Vacation and Meditation Impact Genes
Both a meditation retreat, and simply relaxing in the same locale, are found to improve stress levels, immunity and other cellular markers.
The "vacation effect" has more long-term benefits than it usually gets credit for. Most people realize how good it feels to get away from the daily grind, the ongoing stressful situations, the pressures of always trying to be more successful, and all the things that put people's bodies into a defensive-like posture. A new study compares the beneficial effects in the same locale of a short-term relaxation vacation versus intensive meditation for those who regularly meditate. Both options clearly improved the level of stress and immune function, and allowed the body to come out of its defensive posture, all of which affected the state of immune system cells.
102 women from age 30 to age 60 were studied. They had their blood tested before, and again after, five days at Carlsbad, California’s La Costa Resort and Spa. About one-third of the women were already signed up to participate in a yoga and meditation retreat. Half of the non-meditators were assigned to the yoga and meditation program, and half were assigned to vacation only. All participants were given a healthy ayurvedic diet, which is considered to be anti-inflammatory. Beside providing blood samples before and after the retreat, the women reported on stress, depression symptoms, mindfulness, and vitality on day five, as well as one month, and 10 months later.
After one week at the resort, participants felt decreased distress and greater vitality, whether they were in the vacation group, or in the intensive yoga and meditation retreat. Psychological wellbeing improved for all three of the groups by day five and one month later. At 10 months, those who meditated during the study had more decrease in stress and depressive symptoms, compared to those who had only been on vacation.
The group in yoga and meditation for the first time showed more sustained well-being, up to one month later. After ten months; the novices maintained their meaningful improvement in depressive symptoms compared with the vacation group. Dr. Eric Schadt, senior author and founding director of Mount Sinai in New York’s Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology, reported that additional changes happened more often in the group that did meditation. This included more effective use and manufacture of proteins. He stated, "There is the potential that these changes could enhance longevity and overall well-being."
Gene expression changes and aging biomarkers in the women's blood samples showed significant improvement for all groups at the conclusion of the retreat, indicating benefits from merely being on vacation. Additionally, the group of women who were already regular meditators had greater activity of telomerase, a key enzyme that repairs and strengthens the tips of chromosomes. Telomeres shorten over time and with age. Vacation and meditation seemed to turn down defense responses, inflammation response and innate immune response, Schadt said.
go.nature.com/2bzoA81 Translational Psychiatry, online August 30, 2016.