102 women aged between 30 and 60 were blood tested before and after five days at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, California. Some women were participating in a meditation and yoga retreat while others were simply staying at the resort and not taking part in yoga or meditation training.
The Icahn Institute for Genomics and Multiscale Biology at Mount Sinai in New York measured gene activity, blood markers and reported wellbeing during the vacation and months afterward, and found a large and immediate “vacation effect” in all participants. For those who continued meditating, benefits were seen even 10 months later.
“Vacation in a relaxing, resort-like environment takes you away from your day-to-day grind, which may be high stress in which your body is in a more defensive-like posture, with pressures to meet deadlines, dealing with angry customers, ‘battling’ with colleagues for resources to accomplish your mission or whatever,” said senior author Dr. Eric Schadt, founding director of the Icahn Institute of Genomics and Multiscale Biology.
At the molecular level, additional changes only happened, or happened more, in the meditation group, including more effective manufacture and use of proteins, he noted.
In addition to providing blood samples before and after the retreat, the women reported on their depression symptoms, stress, vitality and mindfulness on day five, one month later and 10 months later.
Psychological wellbeing scores improved for all three groups by day five and one month later. At the 10-month point, women who had meditated during the retreat had greater decreases in depressive symptoms and stress than those who had only been on vacation, according to the results reported in Translational Psychiatry.
Gene expression changes and aging biomarkers in blood samples had improved significantly for all groups at the end of the retreat, indicating benefits from simply being on vacation.
“I don’t know that our results are such that they would speak to changes people should make in their lives to achieve a more healthy state, but rather it is another strong piece of evidence that relaxing and meditating may produce favorable healthy benefits,” Schadt said.