In recent years meditation and mindfulness has been shown to have a multitude of physical and psychological benefits. In short, it helps improve and protect our brains and enhances the physical well-being of our bodies. In addition, the research has shown that it actually slows down the aging process through a very specific mechanism, almost like a life elixir.
Let's Talk About Cells and DNA
As many of you likely know, our body is really just a collection of cells. These cells perform myriad functions and aggregate together to form organs, our bodies and our minds. Inside cells are genes (contained within DNA which are organized into chromosomes) which are responsible for regulating cell processes and maintaining our bodies. Sadly, cells don't last forever. In fact, they are constantly dying and being replaced. This can happen every minute, every week, and every month. So, in short, we are constantly renewing ourselves. Pretty kool right? It's really important that once cells die, new ones replace them (or we'd die) so existing cells need to replicate themselves to replace those that have perished. To make a long story short, the most critical component of cell replication is making sure the DNA which contains our genes is left in tact and not damaged. When DNA is damaged it leads to all kinds of health problems, including cancer.
Protecting The Cells and DNA
Luckily, our cells have adapted to protect DNA when cells replicate by covering them with some protective shields. These are called telomeres as seen in the figure to the right. However, as we age the telomere shortens. When it gets too short, cells have a more and more difficult time reproducing and become more likely to produce defective cells. This, on a cellular basis is what produces aging. The shortening of the telomere occurs each time the cell is replaced. Scientists call this a "mitotic clock". This is a natural part of life. That being said, they can also be shortened dues to oxidative stress, which can be produced by psychological and physiological stress. This is mediated by stress hormones and the inflammatory response and chronic stress can accelerate the aging process.
How Does Meditation Slow Down Aging?
Fortunately, there is a mechanism to protect the telomere. There is an enzyme in the body called telomerase that helps to prevent shortening of the telomere. It also promotes cell survival and enhances stress-resistance. Research suggests that processes that increase telomerase activity tend to slow the aging process by protecting the telomere. One activity that seems to increase telomerase activity and protect telomere length is mindfulness practice. Hence, engaging in mindfulness practices may protect the telomere and thereby slow the aging process. There is accumulating evidence for this feature and it's benefits on cellular health.
So, How Can I Meditate?
I will write a complete article on the different ways you can meditate and practice mindfulness but, in short, the simplest way to understand it is by sitting in a still position, focusing your attention on your breath, and bring your attention back to your breath when your mind wanders. Also crucial is exercising this practice in a non-judgmental way. So, not judging your internal thoughts, bodily sensations or the outside world. Just sitting and observing things as they are, objectively. Three common examples are:
The Sitting Meditation, which involves sitting in a relaxed but erect posture and cultivating awareness of each breath you take.
The Body Scan, which entails methodically paying attention to each part of your body, from top to bottom.
Mindful Yoga, the practice of deliberate, intentional movement.
Beauty salons and massages are fantastic. Eating healthy and exercising, having good social connections and strong sense of purpose are all connected to increased longevity. Meditation is just another age-old way you can boost your health and lengthen your life.