Does Meditation Affect Cellular Aging

Image Credit: Nickolai Kashirin / Flickr. This image has been modified.

How Many Minutes of Daily Meditation to Combat Stress?

In the film The Holiday, Cameron Diaz exclaims “Severe stress … causes the DNA in our cells to shrink until they can no longer replicate.” Did Hollywood get the science right?

The enzyme that builds and maintains the caps at the tips of our chromosomes (called telomeres) appears to slow the aging of our cells. Do people who are stressed have shorter telomeres? To answer that question, researchers from the University of California, San Francisco measured the telomere lengths in mothers of chronically ill children—what could be more stressful than that? The longer a woman had spent being the main caretaker of her ill child, the shorter her telomeres. The extra telomere shortening in the most stressed mothers was equivalent to that caused by at least a decade of aging. We see the same thing in caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients and in those suffering severe work-related exhaustion. Even those abused as children may grow up with shorter telomeres.

There’s not much we can do about our past, but if we manage our stress now, can we grow some telomeres back? If we go on a meditation retreat and meditate for 500 hours, we can indeed boost our telomerase activity (the enzyme that restores our telomeres)—but there’s got to be a quicker fix.

In an exciting study from UCLA and UC San Francisco (highlighted in my video, Does Meditation Affect Cellular Aging?, caregivers of family members with dementia were randomized to just 12 minutes of daily meditation for eight weeks, or just about ten hours in total. The meditators experienced significant benefit, including better mental and psychological function accompanied by an increase in telomerase activity, suggesting an improvement in stress-induced cellular aging.

Here’s a link to the backgrounder video that presents the original Ornish study: Research Into Reversing Aging. I cover the comparable effects of diet and exercise in my video Telomeres – Cap It All Off with Diet.

I have a few videos on using aromatherapy and other modalities to help deal with stress:

For life extension in general, see:

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.

Discuss

Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.


16 responses to “How Many Minutes of Daily Meditation to Combat Stress?

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  1. I’d love more of this lifestyle type of information, even though it isn’t technically nutrition, it still affects you the way some nutrients might,

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    1. Hi there,
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  3. Since I am spending time in prayer I have noticed a very calming effect on my attitude. I don’t do a formal prayer. I just talk to God wherever I am silently. It could be while I am out in the garden or even in the gym working out.

  4. There was a professor at the U of Illinois who studied the effects of Tai Chi on aging, and also found it to be beneficial. I don’t think he studied telomere length, but it would be interesting. I bet it has a similar effect as meditation, since it is, basically, a moving meditation. Definitely relieves stress.

  5. Meditation on our God of love and His Word daily engaging our frontal lobe is healthy and exercising true Holy Spirit filled connection with our Father is by conversation and not the emptying of our mind to allow no reasoning to happen. For a sincere look at the physiological effects of meditation when one empties the mind please visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHIH2KJcbKc and be enlightened by what is actually happening to your mind. I love Dr Greger work and the fact that he sincerely considers the facts and not suggestions.

    1. This is so biased. I’ve done both kinds of meditation, focused on the Abrahamic God (and His word) and eastern meditation. Both will give you altered consciousness. There were plenty of contemplatives who lost all sense of individuality when meditating on God. I’d encourage you to research the early desert fathers and mothers and other contemplatives of the early Christian church, some who melded with God and experienced non-duality.

  6. It always makes me laugh when I see meditation mentioned for stress relief, because meditation is a powerful exercise that is not suited for some people ie people with psychosis or prone to mental illness. The original practice was meant to wake people up to the nature of reality, the rising and falling of all phenomenon. People have and will continue to have bad experiences with meditation. BUT NO ONE IS EVER WARNED OF THIS. Even following the breath can cause damage for some people. People have ended up in psych wards. Thank goodness there are now support groups for people who think meditation is just a fun exercise who have been damaged mentally from it. Just use caution! It might sound fun but when you realize/wake up to the fact that you are the universe/god/vishnu playing at hiding behind mirrors…don’t say someone didn’t warn you.

    1. Uh, why does religion even have to enter the picture, and how could a generic relaxing and quieting of the busy mind be harmful? If you are going to make claims like this, show the proof! We all have opinions, and you know what they say about those.

    2. While some have been reported to have psychotic breaks triggered by meditation, it doesn’t mean that meditation caused the mental problem, just revealed a problem that would have come to light anyway. People very commonly lie to themselves, but when one meditates, it is revealing of the unconcious. It becomes harder to lie to oneself, to rationalize ones contradictions. This is a good thing for most people. However with some, those with significant guilt or shame perhaps that has been buried, whether legitimate or not, deep meditation can reveal a need to change one’s life, which is threatening to some. This doesn’t mean that we can go through life with significant guilt or shame unconscious within and it is without consequence. I have observed people meditate deeply for the first time, while for most it’s very pleasant to “wake up” to the spirit, for others, their inner observations are stressful. There are a great many people who do great damage in the lives of others while they blythly trip through life. The wake up call may seem “bad” for them, but may actually be good for those around them who are victims of, for instance their narcissism. But to suggest that people should not meditate for fear of disrupting ones equilibrium, when the benefits are so great is uninformed and over-reactive. I had an otherwise very good yoga teacher incorrectly advise me in my 20s to stop or restrict meditation to 15 minutes a day, because it changed my behaviour significantly, leading to quieting and withdrawal. I didn’t understand it at the time, but respecting his opinion, I complied. I do get into very deep states in meditation as shown with biofeedback. And I was meditating for an hour at a time. But now in my 60s, I see his advice as a mistake. A child of a very abusive and disfunctional substance abusing family, I needed to make major changes in my life direction, that stopping/ reducing meditation prevented. Now I see my life as before I had a steady daily deep meditation practice as being lost and self-destructive and wasted, and then when I have at last established ling term daily deep meditation as being awoken from confusion, clear-headed and proactive. Meditation can be very freeing. Too valuable to simply dismiss out of hand.

  7. Please help with confusing information: 1. The title of this post suggests an answer will be given to the “how many minutes” question. Instead it refers to a single study where 12 minutes showed results. Is that Dr. Gregor’s answer? 2. The Dean Ornish research got results with diet, exercise — and 60 minutes / day of meditation, etc. What is Dr. Gregor’s answer to the “how many minutes” question. Many thanks.

  8. Does anyone have any pros or cons regarding Transcendental Meditation (TM)? I was interested in it but wasn’t sure if were just the same as “regular” meditation but you just pay more.

    Thanks in advance!

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