Washington: Mind-wandering and failure to 'live in the moment' is associated with ageing faster, according to a new study. Researchers focused on telomeres that are caps on the ends of DNA to protect chromosomes. The telomeres length acts as a biomarker for cellular and general bodily ageing.

Telomeres typically shorten with age and in response to psychological and physiological stress. The study from University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) found that people who can remain focused have longer telomeres, while those study participants who reported more mind wandering had shorter telomeres.

The research was carried 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.

As the study assessed mind wandering and telomeres at the same time, the researchers don't yet know whether mind wandering leads to shorter telomeres, whether the reverse occurs, or some common third factor is contributing to both.

"In our healthy sample, people who report being more engaged in their current activities tend to have longer telomeres. We don't yet know how generalisable or important this relationship is," said Elissa Epel, lead author on the study.

"The study is the first to link attentional state to telomere length and to control for stress and depression," Epel said in a statement. "Previous studies have shown links between telomere length and particular types of stress and depression. Since this study relied on self-reported attentional state further studies directly measuring presence and mind wandering will be needed," she said.

"This study was a first step and suggests it's worth delving into understanding the link between mind wandering and cell health to get a better understanding of whether there is causality and reversibility," said Epel.

"For example, does reducing mind wandering promote better cell health? Or are these relationships just reflective of some underlying long-standing characteristics of a person?" she added. The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.


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