Recent Research Supports Benefits of Relaxation Therapy


Published: 16 April 2017

Ground breaking research into chromosomal telomeres demonstrates the effect of relaxation and lifestyle on many aspects of health.

Telomeres are a region of repetitive DNA at the end of each chromosome to protect them from deterioration, very similar to plastic tips on shoelaces that prevent the ends from fraying.

Stress is known to influence the rate of telomere shortening (Epel et al. 2009). Lifestyle factors that promote cancer and cardiovascular disease can adversely affect telomerase function.

Telomere shortening is also linked to ageing, disease risk and progression such as cardiovascular conditions and premature mortality in many types of cancer, including breast, prostate, colorectal, bladder, head and neck, lung, and renal cell (Ornish et al. 2008).

It is now understood that telomere length is affected by the interplay between genetics, life experiences, psychosocial and behavioural factors.

Benefits of Relaxation Therapy

Protection from Stress-Induced Telomere Shortening

Recent evidence shows that telomere shortening is counteracted by telomerase, a cellular enzyme.

Resilience to stress, healthy lifestyle factors such as relaxation and social connections have been associated with longer telomere length and it appears that these factors can protect individuals from stress-induced telomere shortening.

Comprehensive lifestyle changes significantly increased telomerase activity and the capacity to maintain telomere length in specific immune cells (Ornish et al. 2008).

Thirty men with low-risk prostate cancer made intensive lifestyle changes for three months. Telomerase enzymatic activity per viable cell was significantly increased after three months compared to the baseline measures. A follow up study demonstrated increased telomere length after five years of follow-up, compared with controls (Ornish et al, 2013).

By decreasing stress hormones, relaxation and meditation may protect telomere integrity and length (Epel et al. 2009).

Learn more at Ausmed’s Relaxation Therapy: Enhancing Immunity and Health Seminar

In a study of family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms, meditation demonstrated an increased telomerase activity compared to no meditation.

The meditation group had a significant 43% improvement in telomerase activity compared with 3.7% in the control group which suggests improvement in stress-induced cellular ageing (Lavretsky et al. 2013).

Benefits of Relaxation Therapy

Another study investigated the effect of a mindfulness-based intervention for stress-related eating and examined changes in telomerase activity from pre- to post-intervention (Daubenmier et al. 2012). There were correlations between improvements in psychological distress, eating behaviour, metabolic health and increased telomerase activity. These findings suggested that telomerase activity may be regulated by levels of both psychological and metabolic stress.

The sophistication of research into relaxation has developed from a generic systems approach to one of highly specific, cellular and molecular changes.

Whether incorporating relaxing massage techniques or teaching diaphragmatic breathing, natural therapists can enhance clients’ health by including relaxation therapy in their clinical practice.

Dr Judy Lovas presents Ausmed’s ‘Relaxation Therapy: Enhancing Immunity and Health’.
To register, please visit

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  • Daubenmier, J, Lin, J, Blackburn, E, Hecht, FM, Kristeller, J, Maninger,N, Kuwata, M, Bacchetti, P, Havel, PJ & Epel, E 2012, ‘Changes in stress, eating, and metabolic factors are related to changes in telomerase activity in a randomized mindfulness intervention pilot study’, Psychoneuroendocrinology, vol. 37, no. 7, pp. 917-28, viewed 23 February 2017,
  • Epel, E, Daubenmier, J, Moskowitz, JT, Folkman, S & Blackburn, E 2009, ‘Can meditation slow rate of cellular aging? Cognitive stress, mindfulness and telomeres’, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1172, pp. 34-53, viewed 23 February 2017,
  • Lavretsky, H, Siddarth, P, Nazarian, N, St. Cyr, N, Khalsa, DS, Lin, J, Blackburn, E, Epel, ES & Irwin, MR 2013, ‘A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition and telomerase activity’, International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol. 28, pp. 57-65, viewed 23 February 2017,
  • Ornish, D, Lin, J, Daubenmier, J, Weidner, G, Epel, E, Kemp, C, Magbanua, MJ, Marlin, R, Yglecias, L, Carroll, PR & Blackburn, EH 2008, ‘Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study’, The Lancet Oncology, vol. 9, no. 11, pp. 1048-5, viewed 23 February 2017,
  • Ornish, D, Lin, J, Chan, JM, Epel, E, Kemp, C, Weidner, G, Marlin, R, Frenda, SJ, Magbanua, MJ, Daubenmier, J, Estay, I, Hills, NK, Chainani-Wu, N, Carrol, PR & Blackburn, EH 2013, ‘Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5 year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study’, The Lancet Oncology, vol. 14, no. 11, pp. 1112-20, 23 February 2017,