One of my all time favorite Eagles song, "Take It Easy", has a verse that starts like this: "Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona, I'm such a fine sight to see." Well, today, I'm sitting in my office in Tucson, Arizona, reading a book that's interesting to me. I have to try hard, though, to take it easy as I peruse this work. Why? I'm a bit distressed because the book states that aging is a myth.
Just ask someone who has started to age if it's a myth or not. In my experience they'll say "No, it's real." The reason that aging is real is because as time goes by there are definite changes that occur. Many of my patients say that they start noticing a general slowing down from head to toe. They also reveal that they are more easily stressed, have some trouble sleeping, perhaps get depressed more often,and have to work twice as hard to stay fit. Emerging research confirms that as people age, their resiliency, an ability to sustain wellbeing in the face of stress, decreases. With advancing years, you simply don't bounce back as quickly.
Many younger doctors and authors aren't old enough to understand what happens to you as you age. You can only get so much out of a book or even seeing older patients. I think first- hand experience counts. I'm 65 now, and beyond the fact that I'm aging myself, I have been practicing medicine since 1975, first as a general doctor, then as an anesthesiologist and for the past 18 years as a brain longevity specialist. That's a pretty long time, so I've witnessed aging first hand.
Throughout my life I have tried to take care of myself. I'm a life-long exerciser and athlete having played softball and football in school and then, a bit later, tennis. Plus, I've been a gym rat for a rather long time. I've always tried to eat well, too, and have been a vegetarian for over three decades. Moreover, I've taken various vitamins and minerals and newer so called anti-aging nutrients as they became available .
One very helpful habit I've had for over three decades is to practice daily yoga and meditation, which I learned from my spiritual teacher, Yogi Bhajan, master of kundalini and white tantric Yoga. In 1981, I took a spiritual name -- as given to me by my teacher -- started wearing a turban, and let my hair and beard grow to its natural length. My beard is now long, full and white. My daily practice gives me enhanced mental and physical energy, a connection to my spirit and a level of heightened awareness .
Today, more people than ever are becoming interested in doing yoga and meditation. Health-wise, it's a very good idea. The reason is that yoga and meditation help you age better. Here's why: The stress of life accelerates the whole aging process by shortening your telomeres. What's a telomere you might ask? Good question. Telomeres are a simple structure at the end of your chromosomes, not unlike the plastic tip of a shoe lace, that are involved in the maintenance of the optimal health of your genes and your cells. With time, and especially heightened levels of stress, telomeres can shorten. The problem is that short telomeres are associated with many diseases found in older people such as heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's and depression.
I recently attended a very advanced medical conference in Stockholm, Sweden where 2009 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn -- who was awarded the prize for her work on telomere biology -- and her associate, Dr. Ellisa Epel, discussed these very issues. Dr. Epel presented her research on the many stress-relieving benefits of meditation. Her work has shown that meditation lengthens telomeres and improves many aspects of psychological wellbeing (PWB), a critically important aspect of successful aging.
PWB is made up of the following six characteristics:
1. Self Acceptance: You learn to compassionately accept yourself as you are and accept others as they are as well.
2. Self Confidence: You have the perception that you can handle whatever comes your way with strength and grace.
3. Independence: You are not reliant on other's approval and feel you are healthy enough to take care of yourself. You want to live at home and not have to go an assisted living facility, for example, later in life.
4. Personal Growth: You sustain a desire to learn new things and have new experiences. You remain mentally active.
5. Positive Relationships: You surround yourself with people who love and support you and forsake those who don't.
6. Purpose and Mission in Life: You continue to have a reason to live, be it giving back to society or taking care of your children or grandchildren.
Dr. Epel told me personally that meditation is the fastest way to PWB. This is substantiated by emerging medical research. In one recent study, practicing mindfulness meditation for six hours a day, for three months in a retreat setting, increased telomere length and enhanced PWB. In two studies in which I've been involved, one published and one presented in abstract form at the conference in Sweden, it was revealed that PWB can be increased by practicing a simple twelve minute meditation called Kirtan Kriya (KK). Practicing KK for 12 minutes a day, for eight weeks, increased telomere length by 43 percent, which is groundbreaking .
So indeed, aging ain't no myth. Fortunately, however, meditation helps soften the blow and enhances your health and happiness. You'll also enjoy a positive, loving attitude, and greater peace of mind.
And guess what? You'll probably live longer, too. Now that, I like.