Meditation delays molecular aging
A number of small studies show that meditation reduces mortality risk. Researchers at the University of California at Davis have worked out why this might be the case. They discovered that meditation boosts the activity of the enzyme telomerase in the cells.
The researchers subjected their test subjects to a considerable undertaking. The subjects were aged between 21 and 69, and had responded to ads on bulletin boards in Buddhist centres, in magazines and on websites. They spent three months in the Shambhala Mountain Center [shambhalamountain.org], and did six hours a day of guided meditation.
A control group of thirty people stayed at home. The researchers made sure that the control group resembled the experimental group as much as possible.
At the end of the three months, the researchers took samples of white blood cells out of the subjects' blood and measured the activity of the enzyme telomerase. The more active this enzyme is during cell division, the longer the telomeres in the genetic material of the new cells. And the longer the telomeres in genetic material, the more often cells can divide. So this means telomerase delays cellular aging, and possibly extends lifespan.
The telomerase activity in the experimental group was about 30 percent higher than in the control group, the researchers discovered. When they got the subjects to complete questionnaires, it turned out that the subjects in the experimental group had more sense of wellbeing than the control group subjects. They were less brooding [Neuroticism] and had a more positive attitude to life [Perceived control].
A statistical calculation revealed that meditation activated telomerase via the reduction in neuroticism and the increase in positive feelings.
"The data suggest that increases in perceived control and decreases in negative affectivity contributed to an increase in telomerase activity, with implications for telomere length and immune cell longevity", the researchers conclude cautiously.
The research was funded by the Shamatha Project [shamata.org], an organisation that studies the effects of meditation.
Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2011 Jun;36(5):664-81.
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