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Meditation & Aging: Do Our Brains Hold the Secret to Youth?

It seems those reclusive monks in the upper reaches of the Himalayas were onto something. People across the millennia have been practicing meditation and have long known of its restorative properties, but scientists have always been a bit skeptical. But that is starting to change.

Numerous recent studies performed around the world are bolstering older studies on meditation — transcendental meditation, compassion meditation, mindfulness meditation — that showed improvements in perception and well-being. But something that is really coming to the forefront nowadays is its potential effects as a veritable fountain of youth.

In 2007, a study called the Shamatha Project was conducted at the Shambhala Mountain Centre in Red Feather Lakes, CO, during two 3-month retreats. As participants meditated, numerous brain and heart monitors conveyed a steady stream of information to scientists located in a basement below, the results of which have only recently been published.

Expected reactions, such as lowered blood pressure, reduction of anxiety and an increase in cognitive function were all noted. But the big surprise was a significant increase in telomerase activity, an anti-aging mechanism, in retreat participants vs. controls.

Simply translated, this finding would seem to indicate that people who meditate live longer, by reducing cellular stress inside their bodies. See, telomeres play a key role in the aging of cells; every time a cell divides its telomeres get shorter, unless an enzyme called telomerase builds them back up. When they get too short, the cell dies. Meditators have demonstrated that their telomeres are better protected due to high telomerase activity. And if this increase in telomerase is sustained long enough, well … could be you have a free way to add 10 to 30 years to your life.

Back in 1982, Dr. Robert Keith Wallace was one of the first scientists to study the effects of meditation on aging; the results were published in the International Journal of Neuroscience. He found that subjects with an average chronological age of 50 years who practiced transcendental meditation for more than five years had a biological age 12 years younger (i.e., someone 55 had the physiology of a 43-year-old).  Several of the subjects demonstrated a biological age 27 years younger than their chronological age.

At the end of the day, in its simplest form, most researchers believe aging stems from stress, whether it be environmental, emotional, or physical. All of these processes take a toll on telomerase activity, which studies indicate can be increased and fortified by meditation.

If true, it confirms that the mind really can influence structural changes in the body. Meaning, perhaps, that people should stop looking outward to maintain their youthful features and health and instead start looking within.

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