Before I practiced medicine at my Wellness Center, I was a sports physiology educator. So I know first-hand the value of a sound mind in a sound body.
In fact, my “whole-body, whole-mind” approach led me to study anti-aging in depth, which as you know has become my main areas of specialization. In fact, I was one of the first physicians in the country to be certified as an anti-aging specialist.
While advising a gymnastics team back in those early days, I often found myself dealing with the mental states of athletes.
And that’s when I really discovered the power of meditation. I taught many of these gymnasts how to meditate so they wouldn’t choke in close matches.
The mind-body connection has always fascinated me. But, at the time, I had no idea these mental exercises could actually help them lead longer, healthier lives.
Beyond a certain level, the differences between the athletes’ physical abilities become unimportant. Any scratch golfer or competitive tennis player will tell you that.
What really makes the difference is always the mind – or, more precisely, mental focus.
Meditation has the power to calm nerves, relieve stress, focus on victory – and also to extend lives.
Decades later, I began offering free meditation lessons to the patients at my wellness clinic in South Florida.
Over time, I saw that the patients who meditated seemed to thrive. They were also happier, healthier and younger in body and spirit.
Recently, I came across some studies that back up my observations. These studies prove that you can slow your aging by using your thoughts and emotions to influence your chromosomes.
This mind-body connection remains a cornerstone of my anti-aging philosophy. You see, the modern world overloads our brains.
Will I catch the flu? Will I wreck my car? Will the stock market fall? I haven’t heard from my children or grandchildren in days… are they all right? Will terrorists attack?
Stress is killing us and science proves it.
Stress creates a hormone in our bodies called cortisol. A little cortisol can help us deal with life’s ups and downs. But a steady stream of it is toxic.
It makes people eat too much and pack on too many pounds.1 It also triggers insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes.2 And it can cause mental problems, like anxiety and depression.3,4
But as an anti-aging specialist, I was most interested to find that too much cortisol also shortens telomeres,5 the caps at the end of each strand of DNA in all living creatures.
Cortisol sabotages telomerase, the enzyme that rebuilds your telomeres.
That’s where meditation comes in. You’ve got to banish the stress from your mind and your body for at least 10 minutes every day.
The new studies confirm how meditation benefits telomeres by keeping them from getting shorter. And it can help them grow longer. In other words, meditation can prevent your cells from aging and it can even make them younger.
Recently, researchers tracked 88 breast cancer patients.6, 7 One set of women practiced meditation for eight weeks and their telomeres grew significantly longer. The other group of women got a six-week stress-management course – and their telomeres didn’t grow.
Another team of researchers followed 142 breast-cancer patients for 12 weeks. And telomerase activity skyrocketed by 17 percent among the patients who meditated. But telomerase activity stalled at three percent in the patients who didn’t use the power of their minds.8
In a similar experiment, psychiatrists studied people who were stressed over caring for loved ones with dementia. Some of the care-givers were taught Hindu-style yogic meditation. Some care-givers only took breaks to listen to relaxing music. Listening to music barely budged the care-givers’ telomerase activity, but meditation sent it skyrocketing by 43 percent.9
Harvard Medical School psychiatrists looked at telomeres from people who regularly practice a Buddhist-style of meditation. The meditators had significantly longer telomeres than people who didn’t meditate. Plus, the study found that meditation benefited women most of all.10
So, here’s a simple-but-effective, 10-step meditation technique I teach my patients. I call it the “box-step,” even though you do it sitting down:
- Get in a comfortable sitting position and start by focusing only on the moment. Banish all thoughts of the past or the future.
- Concentrate on your breathing. Slowly inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth.
- At first, do the breathing exercises for two minutes a day. But make them as mindfully perfect as possible..
- Each week, add two minutes to your mindful meditation. When you’ve mastered mindful breathing for 10 minutes, you’re ready to move on to the box-step.
- Like before, you’re going to start with two-minute sessions every day for a week. Then increase the daily sessions for each week by two minutes until you reach 10 minutes.
- Now point your index finger at chest height as if you’re going to draw with it. Then use your finger to slowly outline the shape of a box. This imaginary box will help you focus.
- Once you have mastered this imaginary box, you’re ready. Take a long, slow, deep breath while making the top horizontal stroke of the box. Hold your breath at the corner for two seconds. Then exhale slowly on the down stroke.
- Inhale slowly while tracing the lines of the box back. Exhale at each corner and repeat the process two or three times.
- Now put down your hand and relax. Close your eyes and visualize the box floating in front of you. Keep your mind in the moment.
- Mentally trace the same path along the box’s edges while you perform the same breathing exercises. Forget the past and the future. Focus only on now.
This is a great way to clear your head after hard day at work. Or it could calm you before you give a wedding toast.
To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD, CNS
1. Newman et. al. “Daily hassles and eating behaviour: The role of cortisol reactivity status.” Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2007;32(2):125-132
2. Holt et. al. “Cortisol clearance and associations with insulin sensitivity, body fat and fatty liver in middle-aged men.” Diabetologia 2007;50(5):1024-1032.
3. Yilmaz et al. “Increased Levels of Nitric Oxide, Cortisol and Adrenomedullin in Patients with Chronic Schizophrenia.” Medical Principles and Practice. 2007;16(2):137-141.
4. Wingenfeld et. al. “Overnight urinary cortisol release in women with borderline personality disorder depends on comorbid PTSD and depressive psychopathology.” European Psychiatry. 2007;22(5):309-312.
5. Choi, J., et al. “Reduced Telomerase Activity in Human T Lymphocytes Exposed to Cortisol.” Brain Behav Immun. May 2008. 22(4) 600-605.
6. Carlson, L., et al. “Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery and Supportive-Expressive Therapy Maintain Telomere Length Relative to Controls in Distressed Breast Cancer Survivors.” Cancer. 2014 Nov 3.
7. Stetka, B. “Changing Our DNA Through Mind Control?” Scientific American, December 2014.
8. Lengacher, C. “Influence of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Telomerase Activity in Women with Breast cancer.” Biol Res Nurs. 2014 Oct;16(4):438-47. doi: 10.1177/1099800413519495. Epub 2014 Jan 30.
9. Lavretsky, H. “A Pilot Study of Yogic Meditation for Family Dementia Caregivers With Depressive Symptoms: Effects on Mental Health, Cognition, and Telomerase Activity.” International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Volume 28, Issue 1, pages 57–65, January 2013
10. Hoge, E. “Loving Kindness Mediation Practice Associated With Longer Telomeres in Women.” Brain, Behavior and Immunity; Volume 32, August 2013, Pages 159-163.