Relatively short telomere length may serve as a marker of accelerated aging, and shorter telomeres have been linked to chronic stress. Specific lifestyle behaviors that can mitigate the effects of stress might be associated with longer telomere lengths. Previous research suggests a link between behaviors that focus on the well-being of others, such as volunteering and caregiving, and overall health and longevity. We examined relative telomere length in a group of individuals experienced in Loving-Kindness Meditation (LKM), a practice derived from the Buddhist tradition which utilizes a focus on unselfish kindness and warmth towards all people, and control participants who had done no meditation. Blood was collected by venipuncture, and Genomic DNA was extracted from peripheral blood leukocytes. Quantitative real time PCR was used to measure relative telomere length (RTL) (Cawthon, 2002) in fifteen LKM practitioners and 22 control participants. There were no significant differences in age, gender, race, education, or exposure to trauma, but the control group had a higher mean body mass index (BMI) and lower rates of past depression. The LKM practitioners had longer RTL than controls at the trend level (p=.083); among women, the LKM practitioners had significantly longer RTL than controls, (p=.007), which remained significant even after controlling for BMI and past depression. Although limited by small sample size, these results offer the intriguing possibility that LKM practice, especially in women, might alter RTL, a biomarker associated with longevity.
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