Can You Change Your DNA to Look Younger?

Health Tips: Can you change your DNA to look younger

by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.

Can you change your DNA to look younger?

Did you know that the expression of your genes is modifiable?

The old notion that genes control your life has been replaced by new epigenetic discoveries.

For example, when you put stem cells in a petri dish with the conditions that support muscle growth, the cells evolve into strong contractile muscles. However, if you change the conditions in the petri dish, the same cells can become bone cells, fat cells, and even brain cells!

When you put stem cells in a petri dish with the conditions that support muscle growth, the cells evolve into strong contractile muscles.

I personally find this fascinating. While every one of your cells is genetically identical, their fate is controlled by the conditions around them.

Beyond the petri dish

Today scientists are taking this even further and way beyond the petri dish. They’re exploring the impact of what you eat, drink, breathe and do on your genetic activity.

I think the most unexpected discovery is connected to yoga, meditation, prayer, and mindful breathing. Over one hundred studies found that these activities can also influence your genes and the rate at which you get older.

Perhaps the most notorious study is the one conducted by Harvard a few years ago. When the researchers took blood samples before and after these activities, they noticed that 2,209 genes responsible for the ageing process were turned on or off.

Genes that protect cells against the damage caused by free radicals were turned on. Genes that promote oxidative stress (which accelerates ageing) were turned off.

Curiously, the test subjects practised these relaxing activities for just 20 minutes a day. Some did yoga, others listened to a simple meditation audio. The activity didn’t matter. It’s the underlying mechanism triggered by these activities. Scientists call it the “relaxation response”, which causes decreased oxygen consumption, increased exhaled nitric oxide, and reduced psychological distress.

It sounds very simple to me, yet it can be extremely powerful.

Changing Your Genetic Expression

For years I have been skeptic about the benefits of yoga. But today I know better. Those friends who have meditated or practised yoga for years enjoyed better health not because they’ve been born with “lucky genes” but because they’ve been positively influencing them!

Now that we have solid scientific proof of that yoga, meditation and mindful breathing can slow down the ageing process, I’m all up for it. Even elite athletes use it all the time, especially during their recovery phase.

There is Scientific proof that yoga, meditation and mindful breathing can slow down the ageing process.

Younger, Healthier and Stronger

If you want to learn more, here’s my summary of the Harvard Study. The test subjects were divided into 3 groups:

  • 19 adults were long-term daily practitioners of various Relaxation Response (RR) techniques
  • 20 were trained in RR eliciting techniques (breathing, mindfulness and meditation CDs) for 8 weeks during the study
  • 19 people served as controls (in other words, did nothing and continued living their normal lives).

By analysis of blood samples, the study found that 2,209 genes were differently expressed (switched on or off) between the long-term meditators and control group.

1,275 genes were up-regulated (their activity was increased) and 934 were down-regulated (their activity was reduced) in the long-term meditators group.

It also found that 1,561 genes were expressed differently between the group who did the 8 weeks meditation training (the novice meditators) and the control group. Particularly, 874 were up-regulated and 687 were down-regulated in the 8-week group.

In other words, the Relaxation Response – short or long term – causes hundreds of genes to turn on or off. Many of the “enriched” genes were involved in the body’s response to oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress produces free radicals, promotes a pro-inflammatory response and is known to increase vulnerability to viruses and degenerative diseases like cancer. It also accelerates aging at the cellular level. It shortens telomeres, lowers telomerase activity and decreases anti-oxidant capacity. This is important because, telomerase is an enzyme that can repair the telomeres – the little caps at the end of our chromosomes that protects our DNA. The length of your telomeres indicate how fast you are ageing.

Ideally, you want a good response system to oxidative stress so that you can slow the aging process and prevent other negative effects.

Take action now

You don’t need to become a Buddhist or a Priest either! As you’ve seen from the study, 20 minutes a day would do :-)

Yoga, meditation and mindful breathing can slow down the ageing process.

Here’s the link to the full Harvard study — you can download the PDF for free.

I’d love to hear from you: Have you practised yoga? If so, have you noticed any positive changes?

LEARN MORE:

3 Sneaky Ways Stress Damages Your Health (and Your DNA).


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15 Comments

  • Sarah Eddie

    Reply Reply May 20, 2014

    I’m a yoga teacher and I knew there was something going on but was never able to explain it with all the scientific details. I will be sharing this with all my students, thank you so much!

    By the way the site looks beautiful!

  • Maria

    Reply Reply May 20, 2014

    Just proves how amazing our body is. Which is why it is so important we take care of it.

    Great stuff Alex

    Thanks for sharing

    • Alex

      Reply Reply May 21, 2014

      Maria, couldn’t agree more. We spend money on the BEST fuel for our cars, but it’s our bodies that need to last us a few more decades!

      Love having you here :-)

  • Merilyn Parker

    Reply Reply September 29, 2014

    I have been practising Iyengar yoga now for over 30 years. I started initially to help with arthritis that I had had since my mid twenties. At one point I couldn’t get up the stairs and then I was in my early thirties. I am now 63, look in my mid forties and also dance flamenco semi professionally. I often dance 3 hours a day for weeks at a time when I am in Spain. My flamenco teacher in London also swears by yoga. It seems to help us with stamina and unwind our muscles. I have also meditated regularly for the last 14 or so years and whilst commuting from Bristol to London every day to work in the City I always did a meditation on the way up on the train. Journalling, meditation, yoga and regular dance practise are all part of my regular routine.

  • Tiffany

    Reply Reply November 9, 2014

    This is such an excellent article! I have found yoga to have healed my past hurt through movement and live more in the present. Since I found yoga, I have wanted to share the healing benefits from relaxation, to strengthening the mind and the body with as many people as I can. With the scientific facts to support yoga and meditation, hopefully more people will be exposed to it’s positive impact!

  • Donna

    Reply Reply November 17, 2014

    Since I’ve started Pilates classes I feel great. My classes are only once a week mind, but my body craves that I do more and I look forward to the next lesson. I have such a good nights sleep afterwards and the aches and pains I used to experience at night have greatly reduced. I now do some of the stretches in the morning before work and in the evening when I’m not too tired. I’ve raved about it so much that my colleagues (all 6 of them) have all agreed to join the class. How’s that for a positive impact!

  • Kim

    Reply Reply April 26, 2015

    I have studied Buddhism/meditation for around 20 years, exercise and try to eat correctly. However, through natural progression, I am now a Hypnotherapist. I would be interested to know why Hypnosis wasn’t included in the study. Hypnosis is another form of relaxing, and similarly to Buddhism/meditation, can go into a deep trance state. I do a daily session of around 40 minutes self hypnosis, and I do not think I am looking my age. So it is interesting to read this article, and the benefits of relaxation.

  • Lynda Johnson

    Reply Reply April 27, 2015

    Great article. I have always noticed such a significant change in my mental, emotional and physical well-being when practicing yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, visualisation, massage, breath-work. It makes such a BIG difference to your health. It’s so great though to see some scientific research around this and I agree with Kim it would be great to see more scientific research on the benefits of hypnosis on the mind, body and soul.

  • Kim

    Reply Reply April 29, 2015

    Thank you Maria and Lynda for your support on this. This is certainly fascinating research and will prove beneficial to my clients in the future.

  • Nick

    Reply Reply August 9, 2015

    I practiced yoga for 8 months on and off. It was Hot Yoga and mostly power classes – I would drip in sweat! I found it physically challenging as my flexibility isn’t that of a dancer, but besides the physical side I found 3 distinctive mental aspects that I have never experienced before.

    The first mental aspect was getting frustrated, angry and confused as I either became slowly worn out physically and couldn’t hold postures or I was unable to do certain postures do to the lack of flexibility (hamstrings!).

    The second was at the end of class for that 5-10min relaxing/cooling down time I felt as though I was literally calm and so comfortable just lying on the floor with other strangers around me.

    The third thing I found was that I actually found it mentally clearing to be told what to do for an hour, instead of really thinking. Right foot forward, left hand up etc.

    I think its a lot to do with the mood set and flow taught by the teacher.

    I don’t know if its benefitted me at all, probably because I didn’t practice consistently.

  • Ruth McQueen

    Reply Reply January 21, 2016

    I am a Hypnotherapist and am so pleased to see this article. Hypnotherapy is synonomous with yoga, meditation and mindfulness in that it promotes relaxation and better breathing. I cannot emphasize enough to my clients how important their breathing is for relieving stress and improving their psychological well-being.

  • Georgina

    Reply Reply January 21, 2016

    I found this article very interesting, thanks for sharing, recently started up pilates again, I’ll get plenty of relaxation response exercise there!

  • Debby Green

    Reply Reply January 30, 2016

    I find that doing 1/2 hour – 1 hour of yoga (from my own memory, or by using a programme saved on my Sky Planner or DVD, really helps me to relax and breathe away tension. I have recently began again as I could not book a massage for neck tension, which was causing continuing headaches. I am pleased to say that, with yoga and walking in the fresh air and swimming, that I have managed to manage this myself and the tension is much reduced and my headaches have stopped!

  • Gabriela

    Reply Reply April 22, 2016

    I bought a great book by Emma Seppala called The Happiness Track and in this read she talks about just simple slow deep abdominal breathing will do it. Paraphrased: it will naturally trigger the parasympathetic nervous system activation and your body has no choice but to calm itself physically and the mind follows shortly. Yoga and meditations promote deep and slow breathing and calmness, but you can achieve a state of calm is what this author argues without going to a yoga class by simply being aware of your breathing patterns in the moment. I thought this was great especially if your work environment is stressful. It works well for me. Definitely going to recommend this to my clients.

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