Guest post – Can yoga and mediation extend your life?

I invited two amazing women passionate about medicine and science to publish a guest post. This topic sounds very absorbing to me, thus I hope it will be of interest to you!

Ania – a biotechnologist and Doctor of Medicine in a field of medical biology. Marta – a physician and graduate of Medical University in Poznań. Together they create agehless, a science blog, in which they write about the newest concepts on the causes of ageing. They also describe and explain studies showing what helps slowing down this unavoidable (at least until now) process.

Have a look at the plastic ends of your shoestrings. Yes, the aglets prevent strings from breaking up, and this is how scientists try to visualise and explain telomeres – so-called hats at the end of the chromosomes which protect cells from aging [1].

What are the telomeres?

Telomeres shorten every time the cell divides. With each division they become shorter until they reach a certain size, when they cannot protect the cell anymore. When it happens, the cells stop dividing and die in a process called  a p o p t o s I s. They either turn into “zombie” cells (click) or undergo transformation into cancer cells [2].

Elizabeth H. Blackburn, Jack Szostak and Carol Greider were awarded the Nobel Prize for telomere discovery [3].

In recent years it was shown that shorter telomeres frequently coincide with a wide range of age-related diseases – such as cancer, stroke, dementia, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes [4,5].

The speed of telomere shortening may determine the pace in which we age. Scientists regard the length of the telomeres as a credible indication of biological age (in contrary to a metrical age) [6].

The good news is that today we are going to show you the ways of slowing telomere shortening processes to live longer and healthier.

Telomeres and stress

Apart from age and genes having an influence over telomere length, stress is another very important factor affecting them.

Telomeres naturally shorten with age nevertheless, certain habits like stress, smoking, a lack of physical exercise and a diet full of processed foods may speed up this process [7].

Many studies demonstrate a clear relationship between chronic stress and bad health indicators, including increased risk of a cardiovascular disease or immune system suppression. It is known, that psychological stress correlates with higher oxidative stress and lower activity of telomerase – an enzyme which rebuilds the ends of telomeres [8].

For example, stressed people have their telomeres shorter by one decade in comparison to those, who don’t experience high levels of stress. These findings help us to understand how – on the molecular level – stress causes acceleration of aging processes in our bodies [9].

How can we look after telomeres?

We can influence the rate at which our telomeres shorten. It appears that we can protect their ends via meditation practice, yoga and a healthy diet composed of good fats and vegetables.

Many publications are showing the positive impact of an appropriate lifestyle and meditation on health. The study we want to share with you was published in one of the most prestigious medical journals – The Lancet [10].

This work demonstrated that the changes in lifestyle such as healthy diet, physical activity and stress reduction via meditation techniques are effective against telomere shortening, associated with longer telomere length. It was the first published paper showing that human intervention and change of behaviour may lengthen telomeres with time [10].

“Our genes and telomeres are not necessarily our destiny”

  • said the main author of the manuscript – Dean Ornish, an outstanding American heart surgeon from The University of California, San Francisco.

The co-author of this publication is professor Elizabeth H. Blackburn, mentioned before Nobel Prize laureate.

The study took 5 years and examined the relationship between complex changes in lifestyle and telomere length as well as telomerase activity.

Those lifestyle changes included [10]:

  • plant-based diet (rich in whole foods, fruits and vegetables)
  • moderate physical exercise (yoga and walks)
  • stress reduction (yoga-based stretching, meditation and breathing exercises)

In a group of people who changed their lifestyle, it was noted that they telomeres increased in size by 10%. The control group had much shorter telomere ends.

In response to these remarkable and fascinating discoveries, some companies started to offer telomere-length tests. Bear in mind, that even though we are exploring this field, much is still unknown. It is not clear if telomeres are of the same length in all body tissues. Thus the measure of the length of telomeres in our blood cells or saliva may not be a good representation of the whole body, distorting the clinical portrait.

Is it worth to change anything else?

Of course, there are other ways of fighting against telomere shortening. Here are a few scientifically proven and worth remembering tips:

  1. Reduce exposure to air pollutants 

It appears that air pollution has a negative impact on telomere length. It was demonstrated that exposure to lead causes their instability. Changes were also shown in kids living in very polluted environment [11,12].

  • Stay active

One more benefit of physical exercises – they decrease the oxidative stress of our cells and act positively on telomeres.  To comfort you – the telomeres of the people who perform aerobic exercises 3 times a week for 45mins are almost as long as the ones of marathon runners [13].

  • Stay in shape

Obesity leads to telomere shortening [14].

  • Eat healthy fats

One of the studies showed that telomeres shorten slower in people with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids [15,16].

Taking into account the information shown above, it’s worth to plan your day ahead to find some quiet moments when you can relax and focus on your breath. Even a quick 5-minute-long meditation in the middle of the day may calm your nervous system and improve health.

If you can remember to practise yoga regularly and to eat healthily, your telomeres will thank you for it! 🙂


1.Aubert G, Lansdorp P. Telomeres and Aging. Physiol Rev. 2008;88(2):557-579.

2. Sharpless N, DePinho R. Telomeres, stem cells, senescence, and cancer. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2004;113(2):160-168.

3. Blackburn E. Telomeres and Telomerase: The Means to the End (Nobel Lecture). Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 2010;49(41):7405-7421.

4. Blasco M. Telomeres and human disease: ageing, cancer and beyond. Nature Reviews Genetics. 2005;6(8):611-622.

5. Herrmann M, Pusceddu I, März W, Herrmann W. Telomere biology and age-related diseases. Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine (CCLM). 2018;56(8):1210-1222.

6. Sanders J, Newman A. Telomere Length in Epidemiology: A Biomarker of Aging, Age-Related Disease, Both, or Neither?. Epidemiol Rev. 2013;35(1):112-131

7. Huzen J, Wong L, van Veldhuisen D et al. Telomere length loss due to smoking and metabolic traits. J Intern Med. 2013;275(2):155-163.

8. von Zglinicki T. Oxidative stress shortens telomeres. Trends Biochem Sci. 2002;27(7):339-344.

9.Epel E, Blackburn E, Lin J et al. Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2004;101(49):17312-17315.

10. Ornish D, Lin J, Chan J et al. Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study. The Lancet Oncology. 2013;14(11):1112-1120.

11.Pottier G, Viau M, Ricoul M et al. Lead Exposure Induces Telomere Instability in Human Cells. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(6):e67501.

12. Lee E, Lin J, Noth E et al. Traffic-Related Air Pollution and Telomere Length in Children and Adolescents Living in Fresno, CA. J Occup Environ Med. 2017;59(5):446-452.

13. Arsenis N, You T, Ogawa E, Tinsley G, Zuo L. Physical activity and telomere length: Impact of aging and potential mechanisms of action. Oncotarget. 2017;8(27).

14. Kim S, Parks C, DeRoo L et al. Obesity and Weight Gain in Adulthood and Telomere Length. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention. 2009;18(3):816-820.

15. Farzaneh-Far R. Association of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels With Telomeric Aging in Patients With Coronary Heart Disease. JAMA. 2010;303(3):250.  16. Kiecolt-Glaser J, Epel E, Belury M et al. Omega-3 fatty acids, oxidative stress, and leukocyte telomere length: A randomized controlled trial. Brain Behav Immun. 2013;28:16

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