Loneliness, especially as you age, can lead to an array of health problems, including heart disease and depression. But researchers are investigating how meditation makes changes in the immune system that may fend off these illnesses.
When scientists at the University of California at Los Angeles offered elderly adults a simple eight-week meditation program, they found that it changed the signs of inflammation circulating in their blood.
In the new study, published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, the researchers found that the program of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) — which teaches how to focus on the present as opposed to dwelling on the past or projecting the future — was a great way to reduce loneliness. More impressively, the researchers found that the technique also altered the expression of inflammation-producing genes linked to heart disease risk.
“Our work presents the first evidence showing that a psychological intervention that decreases loneliness also reduces pro-inflammatory gene expression,” says senior study author Steve Cole, a UCLA professor of medicine and psychiatry. “If this is borne out by further research, MBSR could be a valuable tool to improve the quality of life for many elderly.”
The meditation program in the study included weekly two-hour meetings that taught meditation technique, a single day-long retreat and daily meditation for 30 minutes. The researchers believe that other meditative exercises like yoga and tai chi can also produce significant benefits.