Meditation has been clinically proven to have myriad psychological and physical benefits, from measurably lower blood pressure and stress hormones, to patient-reported improvement in depression, anxiety, and PTSD, to helping people successfully avoid addiction relapse. It can also simply be a great addition to your day if you’re trying to be more mindful and present.
But some experts claim that meditation can do even more...like turn back your biological clock? There’s some evidence to suggest that meditation may have some anti-aging properties for both your mind and your body.
To determine if this is just hype or if there’s some grounded science behind this idea, let’s first take a quick look at how your body ages.
How the Body Ages
Our DNA is replicating over and over again in our body as our cells die, and replenish at regularly scheduled intervals. The DNA in our chromosomes is capped on the ends by protective proteins called telomeres, whose eventual deterioration has been identified by several studies as essential to the aging process.
Each time our cells replicate throughout our life, our telomeres get a little bit shorter. So as we age and our telomeres get shorter, DNA (and therefore cell) replication becomes more difficult and less accurate, leading to the issues we see all over the body: loss of memory and nerve function, loss of collagen elasticity, you name it.
So, if our telomeres are the key to the aging process, what can we do to keep our telomeres longer...for longer? Most of the current research suggests that the two biggest contributors to telomere maintenance are sleep and stress.
The Role of Sleep and Stress in Aging
If you love to get your beauty rest, you may sometimes feel as if you’re sleeping your life away. But really, you’re resting your way toward a longer life! In fact, the 2017 Nobel Prize winners in medicine and physiology uncovered the molecular mechanisms that control our sleep cycles, and the researchers suggest that sticking to your body’s predisposed sleep cycle is one of the most important things you can do for your health.
And then we come to stress: several studies have suggested that heightened stress levels, especially those that are maintained over long periods of time (that is, chronic stress) cause our telomeres to shorten much faster that they would otherwise, speeding up how our bodies age.
Well, that sounds like bad news for anyone with a busy schedule, right? Day-to-day life can be stressful, and getting enough shuteye can feel like a full-time job in itself. But here’s where meditation comes in–all those studies about how meditation physically affects your body? They stack up!
For many people, a regular mindfulness or meditation practice can measurably decrease the levels of stress hormones (like cortisol) in your body, leading to a long-term reduction in perceived stress. Meditation, especially before bed, has also been shown in several studies to improve sleep quality and the ability of those who practice it to get to and stay asleep.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that we only see the long-term, effectual benefits of meditation in those who make it a regular, long-term habit—just like any sustainable healthy lifestyle change.
In short, your body’s clock is run by intricate and minute molecular machinery that’s directly affected by your actions and practices. If you can add a sustainable, long-term meditation practice into your life, you could be giving your body and your mind a huge gift, both in the short and long terms!