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The impact of yoga and meditation on cellular aging

in healthy individuals.  Exploratory study.




Source: Madhuri Tolahunase, Rajesh Sagar, and Rima Dada

Laboratory of Reproduction and Molecular Genetics, Department of Anatomy, Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, India

Department of Psychiatry, Indian Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, India.




1. Introduction

Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in complex lifestyle diseases such as depression, diabetes 2 (DM), cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer and infertility.

These diseases are strongly associated with accelerated cellular aging [1, 2] and have become the scourge of modern society [3-5]. Although we don't have a gold standard

bio-marker to monitor healthy aging, putative bio-markers, the cardinal bio-markers of cellular aging as well as metabotophical bio-markers, based on current knowledge, have become the object of the latest research intended to develop interventions to prevent chronic lifestyle diseases.  


Cardinal biomarkers of cellular aging include DNA damage, telomere length attrition, and oxidative stress (OS) [7]. DNA damage results in genomic instability responsible for cellular dysfunctions in pathogenic lifestyle diseases [8-10]. bone is the most important cause of DNA damage. Although many different oxidative DNA damages (ODDs) have been identified, a highly mutagenic DNA oxidant has been extensively studied and is a biomarker of DNA damage [11]. Telomere attrition is due to altered telomere metabolism resulting in decreased telomerase, enzyme activity, and OS. It contributes to genomic instability and is associated with aging and lifestyle diseases.  


Oxidative stress, an imbalance between pro-oxidants and antioxidant defensive mechanisms, becomes pathological at both extremes of the physiological range necessary for normal cellular functions. It is implicated in complex lifestyle pathology and chronic diseases [13], including depression [14], obesity [15], and infertility [16, 17], major public health issues . Several metabotropic blood biomarkers influencing aging include biomarkers of stress and inflammatory response, neuroplasticity and longevity.  




The continuous stress response due to chronic stress stimuli constantly causes

an increase in cortisol levels [18], which leads to systemic tissue abnormalities

such as increased adiposity and neuro-degeneration.


The level of stress reactivity (cortisol level) can be a biomarker to predict susceptibility to lifestyle diseases [19]. Accelerated aging is also characterized by chronic inflammation. Inflammation is a very important risk factor for most chronic lifelong diseases [20] and is a potentially modifiable target [21].  


IL-6 is the most important cytokine in inflammation and is both a marker of inflammatory status and a hallmark of chronic morbidity [22]. Impaired neuroplasticity due to accelerated aging can have a negative influence throughout life [23].  


BDNF is a major regulator of neuroplasticity [24], which can be increased in specific regions of the brain by various interventions [25]. The duration of health and longevity are influenced by several factors.


Sirtuin-1 (SIRT1), a histone deacetylase (HDAC), is important among them and has recently become a target for various interventions [26]. It systematically influences

nutrition and energy metabolism and has a central role in circadian rhythm, stress adaptation [27] and neuronal plasticity [28].


Various interventions have been studied [29, 30] to determine their influence on preventing lifestyle diseases and promoting health and longevity.

These interventions include physical exercise [31], nutrition, caloric restriction [32], and taking antioxidants [33]. modern lifestyle complex diseases, and provide comprehensive benefits to delay or reverse accelerated aging.  


Therefore, further research is needed to find optimal interventions for populations at risk for lifestyle diseases. Yoga is a discipline, which can positively alter the body and the mind [34] and has already been used to improve the clinical profile of patients with various pathologies [35] including depression, obesity,

hypertension, asthma, type II diabetes and cancer.


The present study was designed to assess the impact of a yoga and meditation-based intervention (YMLI) on lifestyle, cellular aging and longevity, by analyzing cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers in blood. in participants (healthy subjects).



2. Materials and methods

2.1. Study design and participants. 

94 healthy people were enrolled in this prospective 12-week (year 2015) program designed to explore the impact of YMLI on cellular aging. The main inclusion criteria were: being a man or a woman between the ages of 30 and 65, leading an unhealthy modern lifestyle. Key exclusion criteria were: inability to perform yoga postures due to physical defects, or having recent lifestyle changes within the last 3 months. The study was initiated after ethical clearance (ESC/T-370/22-07-2015) and registration of the trial in Clinical Trial Registry of India (CTRI REF/2014/09/007532).


2.2. Procedure

2.2.1. Lifestyle intervention using Yoga and Meditation (Yoga and Meditation Based Life style Intervention = YMLI). 

Eligible subjects were included in the study once their baseline characteristics were recorded. Participants underwent a pre-tested, 12-week YMLI program that included theory and practice sessions [42, 43]. YMLI is designed to be an integral health strategy incorporating the classic components of yoga, including Asanas (physical postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), and Dhayna (Meditation) which are derived from a blend of Hatha Yoga and Raja. Yoga.


The YMLI for the current study has been modified appropriately for apparently healthy subjects. The YMLI program consisted of sessions 5 days a week for 12 weeks. For the first two weeks, sessions were held at the Integrated Health Clinic (IHC), AIIMS, New Delhi, and taught by specialist yoga instructors (educational qualifications include Bachelor of Naturopathy, Yoga Science and PG Diploma in yoga therapy).


The remaining 10 weeks the practice was carried out "  at home  ". The monitoring of the compliance of the YMLI practice was carried out through the maintenance of a telephone contact and the follow-up of personal agenda. Details of the activities during the YMLI program are given in Table 1.  



Each session in YMLI includes a set of Asanas (physical postures), Pranayama (breathing exercises), and Dhayna (Meditation) for approximately 90 minutes. This was followed by a 30-minute interactive lecture (during the first two weeks of YMLI at IHC only) on lifestyle, lifestyle-related diseases and the importance of prevention.

The details of the practice:

2.2.2. Laboratory procedures. 

During this 12-week study, participants were assessed for various biomarkers from day 1 through week 12. Fasting venous blood samples (5 mL) were collected and split into two parts.


2.2.3. The aims of the study

The primary endpoint was to assess the change in levels of cardinal biomarkers of cellular aging from baseline (day 1)  at week 12.


2.3. Statistical analysis. Data were analyzed using SPSS 20 (IBM Corp, Armonk, NY).


Here are the test results:  

And here are the transcripts of the measured features.  


8-OH2dG (or 8-oxo-2'-deoxyguanosine): is the predominant form of free radical DNA damage. The measurement of its concentration makes it possible in particular to monitor the effectiveness of certain antioxidants. 

ROS (Reactive oxygen species, in English reactive oxygen species, ROS): Their concentration can however increase significantly in times of stress - under the effect of heat or exposure to ultraviolet rays for example - and damage cellular structures, what is called oxidative stress.

TAC (Total Antioxidant Capacity) 

Telomerase : is an enzyme which, during DNA replication in eukaryotes, helps maintain the length of the chromosome by adding a specific structure to each end: the telomere.  


Telomere : is a highly repetitive region, therefore a priori non-coding, of DNA at the end of a chromosome. Each time a rod chromosome of a eukaryote is replicated, during replication, which precedes mitosis (cell division), the DNA polymerase enzyme complex proves unable to copy the last nucleotides: the absence of a telomere would mean the rapid loss of genetic information necessary for cell function.


Cortisol : is a steroid hormone. A true metabolic initiator and regulator, this adrenocortical hormone stimulates the increase in blood glucose; it therefore releases energy from the body's reserves. It is also produced during stress. Prolonged influence (chronic stress) can lead to risks on many systems: cardiovascular, skeleton, kidneys, organs, fertilization, skin, etc.  


IL-6, or interleukin 6 , is a key cytokine in the regulation of acute and chronic inflammation. Acts as a messenger between the cells involved in this process. An overproduction of interleukin 6 causes the inflammation and joint damage associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

Sirtuin-1 is a human enzyme protein that is part of the tumor suppressor genes. It is involved in different processes: inflammation, energy restriction, mitochondria biogenesis, resistance to stress, etc.



3. Results

The flowchart of participation details is provided in Table 2. 94 subjects were assessed.

After 12 weeks of YMLI, there was a significant improvement in both cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cell aging compared to baseline values (Table 2). Mean 8-OH2dG and ROS levels were significantly lower, and

mean levels of TAC activity and telomerase were significantly increased (all 𝑝 values < 0.05).  


The mean level of telomere length was increased but the finding was not significant (𝑝 = 0.069). Cortisol and IL-6 levels in Tehran were significantly lower, and mean β-endorphin, BDNF, and sirtuin-1 levels were significantly increased (all 𝑝 values < 0.05).


Few differences were noted in the subgroup on a gender analysis. Only the male subgroup showed a significant decrease in IL-6 levels and a greater reduction in cortisol levels (males 0.00 = 0.001; females 𝑝 = 0.036). After 12 weeks of

YMLI, we also noted a significant reduction in BMI (𝑝<0.01).


4. Discussion

The results of this study highlight the positive impact of YMLI on biomarkers of cellular aging and in promoting cellular longevity through changes in both cardinal markers and metabotrophic biomarkers. The results suggest that the impact is produced by improved genomic stability, telomere metabolism, balance of cellular stress oxidation, stress response, and better regulated inflammation; as well as increased neuroplasticity and nutrition sensing. (we feel better if we are hungry or not)  


Genomic stability is central to cell longevity and a healthy, disease-free life; the results of our study suggest the reduction of genomic instability (decreased levels of 8-OH2dG) by the practice of YMLI. Unhealthy social habits (smoking,

excessive consumption of alcohol, etc.), sedentary lifestyle, exposure to environmental pollutants and consumption of nutritionally depleted food have taken their toll on human health with the onset of lifestyle diseases at a much younger age [3-5].


These environmental and lifestyle factors are responsible for genomic instability [10]. DNA damage of both types (in mitochondria and within the genome) leads to the accumulation of genetic aberrations and hyper-mutability of the genome [8-10].


This is primarily due to an aberrant DNA damage response (DDR), which is essential for DNA repair and for integral (general) genomic surveillance. Deficient DNA repair triggers systemic effects promoting pathological aging [10]. The reduction of DNA damage by YMLI suggests the potential use of yoga in activating the DDR pathway focused on repairing genomic damage and improving genomic stability and metabolite changes.  


Maintenance of telomere length, through regulation of telomere metabolism contributes to genomic stability and reduction of telomere attrition (increased telomere length and telomerase activity levels) shown by our study after YMLI practice,  demonstrates the potential of yoga in telomere metabolism and

cell longevity.  


Telomeres, which serve as our biological clock, are highly conserved hexameric repeats, and maintaining their length is vital for cell longevity. Telomerase is an important regulator of telomere length and the precise regulation  of its activity, and a correct interaction between telomere and telomerase, are important to protect the specified lengths of telomeres and to prevent their attrition[44]. (see more on this topic in Hayflick's Limit article  PA)  


Our study suggests the improvement and maintenance of balance, through the practice of YMLI, of cellular oxidative stress (decrease in ROS and increase in TAC)  which is due to endogenous and exogenous factors such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, exposure to

UV radiation, infection, xenobiotic exposure, and psychological stress [48].


Even ROS levels below physiological limits are deleterious to normal cell function and maintaining OS (oxidative stress) at physiological levels is important for cell longevity. Increased OS causes damage to all molecules, including DNA and telomere damage. It also affects signal transduction and gene transcription by causing genome wide hypomethylation [49] and thus causes changes in the epigenome.


The regulation of cellular oxidative stress after YMLI practice suggests the potential of this intervention in protecting cells against DNA damage and telomere attrition.

by reversing epigenetic changes, which are accumulated due to unhealthy lifestyle and unfavorable environmental conditions.  


Other studies [50] support these findings and show increased upregulation of telomerase activity and decreased ODD after YMLI practice. 

To combat the effects of OS people use antioxidants without monitoring ROS levels [51] unlike the practice of YMLI which regulates ROS levels so that none of the sensitive physiological functions are impaired.


Modern lifestyle and associated psychological stress have complex interactions with lifestyle habits, conditions, and medical interventions to cause an acceleration

cellular aging, which negatively affects our mental, physical, and reproductive capacity [3-5].  


Improved cellular longevity after YMLI suggests the potential role of yoga in improving physical fitness. While psychological stress is a major factor contributing to an increased prevalence of neuro-psychiatric disorders including depression, abnormal fat accumulation (overweight) is a major somatic manifestation contributing to the increased prevalence of metabolic syndrome and all diseases that fall under  metabolic syndrome, including obesity, DM and CVD [52]. Other manifestations of unhealthy lifestyle include aging of the gonads leading to infertility [53] and recurrent pregnancy loss. Previous studies have demonstrated the clinical benefits of yoga and meditation in all of these medical conditions [35]. Dada et al. showed that YMLI can reduce testicular aging and lead to regulation in telomerase activity, OS and ODD [8].  


Ongoing studies in our lab on the impact of yoga and meditation have provided significant evidence for the reversal of cellular aging in subjects with accelerated aging due to depression. The improved cellular longevity observed in our study after YMLI practice suggests that changes in both cardinal and metabotropic biomarkers of cellular aging constitute a mechanism to prevent chronic lifestyle diseases.


The study suggests that changes in metabotrophic factors, which include increased levels of β-endorphin, BDNF, and sirtuin-1 and decreased levels of cortisol and IL-6, and the cellular processes involving them, may have important roles

in reversing cellular aging and improving cellular longevity

after YMLI.


The improvement in stress and inflammatory response in our study after YMLI may be supported by changes in cortisol, β-endorphin, IL-6 and other factors, with regulation and by changes in brain levels hypothalamus and pituitary-adrenal (HPA) .  


The response may lead to decreased OS and reversal of senescent secretion

cell phenotype, including cells in the brain, adipose tissue,

endothelium and gonads. Changes in the secretory phenotype include decreased IL-6 [56], increased BDNF and sirtuin-1 [57]. These regulated factors can lead to balance in bone and cellular longevity and contribute to tissue rebirth throughout the body, from the CNS to the gonads, to vessels and muscles in the periphery.  


The somatic cell secretory phenotype provides regulatory feedback to the brain [58], which completes the vicious circle of regulation between mind and body. Neurodegeneration is associated with the pathogenesis of several neuropsychiatric conditions, and neuroplasticity has a central role in their management and vitality.  



Increased cell longevity and increased neuroplasticity may be a mechanism for altered gray matter volume in different regions of the brain cortex [59], heightened attention [60], and several other complex processes [55 , 61] implicated in reducing stress and depression after yoga and meditation.  


Our study is the first to document the increase in sirtuin-1 levels independent of calorie restriction after yoga practice. These enhanced processes may delay the onset and slow the decline in progression of diseases associated with acceleration

of cellular aging. The impact of the intervention for both sexes was evaluated separately because men and women respond differently to stress [63].  


Interestingly, the gender subgroup study showed that the reduction in cortisol and IL6 levels was more pronounced in men than in women. Gender differences were also observed in other biomarkers. Phase of the menstrual cycle should be taken into consideration since certain biomarker levels are known to vary with different phases of the menstrual cycle [64, 65]. Our study showed the significant decrease in BMI in apparently healthy subjects who entered the normal weight range (23.64 ± 3.55 - Body Mass Index / BMI) compared to reference values of the overweight range (26.30 ± 3.40).  


While the latest research [66] suggests people with an average BMI of 27, who are overweight by the current obesity classification, are likely to survive longer in the Western population, similar data is not available. not available to Indians. Therefore, our results should be interpreted with caution.


Yoga is holistic and represents a science that includes body and mind, which is more beneficial and advantageous than isolated interventions like physical exercise, calorie restriction, and antioxidants. The practice of yoga and physical exercise are different entities, the former conserves energy with economy of energy expenditure to produce mental and physical benefits, and the latter aims to expend more energy for physical exertion and Metabolic needs, as shown in a study of exercise causes in erratic changes in bio-markers, and often ends up in OS (oxidative stress) [67].  



And contrary to this fact, meditation brings a uniform bio-marker and behavior

to changes and improvement in cognition and decreases OS [68]. 

Therapeutic antioxidants can only decrease ROS but not regulate it, which can (paradoxically) shorten lifespan [69] due to an imbalance in the ROS immune response [70]. Meditation and YMLI regulate ROS rather than just lowering them

by balanced processes linked to stress and expressions of the appropriate genes [71].  


It is important to adopt a lifestyle that slows the decline in health by reversing or delaying accelerated aging due to an unhealthy lifestyle. Biomarkers of cellular aging can form the basis for determining the risk of lifestyle, chronic, infectious diseases, and the effectiveness and usefulness of interventions to decrease disease risk. Therefore, the results of this study support the practice of YMLI as an important clinical utility especially in the prevention and management of complex factors of diseases and reducing the rate of functional decline with aging.


5. Closing

While we cannot change our biology or chronological age, we can certainly reverse/slow down the rate at which we age by adopting  the practice of YMLI. This is the first study to demonstrate improvement in cardinal and metabotrophic biomarkers of cellular aging and longevity, among the healthy population, after lifestyle intervention based on yoga practice and meditation.


So our health and the rate at which we age depends entirely on our choices. Regular practice of Yoga and Meditation may hold the key to delay aging, or lead us to healthy aging, prevent the onset of complex multi-factorial lifestyle diseases, promote mental, physical and reproductive health, and prolong youth.


Competing interests

The authors have declared that there is no conflict of interest regarding the publication of this document.



The authors thank Amit Tomar and Sudhir Choudary for the yoga instructions and all participating subjects in the study.

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