telomerase levels climbed as scores improved on “sense of purpose in life.”
The Davis team followed this up with a study where volunteers experienced in meditation took part in another retreat and were again compared to a control group.
After three weeks, telomeres had lengthened in the meditators’ leukocytes while there was little change among members of the control group.2
All Forms of Meditation Benefit Telomeres
A program that incorporates meditation, called “mindfulness-based stress reduction,” was shown to increase telomerase in immune cells by 17% after three months in patients with breast cancer.3
Another research group from the University of California tested a yoga-inspired form of meditation called Kirtan Kriya on 39 people who were caregivers for members of their families who had dementia. The control group listened to relaxing music for 12 minutes a day.
After eight weeks, the meditation group increased telomerase activity by 43% compared to just 3.7% in the relaxation group.4
That’s an incredible difference for a tiny investment of time and effort.
In 2016, researchers from Spain and Brazil compared twenty Zen meditation experts with the same number of healthy matched controls who had never meditated.
Compared to the non-meditators, the Zen group had significantly longer telomeres and a lower percentage of short telomeres in their cells.5
In yet another investigation, a Hong Kong research group recruited 33 chronic fatigue patients who were instructed in Qigong — a form of meditative movement therapy — over 4 months while 31 patients acted as controls.
There was a significant improvement in telomerase activity in the active versus the control group.6
The findings from all these studies suggest that meditation is not only a powerful method of relieving stress, with all the physical and emotional benefits that come from it, but also has positive effects on telomeres.
That means with consistent daily practice, there’s a good chance it could add as much as ten healthy years to your life.