I am disappointed that I had never heard of this study until yesterday because it is the coolest piece of research ever. (It also has never been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so please take that into consideration.)
In 1979 Dr. Ellen Langer, a psychology professor at Harvard, invited two groups of elderly men to a monastery. These were men in their 70s and 80s and in average health for men of that age.
Langer’s goal was to turn back the clock 20 years, to 1959. So the first thing that happened was that no one offered to carry these men’s bags or help them up the stairs. They listened to 1950s music on 1950s-style radios. They watched 1950s TV shows on 1950s-style TVs. They were told to discuss things that had happened in 1959 – what was going on in the last months of the Eisenhower Administration and the ’59 World Series, for example.
To complete the effect, she removed all the mirrors from the walls, lest the men see themselves and get shocked back into the present.
Group 1 was asked to just reminisce about 1959. Group 1 was asked to actually pretend they were 20 years younger and still living in 1959 (essentially impersonating their younger selves).
After a week, all the men scored better on a battery of cognitive and physical tests. But the men who pretended they were younger showed significantly more improvement. This seems to suggest the power of the unconscious mind to affect not only our behavior but also our physical health. Now almost 40 years later, more and more evidence is piling up that mindfulness can have tangible effects on our health – at least slowing the aging process, if not necessarily turning back the clock.