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Is a Wandering Mind a Sign of Aging?

Looking away
Peter Hellberg

There's a new study that suggests that if your mind frequently wanders or gets distracted - hey, are you paying attention? - it means your cells are aging too quickly.

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco, wanted to test whether being able to focus on the here and now predicts better health and longevity.

To measure longevity, they looked at telomeres, the little caps at the ends of a cell's chromosomes that are considered a biomarker for how fast our bodies are aging. Telomeres shorten with age and also in response to stress and depression.

The researchers tested 239 healthy, college-educated women, ages 50 through 65, asking them about life satisfaction, stress and how frequently they found themselves daydreaming or distracted from what they were doing. Researchers then used blood tests to measure the length of the subjects' telomeres.

They found that the women who reported frequently wandering minds tended to have shorter telomeres by about 200 base pairs - equivalent to about four to five years of additional aging, according to the study, which was published online this month in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.

So what's the link between telomeres and a wandering mind? Maybe it's unhappiness, the researchers theorized. Our minds wander in an effort to avoid negative thoughts and worries, but the wandering only internalizes stress and its damaging effects.

Or "a restless mind may simply leave the body in a less restful state chronically," interfering with internal cell repair and accelerating the aging process, the researchers wrote.

Whatever the case, they suggest a few things that might help your mind focus:

  • A brief period of mindful breathing. A study this year found that just eight minutes daily of focused breathing significantly reduced mind wandering.
  • Yoga and meditation. Recent studies found that brief periods of yoga and meditation increased telomerase activity, which could also help decrease the effects of aging.

In other  health news:

Nutrition and cancer studies not always reliable. Reuters reports that studies suggesting that everything from cinnamon to lobster either raises or lowers a person's risk of cancer may sometimes be a bunch of baloney, a new report says. Researchers created a list of 50 random food items, then found studies from the past 35 years that claimed risks or benefits for the majority of them. But most of the claims were based on weak evidence.


Photo:  Peter Hellberg/flickr









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