Positive psychological changes that occur during meditation training are associated with increased activity of telomerase, a crucial enzyme responsible for cellular health, according to an important study from the USA. Telomerase is an enzyme that can rebuild and lengthen telomeres, the protective caps of DNA at the end of chromosomes. Telomeres tend to shorten with each cell division and when their length drops below a critical level, the cell can no longer divide properly and eventually dies. Previous studies have suggested that telomerase activity may link psychological stress and physical health, as it is observed to decrease with chronic psychological distress. This new study is a product of the Shamatha Project, one of the first long-term, detailed, matched control-group studies of the effects of intensive meditation training on mind and body. Sixty volunteers attending a three-month meditation retreat were randomised into two groups. Half of the subjects began the retreat, while the remaining half served as the control group. During the retreat, attendees practiced concentration meditation for around six hours a day. Telomerase activity was found to be significantly greater in retreat participants than in controls at the end of the retreat and these increases correlated directly with positive changes in psychological measures including perceived control, neuroticism, mindfulness and purpose in life. (Intensive meditation training, immune cell telomeraseactivity, and psychological. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2010 Oct 29. [Epub ahead of print]).

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