Me, meditating on a dicey cliff and possibly increasing enzymatic activity? (Unknowingly, mom caught it on cam during our North Rim, Grand Canyon camp trip.) Photo via: Jess Root
It's always awesome when meditation is given a nod by science and shed of its commonly regarded view as a new-agey, inaccessible practice. In 2009 and 2010, we shared meditation's practical application to common health ailments as studied by researchers: heart disease and depression.
I'm not sure how I missed this third incredible find from TIME that was issued at the tail end of last year. Could we meditators also have a leg up in the longevity factor?According to researchers at the University of California-Davis, quite possibly.
They compared a group of 30 meditation retreat goers at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado to a control group, those who didn't attend the retreat but who were on the wait list. The meditators, who spent six hours per day for three months meditating on their breath and loving-kindness, were found to contain about 30% more activity of an enzyme called telomerase than the wait listers.
So What's Telomerase?
TIME's writer Maia Szalavitz makes its biology easy to understand explaining the enzyme telomerase as,
...Responsible for repairing telomeres, the structures located on the ends chromosomes, which, like the plastic aglets at the tips of shoelaces, prevent the chromosome from unraveling. Each time a cell reproduces, its telomeres become shorter and less effective at protecting the chromosome -- this, researchers believe, is a cause of aging. As the chromosome becomes more and more vulnerable, cell copying becomes sloppier and eventually stops when the telomeres disintegrate completely. Telomerase can mitigate -- and possibly stop -- cell aging.
Is it mediation that actually increases telomerase activity? They're not entirely certain. But when the study participants were spending six hours of the day engaging in what many find a calming, stress-reductive practice, the case for it is mighty strong. That, or there was something in the retreat center's water, diet, etc. that could have been playing a part.
Either way, the study has produced hopeful health implications and serves as a great reminder that the "mind really could contain all possibilities," as per the famous Buddhist quote. Dare I say possibly as much as that little prescription pill mucking up our water--if not more? Bring on more meditation research, 2011!