Spiritual traditions have often touted the benefits of mindfulness and being in the present moment. It leads to greater peace and happiness. Even scientific studies have confirmed that present moment awareness can help reduce stress and even improve blood pressure.
According to an online article from Waking Times, a new preliminary study at the University of California, San Francisco takes this idea further, suggesting a link between mind wandering and cellular aging.
The study focused on DNA telomere length, which is a biomarker or indicator of overall bodily aging. Shorter telomeres indicate aging while longer telomeres suggest greater longevity. Research test subjects included 239 middle-aged women from 50 to 65 years of age.
Study Results and Implications
Study volunteers underwent assessments regarding their behavioral tendencies: whether they had a tendency to remain in the present moment or let their minds wander. Present moment awareness was defined as mindfulness or being focused on the task at hand. Meanwhile, mind wandering was characterized by thoughts being elsewhere and not in the present.
Practicing mindfulness or attention to the present moment has shown numerous benefits for health and well-being.
Overall findings showed that those women who reported greater mind wandering had shorter telomeres while the opposite was found for women reporting more present moment awareness. In addition, those women with greater focus on the present also had lengthy telomeres even when taking current stress levels into account.
According to these results, the implications suggest that being engaged and focused on the present moment coincides with longer telomere length and therefore slower aging and increased longevity. There are still unanswered questions however. Does mind wandering lead to the development of shorter telomeres or do shorter telomeres cause more mind wandering?
Telomeres and Aging
Telomeres are more than just a biomarker for age. They work closely with human genes and DNA. Our DNA is our unique signature, telling us who we are genetically. Telomeres are the protective caps on our DNA strands, keeping them healthy. Every time a cell divides and replicates in the body, the telomeres lessen a bit. Age we age they continue to shorten.
Research also indicates that both physical and psychological stress can affect the length of our telomeres, causing them to shorten. Scientists at UCSF have also discovered that shortened telomere length can predict disease and mortality. The goal for health, anti-aging and longevity is to keep telomere length as long as possible.
Practicing mindfulness or attention to the present moment has shown numerous benefits for health and well-being. In light of this current UCSF study, it may now also benefit telomere length. This paves the way for promoting mindfulness meditation to enhance longevity.
In fact previous scientific studies have shown that meditation interventions increased the activity of telomerase, an enzyme that influences the behavior and development of telomeres. Telomerase helps to protect telomeres and may even replenish them. This seems to build the case for present moment awareness affecting the body on a cellular level.
Mindfulness meditation interventions help people to learn about their current thoughts and emotional states while practicing awareness. Mindfulness is not only about being in the present moment, it also considers personal acceptance of the moment without judgment or expectations.
We learn to be observers, remaining focused on our inner well-being rather than the outcome of external influences. As Elissa Epel, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and the study’s lead author says, “Our attentional state – where our thoughts rest at any moment – turns out to be a fascinating window into our well-being.”
As a result of the UCSF study, further investigation of mindfulness meditation intervention and its effects on telomeres is warranted. Epel and several colleagues at the university are creating a series of mindfulness classes to explore this idea.
Forrester, Michael. (2012, November 19.) Breaking Study Is The First To Show Link Between Being Present In The Moment And Ageless DNA. Waking Times.