A growing body of research, along with a great deal of personal experience and empirical evidence, supports the idea that there are immediate benefits to be had from meditation, such as: reduced stress and anxiety levels, lower blood pressure, and enhanced happiness. These short-term benefits may be just the beginning however, as we are beginning to see the possibility that meditation slows the aging process.
Studies on mindfulness interventions show that the positive effects of meditation are common, and can manifest in as few as eight weeks. While these initial benefits may be reason enough for us to practice, meditation’s positive impact appears to be even more far-reaching, potentially adding years to our lives and improving cognitive function well into old age.
Effects of Meditation as You Get Older
Meditation seems to affect longevity of the physical body in a few different ways, starting at the cellular level. Scientists have isolated length of telomeres and telomerase as indicators of cellular aging. Our cells contain chromosomes, or sequences of DNA. Telomeres are “protective protein caps” at the end of our DNA strands that allow for continued cell replication. The longer the telomere, the more times a cell can divide and refresh. Each time a cell replicates, its telomere length, and therefore its lifespan, gets shorter in a natural aging process.
Telomere shortening happens naturally as we age, but research now shows that it can be accelerated by stress, speeding up the aging process of the body. This research suggests that the use of meditation to reduce stress and anxiety has a positive effect on the cellular aging process.
In addition, another area of research indicates we may alter our individual brain structure through meditation, potentially slowing structural degeneration of brain tissue over time. In other words, meditation may capitalize on the brain’s never-ending need to be preserved and thrive, slowing the natural regression of thought processes that occurs as we get older.
This is exciting stuff – truly – with powerful indicators that meditation slows the aging process. Who knows where else it may lead in the treatment, or prevention, of degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, perhaps.