Do you have a mind that works overtime and yet wanders? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to already know that a wandering mind indicates unhappiness, whereas a mind that is present in the moment indicates wellbeing. Now a preliminary UCSF study suggests a possible link between mind wandering and aging by looking at a biological measure of longevity.
In the study, telomere length [DNA-caps that protect the ends of chromosomes], an emerging biomarker for cellular and general bodily aging, was assessed in association with the tendency to be present in the moment versus the tendency to mind wander, in research on 239 healthy, midlife women ranging in age from 50 to 65 years.
Being present in the moment was defined as an inclination to be focused on current tasks, while mind wandering was defined as the inclination to have thoughts about things other than the present or being elsewhere.
According to the findings, those who reported more mind wandering had shorter telomeres, while those who reported more presence in the moment, or having a greater focus and engagement with their current activities, had longer telomeres, even after adjusting for current stress.
Telomeres typically shorten with age and in response to psychological and physiological stressors. In research pioneered at UCSF, scientists have discovered that telomere shortness predicts early disease and mortality.
The study was ambiguous whether mind wandering leads to shorter telomeres, whether the reverse occurs, or some common third factor is contributing to both.
Previous studies suggest, mindful meditation interventions, which promote attention on the present with a compassionate attitude of acceptance associate with healthy physiological states.
Along with the new UCSF study, these findings support the possibility that a focus on the present may be part of what promotes health measurable at the cellular level.