With more and more people blowing out birthday candles at age 100, it’s hard not to be curious about what factors play a role in longevity. While we have all heard the advice to “eat organic foods, exercise often and get a good night of sleep,” cellular health is a key component when it comes to aging gracefully. Scientists have recently discovered that telomeres — the microscopic protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes — affect how quickly our cells age. Telomeres shield chromosomes each time they divide and duplicate DNA, but they dwindle over time. As telomeres become shorter and weaker, they start to malfunction, causing the cells to age and die more quickly, as shown by molecular biologist and 2009 Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn. In recent years, more evidence has revealed that stress may shorten telomeres. Shorter telomeres have become associated with a range of aging-related diseases, such as vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.
But there is good news…
Studies are proving that there are ways to actively repair and lengthen our telomeres through diet, exercise and stress management. A Mediterranean diet has been linked to longer telomeres, as has consistent exercise. And if stress actually damages our telomeres, then meditation is a great antidote. We know for sure that meditation counteracts stress symptoms and has many physiological benefits, as it can slow heart rate, lower blood pressure, improve sleep quality, fortify the immune system and more. Meditation and mindfulness may block the shortening of telomeres, but what’s even more exciting is that they may also repair and lengthen our telomeres. Dr. Blackburn co-discovered an enzyme in her Nobel Prize-winning research called telomerase that influences the length of our telomeres. She and her colleagues later concluded that people who meditated for 4-6 months increased their telomerase activity by a significant 30 percent, which can directly influence our biological clock.
Dr. Blackburn, now President of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif., has co-authored a book called The Telomere Effect. In it, she points out that around 300,000 centenarians exist today — and that number will continue to increase. It’s never been a better time to be conscious of your cellular health so that you can have a long lifespan.
If you have not tried meditating before, the best way to get started is by taking a class. Many yoga studios or wellness centers, like The Chopra Center in Carlsbad, Calif., offer free guidance and sessions. And of course, there’s no shortage of apps with guided mediations, walking meditations and more.
So take a moment to breathe deeply, quiet the mind and lengthen those telomeres. Your telomeres will thank you!
MEDITATION MADE EASY
- Find a quiet comfortable space and sit with your legs crossed, palms facing up to the sky.
- Relax the body.
- Take long, slow breaths, filling the belly as you inhale, gently pulling it in as you exhale.
- Focus on the breath and quieting the mind. When thoughts come to you, acknowledge them and then set them aside.
- Create a mantra: you can think “inhale” as you take the air into your lungs, and “exhale” as you release it. “Om” works, too.
- Start by meditating for five minutes, and increase your session over time. You can set a timer on your phone to free yourself of being concerned about when to stop.
- When finished, gently move the body, stretch and slowly opens your eyes.
- Consistency is key, as it’s better to do meditate daily for short periods of time than very sporadically.
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Journalist Ann Wycoff has written about wellness, fitness, longevity, travel, spas, food and wine for the past 20 years for magazines like Shape, Fitness, Spa, Outside, Travel + Leisure, Coastal Living, Redbook, Modern Luxury, San Diego Magazine, Redbook, Marin Magazine and more. She lives in Encinitas, California.