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Monday Musings: Meditation for Life Extension and the Twinkie Guy

Posted By Mark Sisson On November 15, 2010 @ 11:01 am In Diet,Research Analysis,Stress | 77 Comments

Upfront disclaimer: stress is my big issue. I have most everything about my life pretty well dialed in, but I just don’t handle stress the way I probably should (or the way I tell other people they should).

Most people have the vague notion that meditation is good, usually in a psychological, somehow “not physical” manner. It reduces stress [7]. It’s relaxing [8]. Well, these emotional mindstates have physical or neurological corollaries. You aren’t “just stressed,” as if stress is some concept floating there independent of physiology. Chemicals and hormones induce these states, and meditation can affect their secretion and production.

There’s also compelling evidence for the negating effect of meditation on certain marks of aging. This study [9] found that, when compared to controls, trained Buddhist meditators had enhanced cortical thickness. Older meditation [10] experts displayed the most dramatic differences, suggesting that “meditation might offset age-related cortical thinning.” A new study digs even deeper [11]. Subjects spent three months at a meditation retreat under the tutelage of a Buddhist scholar. It was a particularly intensive retreat – participants attended two group meditative sessions and spent six hours in individual practice, daily. Control subjects were matched for age, sex, education, ethnicity, and meditation experience but did no actual meditating for the duration of the study.

Researchers were looking at telomerase levels. Telomeres are chains of DNA sitting at the end of chromosomes. They act like built up genetic material for cell division. As the cell divides, the telomeres shorten. If the telomeres grow too short, the cell cannot divide and eventually dies. This is the inevitable result of time passage, or aging. Telomerase is an enzyme that rebuilds and even lengthens telomeres, and its deficit has been linked to age related degradation. In addition to displaying greater psychological health, reduced stress, a better outlook on life, decreased neuroticism, and “perceived control” over one’s life [12], meditation subjects had significantly increased levels of telomerase activity in their white blood cells – about 1/3 more than the control group.

Statistical modeling shows that the increase in telomerase activity was most strongly linked with decreased neuroticism (racing, stressful thought patterns) and increased perceived control (calm, measured outlook on life). Simply put, meditation gives you greater control over your thoughts, and being in control of your mind seems to result in increased telomerase activity and – potentially – longer, stronger, better-fortified telomeres that can hold off the aging process a bit longer.

If current hunter-gatherers are anything to go on, our ancestors probably had plenty of free time to play, relax, ruminate, and simply be [13]. I’m speculating, but it could be said that their daily existences were largely spent in what we would recognize as the “meditative” state. I don’t think they were necessarily formally meditating, but they simply had far less BS to deal with. And isn’t that what modern meditation tries to obviate? Today, people go on meditation retreats to restore balance, to get away from it all, to escape the endless internal ramblings that are our modern brains. Meditation is likely a Neolithic tool forged in response to the unnaturally abundant stressors we face in modern society. I happen to think it’s one of the better ones, along with butter, barbells, and computers. Now, knowing all this, do I personally find time to actively meditate? Nope. Gotta work on that one…

The Twinkie Guy

This has been covered to death. Stephan covered it [14]. Richard [15] and Don [16] both did, too. There’s not much to add, but I’ll throw my two cents in.

- The guy did this for three months. Try doing it for life and see where it gets you. Even if the results were maintained for years, keeping the calories low and eating Twinkies for life would be torturous. Hell, during the Irish potato famine, people lived on seaweed and shoe leather for months at a time (carbs and fiber). I’m sure they lost weight, too. Doesn’t mean that’s the secret.

- When you’re on a mission to prove something (and boost your academic reputation and perhaps garner a bit of extra funding), doing the impossible becomes a whole lot easier. It’s human to rise to the occasion. He had the weight of media scrutiny and the desire to prove a point snapping at his heels; the hunger and cravings were secondary to that, and temporary. There was an end in sight. The unemployed single father with life’s boot tripping him up at every turn might not be able to resist his body’s cry for more calories and more Twinkies. And he won’t have things nicely and neatly wrapped up after three months, with plenty of media coverage.

Let me know what you think in the comment board. Do you find time to meditate? Are you ditching Primal to go Twinkie? Thanks for reading, everyone.


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[8] relaxing: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/relaxation-response/

[9] study: http://www.neuroreport.com/pt/re/neuroreport/abstract.00001756-200511280-00005.htm;jsessionid=HgDWb143Py462yYNlJN0cSNlZ6qWcsQcxD01JF4hJCpLNX402gxn!-1013551081!181195628!8091!-1

[10] meditation: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/transcendental-meditation/

[11] new study digs even deeper: http://www.news.ucdavis.edu/search/news_detail.lasso?id=9669

[12] “perceived control” over one’s life: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/empowering-poses/

[13] our ancestors probably had plenty of free time to play, relax, ruminate, and simply be: http://www.marksdailyapple.com/hunter-gatherer-leisure-time/

[14] Stephan covered it: http://wholehealthsource.blogspot.com/2010/11/twinkie-diet-for-fat-loss.html

[15] Richard: http://freetheanimal.com/2010/11/links-quick-hits-8.html

[16] Don: http://donmatesz.blogspot.com/2010/11/twinkie-diet-paleo-dieter-perspective.html

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