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Thinking Ahead: New Research Shows How Thoughts Influence Aging


shoelaces photo

The tip of a shoelace or drawstring around your shorts is called an aglet. If you’ve ever had the unfortunate experience of having the aglet disintegrate or come off, you’ll notice that the shoelace or drawstring unravels. Understanding how vital this aglet is in keeping the string together helps us understand the fundamental issue taking place when we age.  We don’t have shoelaces inside our bodies, but we do have DNA strands that copy themselves in the aging process. At the end of these strands are telomeres.  They protect our chromosomes the same way the aglet protects our shoelace.

Every time one of our cells copies itself, the DNA stays intact because of the telomeres.  As we age, these telomeres shorten and eventually become ineffective in holding the cells together.  This is when the signs of aging occur.  As telomere length shortens, the cells don’t replicate well.  When this happens, cells can’t do their job, we age, and then contract diseases.

In 2009, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase.”

Our cells become old and die due to the shortening of chromosomal telomeres.  They’ve worn down to the point they can no longer protect our DNA.  Some cells can reverse telomere shortening.  They do this through an enzyme known as telomerase, which extends the telomeres of chromosomes. The research seems very clear that the decomposition of telomere length in each of our cells causes the aging process. Understanding what influences telomerase and other epigenetic effects on telomeres are the key to anti-aging.  Since not everyone ages at the same rate, it implies that some of us generate more telomerase and other effects to maintain the length of their telomeres.  What is it that they do to slow the aging of their cells?  Scientists are continually comparing those with preserved telomere length to those whose length keeps deteriorating.

The 2017 book, The telomere effect: a revolutionary approach to living younger, healthier, longer, Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel offer a great many ideas of what can contribute to telomere maintenance.  In particular, they identify the harmful effects of stress and rumination on telomere length and healthy suggestions for cultivating resilient thought patterns and other essential ways to increase well-being.  They make a convincing point that our cells are listening to our thoughts.

A new study reveals that managing your thoughts may, indeed, be the most direct way to influence your telomeres’ length. The study led by Maite Mendioroz, of the Neuroepigenetics Laboratory, Navarrabiomed Biomedical Research Center in Spain, compared long-term mindfulness meditators to a control group of non-meditators on DNA methylation, another aspect involved in telomere maintenance.

The 17 long-term male and female meditators had to have at least ten years of daily 60-minute meditation sessions under their belt to be included in the study.  They were matched and compared to controls who had no meditation experience.  In this cross-sectional study (measuring participants at their different ages at the time of the research), it was demonstrated that the controls showed the expected inverse relationship between their age and telomere length.  However, the researchers made a powerful discovery. “Notably, age showed no association with telomere length in the group of long-term meditators.”

Wow. Meditation lessened aging. The meditators also scored high on satisfaction with life, happiness, resilience, and lower on such measures as avoidance, anxiety, and depression.  The direct management of their thought process through mindfully suspending self-judgment and increasing curiosity about their mind improved their well-being and directly slowed their cellular aging.

We can activate hope for a better life physically and mentally by curbing ruminating thoughts of anxiety and negativity.   Through non-judgemental kind and curious thinking, the long-term meditators in this study show us the best way to affect our overall well-being may come from managing our thoughts.

But we don’t have to meditate an hour a day for ten years to get results.  In studying high hope people, I’ve found that they move toward uncertainty and negativity by seeing the situation as a challenge or opportunity.  They see possibilities, whereas low hope individuals ruminate about what is wrong.  You have choice and control over your thoughts. Every time you can catch yourself thinking, ask if these thoughts are for your mental health and well-being.  If they are, then keep them.  If not —remember, your cells are listening.

Sources

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2009. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020. Sat. 25 Jul 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/2009/summary/>

Mendioroz, M., Puebla-Guedea, M., Montero-Marín, J., Urdánoz-Casado, A., Blanco-Luquin, I., Roldán, M., … & García-Campayo, J. (2020). Telomere length correlates with subtelomeric DNA methylation in long-term mindfulness practitioners. Scientific reports, 10(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-61241-6

Blackburn, E., & Epel, E. (2017). The telomere effect: a revolutionary approach to living younger, healthier, longer. Hachette UK.

 

Photo by joelogon

Photo by joelogon

Photo by joelogon

Photo by joelogon

Photo by joelogon

Thinking Ahead: New Research Shows How Thoughts Influence Aging


Dr. Dan Tomasulo

Honored by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers on the issue of depression Dr. Dan Tomasulo, Ph.D., TEP, MFA, MAPP is a core faculty member at the Spirituality Mind Body Institute (SMBI), Teachers College, Columbia University, and holds a Ph.D. in psychology, MFA in writing, and Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.

He authors the daily column, Ask the Therapist, for PsychCentral.com, and developed the Dare to be Happy experiential workshops for Kripalu. His award-winning memoir, American Snake Pit was released in 2018, and his next book, Learned Hopefulness, The Power of Positivity To Overcome Depression, is hailed as: “…the perfect recipe for fulfillment, joy, peace, and expansion of awareness.” by Deepak Chopra, MD: Author of Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential.

Learn more about Dr. Dan at his website.


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APA Reference
Tomasulo, D. (2020). Thinking Ahead: New Research Shows How Thoughts Influence Aging. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 20, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/learned-hopefulness/2020/07/thinking-ahead-new-research-shows-how-thoughts-influence-aging/

 

Last updated: 27 Jul 2020
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