I hope you were watching it too. A few days ago an excellent documentary was aired on TV; about the genetic causes of aging, why some people age faster than others, and details of one powerful daily practice that has improved the prognosis for a group of people diagnosed with a potentially life threatening disease.
The program set out to explain why some cells in some life forms are immortal, and yet in humans our cells eventually stop reproducing and die. Turns out that our DNA, the instruction manual for each cell, is arranged in twisted strands and needs clasps on each end to stop it fraying – rather like the clasps at the end of your shoe laces that prevent your laces from fraying.
Most cells eventually die, hopefully after reproducing. One of the reasons they do is a reduction in telomeres, the ‘sealing clasps’ located at the ends of each strand of DNA. With each cell replication, a little less of the telomere is reproduced completely. The result is eventual fraying of your DNA, and the cell dies because it can’t function any more. Some cells can produce telomerase, a substance that rebuilds the sections of telomeres lost. The theory developing is that people who age slower and live longer healthier lives have a better production of telomerase.
It’s not just the aging process that has got scientists interested in the behaviour of telomeres and telomerase. Cancerous cells are unique in that they don’t suffer loss of telomeres, and have no cell lifetime limits as healthy cells do. They have too much telomerase. Clearly, we need a balance – enough telomerase to help cells live as long as they should, but not so much that cells begin to create havoc. Science is still working on this.
Although the science behind aging was the primary focus of the program, the producers also revealed details of a study of the effects on telomeres of specific holistic health practices – meditation and yoga. The subjects of the study had all been diagnosed with potentially life threatening diseases, and chose to engage in holistic health practices of meditation and yoga while the effects on their telomeres were assessed. Not surprisingly (well, not surprising to me, anyway), the subjects made massive gains in their health and in some instances pushed their life threatening disease into remission. Turns out that awareness of your body and tending to it through regular conscious movement like yoga has profound positive impact on your health.
My regular readers are probably rolling their eyes about now, as once again you have to read about what you could be doing to improve your health (but are you doing it?) So I won’t go on – you know that making time in your busy life to stop every day through meditation, prayer, or yoga will have a positive impact on how you feel. End of lecture.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy this article about how to download a free guided meditation for your iPod. It's here