For the first time, scientists have found clear biological evidence that meditation and support groups can affect us on a cellular level.
Now researchers in Canada have found the first evidence to suggest that support groups that encourage meditation and yoga can actually alter the cellular activity of cancer survivors.
As part of the research, 88 breast cancer survivors who had completed their treatment more than three months ago were monitored. The average age of the participants was 55, and to be eligible to participate in the study they all had to have experienced significant levels of emotional distress.
They were separated into three groups – one was asked to attend eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instructions on mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga. These participants were asked to practice meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes daily. The second group met up for 90 minutes each week for the three months, and were encouraged to talk openly about their concerns and feelings. The third control group simply attended one six-hour stress management seminar.
Before and after the study, all participants had their blood analysed and their telomere length measured.
Both groups who attended the support groups had maintained their telomere length over the three-month period, while the telomeres of the third group had shortened. The two groups who’d attended the regular meetings also reported lower stress levels and better moods.
Although this is pretty exciting research, it’s still not known whether these benefits will be long-term or what’s causing this biological effect. Further research is now needed to find out whether these results are replicable across a larger number of participants, and what they mean for our health long-term.