Long the province of, shall we say, “fringe” types, mindful meditation is now a well-regarded, mainstream practice that’s just as likely to attract buttoned-up business types as long-haired wannabe yogis. Studies show that people who regularly practice mindfulness enjoy several meditation benefits: healthier, more balanced lives, less stress, better performance on reasoning tests.
But that may only be the tip of the iceberg. What if mindful meditation could literally change the structure of your cells — or at least the genetic code that governs their activities? A new study suggests that this may be the case.
According to a just-released study published in Scientific American, mindful meditation may produce changes in telomeres, which are the “endcap” segments that adorn each of our chromosomes. Specifically, they slow telomeres’ shortening, a natural process that occurs over years or decades and has been linked to health problems like heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Overall, longer telomeres are associated with longer lifespans. The study unambiguously showed that breast cancer survivors who practiced mindfulness had longer telomeres than peer groups who received other forms of counseling.
Other Genetic Benefits
Meanwhile, a 2013 study from the University of Wisconsin found even that mindfulness had even farther-reaching genetic benefits. Individuals who practiced intense mindfulness over the course of several hours were found to have lower levels of inflammation-inducing genes and higher levels of the gene-regulating “machinery” (proteins) responsible for limiting the negative effects of inflammation. This resulted in lower levels of damaging inflammation in mindful participants’ bodies, reducing long-term risks for related conditions like heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Mental and Emotional Benefits of Meditation
Of course, mindful meditation has a range of mental and emotional benefits as well. People who regularly practice mindfulness forge new neural connections at higher rates than their non-meditating peers, promoting problem-solving and reducing the incidence of emotional problems. Simply put, mindful meditation is a holistic approach to healthier, happier, smarter living.
More to Come
Can mindful meditation really change your body? The jury will be out until more studies have been completed, but the science looks promising so far. And given all the well-documented meditation benefits that we’re already sure about, it seems silly not to give it a try and see for yourself. What do you have to lose?