Practising mindfulness meditation or joining any support group improved length of telomeres in women who survived the deadly disease.Alice Popkorn/Flickr

Sparing a few hours for mindfulness meditation can provide unlimited health benefits to breast cancer patients, a new study says.

Practicing mindfulness meditation or joining any support group improved length of telomeres in women who survived the deadly disease.

Mindfulness meditation is based on an old Buddhist practice known as vipassana or insight meditation. Performing mindfulness meditation is known to help improve focus, patience, compassion and ability to accept.

Telomeres are sections of the DNA found at the ends of chromosomes that play a major role in division of cells and ageing process.

Long telomeres are believed to protect against diseases. On the other hand, telomere shortening has been known to damage immunity, increase risk of cancer, cell aging and development of several diseases.

The new study involved 88 breast cancer patients, aged around 55, who suffered from emotional stress. All the women in the study had completed their breast cancer treatment about two years back.

The women were divided into three groups, according to the intervention they received – either eight weekly, 90-minute sessions of mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga or 90 minutes weekly sessions in Supportive Expressive Therapy for three months. The third group attended a stress management seminar.

The first group was also encouraged to spend another 45 minutes for meditation and yoga at home. The second group received opportunities to open up and share their feelings.

Researchers collected blood samples from the participants and recorded telomere length, both before and after the intervention.

Length of telomeres in the first two groups got maintained during the three months, while it got shortened in the control group.

"We already know that psychosocial interventions like mindfulness meditation will help you feel better mentally, but now for the first time we have evidence that they can also influence key aspects of your biology," Dr. Linda E. Carlson, principal investigator and director of research in the Psychosocial Resources Department at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, said in a news release.

"It was surprising that we could see any difference in telomere length at all over the three-month period studied. Further research is needed to better quantify these potential health benefits, but this is an exciting discovery that provides encouraging news."

The study has been reported in the journal Cancer.