New research shows that mind-body rituals and exercises do more than just help you relax, they may actually boost your health by changing your DNA.
A new review of studies of more than 800 people, over 11 years, showed that the consistent practice of one of three mind-body practices—yoga, meditation, or tai chi—changed people’s body’s at the molecular level. The study shows that our genes can actually be affected by what most people simply think of as exercise or a relaxation strategy.
Experts from the universities of Coventry and Radboud analyzed 18 studies and found that pattern of molecular changes that may benefit mental and physical health occur when people engage in mind-body exercises like those cited here.
It seems that yoga, tai chi and meditation change how genes produce proteins that, in turn, influence the functioning of your body, your brain and your immune system. The key is that they change the way your system responds to stress.
Reducing the Impact of the Stress Response
Negative stressors make us ill because when we endure a stressful event, our sympathetic nervous system springs into action and triggers the “fight-or-flight” or stress response — your body’s ancient defense mechanism against perceived threats of any kind. The stress response kicks off a cascade of events that include production of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB) which tells our genes how to respond. NF-kB cues the genes to release proteins call cytokines that cause inflammation.
If you are in danger, the temporary, stress-induced flash of inflammation may be a helpful part of helping you flee, but chronic inflammation leads to an increased risk for cancer or heart disease and speeds the aging process. For black women, that also means inflammation raises our already disproportionately high risks of heart attack, stroke and late-life dementia.
The study revealed that yoga, meditation and tai chi worked to cool this internal fire by reversing the production of the pro-inflammatory NF-kB cytokines, lowering the levels of inflammation and the related risks of illness.
Before you say you can’t possibly find time to add even 20 minutes of yoga or meditation to your day, consider this—mind-body practices may give you your own built-in defense against the negative effects of stress.
Even if you’ve never attempted a yoga pose or even five minutes of deep breathing, it’s easy to get started. Try these resources:
Stress is an unavoidable part of life, but this new research suggests that we have the power to prevent it from harming our health and wellbeing.