Dec. 5, 2012 at 11:27 AM ETBy Mandy Oaklander, Prevention
Do you ever have trouble focusing your attention on--oh look! A new Facebook friend request!
Wait, what were we saying?
Chances are that--like us--you're prone to a wandering mind. In fact, mind meandering takes up about half of our mental time. But a new study in Clinical Psychological Science shows that when our minds stray, our health can take a nosedive.
The University of California, San Francisco study targets telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes. In recent years, the tiny telomere has emerged as a powerful biomarker of aging. They get shorter as you get older, and shorter telomeres at any age predict the early onset of disease and mortality.
To find out if a wandering mind has any impact on telomere length, researchers tested 239 highly educated women over 50 with low stress levels. After taking a bevy of life satisfaction tests and questionnaires, their telomeres were measured. Participants who reported wandering minds tended to have shorter telomeres--by about 200 base pairs, which equals about four years of additional aging.
Why? Turns out a wandering mind isn't as innocent as it seems: Unhappiness appears to be a big driver of mind wandering, the authors find. It's easier to think about something else than focus on what's upsetting you.
The key, then, is coaxing your wayward mind into the present. Here's how, plus more ways to make sure your telomeres remain lean, mean, age-fighting machines:
Just breathe. Being attuned with your own breathing isn't automatic, but with practice, it can calm down a busy mind. A study in the June issue of the journal Emotion found that just eight minutes of mindful breathing drastically reduces mind wandering.
Try yoga and meditation. Is there anything these two can't cure? A 2011 study in Psychoneuroendocrinology found that when people did yogic meditation for just four months, they increased their stores of the enzyme telomerase, which makes telomeres longer. Intensive meditation took even less time: only 3 months. (Learn to breathe like a yogi with our simple guide.)
Find a friend. Your buddies don't just make you feel younger. Telomeres are protected by positive experiences like social connection, according to a study in this month's Social and Personality Psychology Compass. Make sure you've got the 8 Friends Every Woman Needs.
Take fish oil. Studies have shown that popping omega-3 supplements slows the aging process by lengthening telomeres.
Turn off the email. Multitasking dulls our ability to learn and perform tasks well, according to UCLA psychology professor and memory researcher Russell Poldrack, PhD. Get rid of distractions and get a good night's sleep to keep your brain razor-sharp.
Exercise! Research shows that regular exercisers have significantly longer telomeres than couch potatoes. In fact, just 30 minutes a day can make your telomeres look 10 years younger than those of your more sedentary peers. Stay youthful (and break a sweat) with these anti-aging workout ideas.
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