How can meditation slow down the ageing processes?

According to research, specific forms of meditation may help protect against the ageing process at a cellular level.

Do you know that our biological age can be different to our actual age?

Scientists measure our biological age by looking at part of our DNA called telomeres – a protein situated at the ends of chromosomes acting like the plastic tip on our shoelaces, protecting our DNA from wear and tear.

Throughout life, our telomeres become progressively shorter. The shortening rate may indicate how fast we are ageing.

The length of our telomeres gives some indication of the state of our health. Longer telomeres are associated with a greater chance of good physical and emotional health and living longer, whilst shorter telomeres are linked to chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. People experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression also have shorter telomeres. Lifestyle choices and behaviours can slow the speed at which the telomeres shrink or even make them longer.

Research published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found a form of meditation called loving-kindness influenced the speed at which the telomeres shortened.

Loving-Kindness meditation cultivates warm, kind and compassionate feelings towards oneself and other people by silently repeating phrases such as, “may you be happy, may you be free from pain, may you live with ease and happiness”.

Psychologists from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recruited middle-aged adults with no previous experience of meditation and no known chronic diseases.

The participants attended a 6-week course in either loving-kindness meditation or mindfulness training, which included weekly 1-hour sessions and home practise using a 20-minute audio-guided meditation. Another control group did no meditation.

The scientists recorded daily mood fluctuations and took blood samples 2-weeks before and 3-weeks after the training to measure telomere length.

After 6-weeks, the telomeres in the people practising loving-kindness meditation decreased significantly less than the mindfulness training or control groups. It’s worth noting the length of telomeres in the mindfulness group decreased less than the control group, but not as much as the loving-kindness group.

The results indicate that meditation affects our biology at a genetic level and benefits our health. Focusing the mind on phrases that are personnally meaningful and compassionate may be especially beneficial.

if you want to find out more about loving-kindness meditation a great article by Sharon Salzberg co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society explains why it can take time to notice the benefits and how to chose phrases on the Mindful website. Click the link to find out more.

Reference: Le Nguyen.K.D. Lin.J., Algoe.S.B., Brantly.M.M., Kim.S.L., Brantly.J., Salzberg.S., Frederickson. (2019). Loving-kindness meditation slows biological aging in novices: Evidence from a 12-week randomised controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 108, 20-27. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2019.05.020.

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