The benefits of meditation are many, as anyone who meditates knows, but claiming it can help you live longer seems a trifle OTT.
However, a good study from a meditation centre in Colorado, US, suggests that the practice can actually add years to your life.
Reported effects of meditation include lowering blood pressure, healing psoriasis, boosting immunity in those who are vaccinated or have cancer, preventing relapse into recurrent depression, plus slowing down the progression of HIV.
What’s more, it seems that meditation can now actually help our cells to survive in the body for longer.
The answer lies in our telomeres – a vital component of every cell. They play a key role in the ageing of cells. Every time a cell divides, they get shorter unless an enzyme called telomerase builds them up again.
People with short telomeres are at greater risk of heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, depression and osteoporosis. They also die younger.
The study shows after a meditation course, people had significantly higher levels of the enzyme present suggesting their telomeres were being protected. This changes our view of meditation as simply a state of relaxation. It’s a lifesaver.
Brain studies show that meditation can even trigger physical changes in brain centres involved in learning, memory, emotional regulation, thinking and mood control.
It just so happens that chronic stress will shortern our telomeres causing cell ageing.
The action of meditation is to de-stress us and in doing so, protect our telomeres.
The two kinds of meditation that have been studied are mindfulness meditation, where you become acutely aware of your thoughts and your surroundings, and compassion meditation, where you focus on feelings of love and affection for others.
Both of these types cut down on the stress hormone cortisol. Most of us don’t have time to spend months meditating, but there are mini-meditations we can do like focusing on breathing and being aware of our surroundings several times a day.
While meditation may be effective in reducing stress and in protecting your telomeres, there are other ways if you have no interest in meditation. Exercise can buffer the effects of stress on telomeres and so do stress management programmes. Writing an emotional diary can help patients to delay the progress of HIV.
Psychologists would say that meditation gives you an increased sense of control and purpose in life, and these two things are more important than meditation itself.
Just doing something we enjoy and love – be it meditating, gardening, listening to music or painting – will go a long way to protect us from stress and even help us to live longer.