Worried about aging? Relax
Mary DiCenso sings along during a drumming circle at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center at NewBridge on the Charles. (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By Karen Weintraub - Globe Correspondent
There’s no surefire way to slow the aging process, but the most effective treatment so far isn’t high tech or complicated, and it won’t add to America’s health care cost burden. It simply requires relaxation and tuning into yourself.
The relaxation response changes gene activity, he said, countering negative effects of stress, which causes or exacerbates many of the scourges of later life: high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, insomnia, anxiety, depression, and rheumatoid arthritis, according to recent research.
Newer evidence suggests it’s also effective against irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive disorders, he said.
“It’s not a drug, there are no side effects, and it’s cheap, other than your time,’’ said Benson “It changes your genes’ activity. What could be more profound than that?’’
So how do you trigger this age-defying response? The key is to set aside time each day to relax, said Benson. You can’t just relax once in a while and expect to age better.
When he first started researching ways that the mind can influence the body’s health, Benson stayed away from intentionally drawing out the relaxation response in himself. He thought it might bias his research.
But as more data suggested its usefulness - and he started to feel the effects of aging himself - he became a regular relaxer. Now 76, Benson said he doesn’t allow a day to go by without spending 10-20 minutes purposefully relaxing.
For him, the key is to break his everyday train of thought by focusing on and repeating a word, phrase, or movement. When his thoughts drift away from this word or activity, he gently redirects himself back.
Other people find relaxation in yoga or running, he said, explaining that so-called runner’s high is the same chemically as the relaxation response.
“Older people as well as preschool children can evoke this response,’’ he said. “You simply have to choose one [approach] with which you’re comfortable.’’
Epel has been studying both the impact of chronic stress - specifically the toll it takes to care for an ailing family member - and the reduction of psychological stress. There are indications from other studies that relaxation can slow the process cells go through as they age.
At Hebrew Rehabilitation Center at NewBridge on the Charles, a rehabilitation center and nursing home in Dedham, they’ve learned to offer a range of ways for seniors to get a break from the daily stresses of life, from singing to painting classes, breathing exercises to drumming circles.
Sometimes older adults resist so-called mind-body practices because they did not grow up doing them, she said. But when their doctor prescribes a yoga class, suddenly they find it more acceptable, she said.
Thomas, a devoted yoga practitioner herself, is amazed by the benefits. “Our older adults, they take the pills - and they take a lot of them - but when they get in touch with their bodies and their breath and they’re moving and stretching in ways they haven’t done in years, it’s like they’re waking up,’’ Thomas said. “It puts them more in charge of their body and their well being.’’
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.
Credit: Reports and photographs are property of owners of intellectual rights.
Seniors World Chronicle, a not-for-profit, serves to chronicle and widen their reach.