Keep calm and carry on longer
A study published in the science journal Nature reports that a calm brain could lead to a longer life. After analysing brain tissue from hundreds of people who died from aged 60 to 100-plus, researchers from Harvard Medical School said they noticed that the people who had lived the longest had lower levels of genes related to neural activity.
It seems that while ageing affects the brain, the brain also affects ageing. “This study shows that daily periods of slowed activity, whether spent in meditation, uni-tasking, or simply being still or sleeping, are as important for brain health and longevity as activity and exercise,” Gayatri Dev, a New York neurologist and psychiatrist told Healthline. He added: “The brain is the most energy-hungry organ in our body, consuming nearly a third of our energy, although it weighs only about one-seventieth of our body weight. For our brains and our bodies, less is more and rest is best.”
The same principle applies to other creatures as well. Using brain imaging, the researchers discovered that worms’ neural activity appeared to increase with age; when they gave the worms a drug that calmed some of that activity, they lived longer. Conversely, when the researchers stimulated the worms’ neurons, they died faster. Tests in mice showed similar effects.
Exactly how quieter neurons extend life span isn’t quite clear. However, lowering neuronal activity is known to activate genes that protect brains and bodies from stress. While the findings are preliminary and requiring much more research, it opens up the possibility of using either drugs or behavioural interventions — such as yoga and meditation — to alter the brain’s activity, and possibly slow the effects of ageing.
Speaking to Time, study co-author Dr Bruce Yankner, a professor of genetics and neurology at Harvard Medical School, said the data is a promising step toward understanding how “a person’s thoughts, personality and behaviour affect their overall health and longevity”.