The clock ticks and we age…but do we all age at the same rate? Although chronological aging is measured in units of time, it is becoming evident that biological aging is less predictable. As we age and our cells divide over and over again our telomeres progressively shorten resulting in “aging” of our bodies. We have already discussed in previous posts the fact that shortening of telomeres occurs with age and is correlated with many negative health consequences such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes and more age-related health challenges.
A recent study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology investigated the effects on telemere length of mindfulness meditation and loving-kindness meditation in 142 midlife adults. Half of the participants waited on a waitlist to represent the control group while the other half spent 6-weeks in mindfulness workshops – half in mindful meditation and half in loving kindness meditation.
We might have guessed that all those who meditated showed better outcomes with respect to telomere length but that wasn’t the case – this was only true for those in the loving-kindness group. Those in the mindful meditation group (similar to the control group) showed decreases in telomere length. Those in the study who practiced daily loving-kindness meditation showed no significant telomere shortening over time and significantly less telomere shortening compared to those in the control group.
What was this loving-kindness meditation practice? The researchers supported the participants in their intention to self-cultivate warm and friendly feelings and for the practitioner to practice towards a loved one, oneself, an acquaintance, a difficult person, and all beings. The goal was to direct mindful meditation towards kindness and social connection.
It appears that mindful meditation focusing on attention may have some different mechanisms from loving-kindness meditation. We need to be cautious in our interpretations and more study is needed but perhaps… we are deeply hard-wired to survive through kindness and compassion.
Le Nguyen, K. D., Lin, J., Algoe, S. B., Brantley, M. M., Kim, S. L., Brantley, J., … & Fredrickson, B. L. (2019). Loving-kindness meditation slows biological aging in novices: Evidence from a 12-week randomized controlled trial. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 108, 20-27.