Loving-Kindness Meditation Slows Aging

A recent study by Le Nguyen et al. published in Psychoneuroendocrinology has looked at the effect of loving-kindness meditation on telomore length. Loving-Kindness is a Buddhist meditation that focuses on sending good wishes and kindness to ourselves and others by silently repeating a series of mantras. Telomeres sit at the end of chromosomes and protect the chromosomes from deterioration. Our telomeres gradually shorten over time and this is believed to contribute to aging.

The researchers randomised 142 middle-aged adults into 3 groups: a waiting list control group, a mindfulness meditation group and a loving-kindness meditation group. Telomere length was measured 2 weeks prior to the start and 3 weeks after the end of the 6-week meditation workshop. The results showed that there was significantly less telomere attrition in the loving-kindness meditation group than the control group. The mindfulness meditation group had results that were in between the other 2 groups without being statistically significantly different from either.

We can infer that loving-kindness meditation can slow aging by decreasing the rate at which our telomeres shorten.

Exercise Improves Brain Function

Researchers Art Kramer and Laura Chaddock, from the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, have found that children that are aerobically fitter perform better at memory tests than their less fit peers. The improvement in brain function is linked to an increased hippocampal volume. The hippocampus is a structure deep within the brain that is involved with learning and memory. This would suggest that exercise plays a crucial role in the brain development of children.

As we age, there is a natural decline in our mental function. However, studies have shown that this process can be slowed or even reversed! Dr Kirk Erickson conducted a 9 year follow-up study that demonstrated that increased exercise, in the form of walking, was associated with greater grey matter volume and less cognitive impairment. This can have dramatic effects on our ability to lead normal independent lives well into our old age.

The reason for the beneficial influence of exercise on brain growth and function may be due to a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF). It supports the survival of existing nerve cells and promotes the growth of new ones and increases the levels of circulating BDNF.

These findings support the promotion of life-long exercise. I guess this sheds new light on the old Roman adage: “a healthy mind in a healthy body”!