Did you know that the expression of your genes is modifiable?
The old notion that genes control your life has been replaced by new epigenetic discoveries. For example, when you put stem cells in a petri dish with the conditions that support muscle growth, the cells evolve into strong contractile muscles. However, if you change the conditions in the petri dish, the same cells can become bone cells, fat cells, and even brain cells! When you put stem cells in a petri dish with the conditions that support muscle growth, the cells evolve into strong contractile muscles. I personally find this fascinating. While every one of your cells is genetically identical, their fate is controlled by the conditions around them.
Beyond the petri dish
Today scientists are taking this even further and way beyond the petri dish. They’re exploring the impact of what you eat, drink, breathe and do on your genetic activity. I think the most unexpected discovery is connected to yoga, meditation, prayer, and mindful breathing. Over one hundred studies found that these activities can also influence your genes and the rate at which you get older. Perhaps the most notorious study is the one conducted by Harvard a few years ago. When the researchers took blood samples before and after these activities, they noticed that 2,209 genes responsible for the ageing process were turned on or off.
Genes that protect cells against the damage caused by free radicals were turned on. Genes that promote oxidative stress (which accelerates ageing) were turned off.
Curiously, the test subjects practised these relaxing activities for just 20 minutes a day. Some did yoga, others listened to a simple meditation audio. The activity didn’t matter. It’s the underlying mechanism triggered by these activities. Scientists call it the “relaxation response”, which causes decreased oxygen consumption, increased exhaled nitric oxide, and reduced psychological distress. It sounds very simple to me, yet it can be extremely powerful.
Changing Your Genetic Expression
For years I have been skeptic about the benefits of yoga. But today I know better. Those friends who have meditated or practised yoga for years enjoyed better health not because they’ve been born with “lucky genes” but because they’ve been positively influencing them!
Now that we have solid scientific proof of that yoga, meditation and mindful breathing can slow down the ageing process, I’m all up for it. Even elite athletes use it all the time, especially during their recovery phase.
There is Scientific proof that yoga, meditation and mindful breathing can slow down the ageing process.
Younger, Healthier and Stronger
If you want to learn more, here’s my summary of the Harvard Study. The test subjects were divided into 3 groups:
19 adults were long-term daily practitioners of various Relaxation Response (RR) techniques 20 were trained in RR eliciting techniques (breathing, mindfulness and meditation CDs) for 8 weeks during the study 19 people served as controls (in other words, did nothing and continued living their normal lives).
By analysis of blood samples, the study found that 2,209 genes were differently expressed (switched on or off) between the long-term meditators and control group.
1,275 genes were up-regulated (their activity was increased) and 934 were down-regulated (their activity was reduced) in the long-term meditators group.
It also found that 1,561 genes were expressed differently between the group who did the 8 weeks meditation training (the novice meditators) and the control group. Particularly, 874 were up-regulated and 687 were down-regulated in the 8-week group.
In other words, the Relaxation Response – short or long term – causes hundreds of genes to turn on or off. Many of the “enriched” genes were involved in the body’s response to oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress produces free radicals, promotes a pro-inflammatory response and is known to increase vulnerability to viruses and degenerative diseases like cancer. It also accelerates aging at the cellular level. It shortens telomeres, lowers telomerase activity and decreases anti-oxidant capacity. This is important because, telomerase is an enzyme that can repair the telomeres – the little caps at the end of our chromosomes that protects our DNA. The length of your telomeres indicate how fast you are ageing.
Ideally, you want a good response system to oxidative stress so that you can slow the aging process and prevent other negative effects.
Take action now
You don’t need to become a Buddhist or a Priest either! As you’ve seen from the study, 20 minutes a day would do Yoga, meditation and mindful breathing can slow down the ageing process.
Here’s the link to the full Harvard study — you can download the PDF for free. I’d love to hear from you: Have you practised yoga? If so, have you noticed any positive changes?