As a member of the baby boomer generation and a long time meditator, I have had the opportunity to experience, first hand, the long and the short term benefits of meditation on my wellbeing. The best known of these benefits is stress reduction, but as we pass midlife, meditation becomes so much more than a simple stress reduction practice and instead can become an important part of our overall health regiment.
Let’s face it, if you’re a baby boomer then you know you’ve started to slow down in the last few years, and while aging doesn’t have to be accompanied by, any health issues, depression, or the loss of desire, ambition and joy, however, it often is.
We know that to enjoy the latter half of our lives we need to take care of ourselves, and how important it is to be physically active and eat right. And now it’s becoming increasingly evident, the third key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and aging successfully, is meditation.
The only true measure of our age is found by measuring our bio-markers. Because we don’t all age at the same rate, three different measures of age have used to describe the aging process. The first is chronological, simply the number of our birthday’s. Second, and closer to our ‘real’ age, is our biological age, a measurement of the functioning of our physiological systems in comparison to the average of the same aged population, and the final type of measurement are the biomarkers of age based on all our different biochemical and physiological measurements and then compared to the group averages of all ages.
One of the more recent findings, regarding meditation and aging, has to do with a simple structure at the end of our chromosomes, the telomeres, which help maintain the optimal health of our cells and genes.
In his article, “Why Aging ain’t no Myth,” Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. spoke with Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn (who was awarded the prize for her work on telomere biology), along with her associate, Dr. Ellisa Epel, about the issue of the benefits of meditation and the lengthening of telomeres and the improvement of “many aspects of psychological wellbeing (PWB), a critically important aspect of successful aging.”
PWB is made up of the following six characteristics:
1. Self-Acceptance: You learn to compassionately accept yourself as you are and accept others as they are as well.
2. Self Confidence: You have the perception that you can handle whatever comes your way with strength and grace.
3. Independence: You are not reliant on other’s approval and feel you are healthy enough to take care of yourself. You want to live at home and not have to go an assisted living facility, for example, later in life.
4. Personal Growth: You sustain a desire to learn new things and have new experiences. You remain mentally active.
5. Positive Relationships: You surround yourself with people who love and support you and forsake those who don’t.
6. Purpose and Mission in Life: You continue to have a reason to live, be it giving back to society or taking care of your children or grandchildren.” Read more…
In an earlier study the way older adults defined, for themselves, successful aging (which was considered a critical component for well-being) was in alignment with the six characteristics psychological wellbeing offered by Dr. Epel.
According to the study published in “The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry,” defining healthy aging from the perspective of the older adults would only enhance an understanding of the correlations between self-rated criteria and researcher-defined criteria which could lead to development of a valid and reliable model for successful aging.”
Dr. Epel told Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, “that meditation is the fastest way to PWB. This is substantiated by emerging medical research. In one recent study, practicing mindfulness meditation for six hoursa day, for three months in a retreat setting, increased telomere length and enhanced PWB. In two studies in which I’ve been involved, one published and one presented in abstract form at the conference in Sweden, it was revealed that PWB can be increased by practicing a simple twelve minute meditation called Kirtan Kriya (KK). Practicing KKfor 12 minutes a day, for eight weeks, increased telomere length by 43 percent, which is groundbreaking.”
Another benefit of a regular meditation practice is improved cognitive function, and because there are such a large number of us in baby boomer generation the numbers who are thought to suffer from cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) will be proportionally large.
A study published in the “Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease,” tested meditation’s effects on cognitive function and cerebral blood flow in people exhibiting memory loss. The results showed a “number of significant changes in the preprogram baseline and the post program baseline scans in the” group practicing a specific type of meditation. In a low cost meditation practice practiced for only 12 minutes a day over an eight week period showed “positive results in both functional neuroimaging changes as well as an improvement in cognitive function in people with memory loss…”
In the end those who practiced meditation regularly, even for short periods of time, on measures of associative learning, cognitive skills, mental health, and aging, fare much better than those who don’t. So if you meditate, not only will you live longer, but you will think clearer, you will be less likely to suffer from depression and will feel a greater sense of joy and well-being.