Dr James Xie is a renowned anti-ageing specialist from Singapore. He is the author of ten books and is credited with 206 health products registered with US FDA. He has spent more then 25 years in the skin and health care industry. Dr James is currently providing consultation services to health care organizations in China and ASEAN countries.
Telomeres are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age. Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces.
Without the coating, shoelaces become frayed until they can no longer do their job, just as without telomeres, DNA strands become damaged and our cells can’t do their job. Short telomeres are connected to premature cellular aging.
Telomere shortening is involved in all aspects of the aging process on a cellular level. Telomere length represents our biological age as opposed to our chronological age.
Many scientific studies have shown a strong connection between short telomeres and cellular aging.
For example, the immune system, which normally weakens as we age, is highly sensitive to shortening of telomeres. In addition, a 2007 study found that short telomeres were associated with decreases in bone mineral density in women.
Telomere length shortens with age. Progressive shortening of telomeres leads to senescence, apoptosis, or oncogenic transformation of somatic cells, affecting the health and lifespan of an individual. Shorter telomeres have been associated with increased incidence of diseases and poor survival.
The rate of telomere shortening can be either increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors. Better choice of diet and activities has great potential to reduce the rate of telomere shortening or at least prevent excessive telomere attrition, leading to delayed onset of age-associated diseases and increased lifespan.
This review highlights the role of telomeres in aging and describes the lifestyle factors which may affect telomeres, human health, and aging.
How can I lengthen my telomeres and slow aging?
While science still isn’t 100 percent sure how telomere length affects how we age, it’s clear that the longer our telomeres are, the better. The good news is that there are a variety of lifestyle changes you can make today to lengthen your telomeres.
1. Control and reduce stress
Several studies have linked chronic stress to shorter telomeres. A 2004 study compared healthy women who were mothers of healthy children (the control moms) and those who cared for chronically ill children
(caregiving mothers). On average, the caregiving mothers had telomeres that were 10 years shorter than the control moms. That is, their cells behaved as if one decade older.
Another study that examined African-American boys found that those who came from stressful environments had telomeres that were about 40 percent shorter than peers from stable homes.
The takeaway? Chronic stress doesn’t just put you in a bad mood; it contributes to aging in a very real way. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and carving out time for yourself daily are all easy ways to help bust stress.
2. Exercise regularly
From boosting happiness to providing an energy boost, the benefits of exercise are well documented. Now there’s another reason to hit the gym.
A recent study found that a person who did some type of exercise was about 3 percent less likely to have super short telomeres than a person who didn’t exercise at all. Not only that, but the more a person exercised, the longer their telomeres. The correlation between telomere length and exercise activity seemed to be strongest among those in middle age, suggesting that it’s never too late to start a fitness program and keep those telomeres from shortening.
Another study about how exercise keeps your cells young found that middle-aged adults who were intense runners (we’re talking 45–50 miles a week) had telomere lengths that were, on average, 75 percent longer than their sedentary counterparts. Now, this doesn’t mean you need to become an ultramarathon runner. It does, however, suggest that regularly engaging in intense exercise, like HIIT workouts, can keep telomeres long and happy.
3. Eat a range of foods for antioxidant and vitamin benefits
Foods high in vitamins are believed to protect cells and their telomeres from oxidative damage. A diet high in antioxidant foods, like berries and artichokes, can slow down aging and help prevent or reduce cell damage.
Additionally, taking a multivitamin supplement to bridge the gap between the foods you’re eating and what your body needs might lengthen telomeres as well. One study found that women who took a daily supplement had telomeres that were about 5 percent longer than nonusers.
But supplements still can’t mimic all the health benefits of eating real, wholesome foods. The same study found that, even after adjusting for supplement use, participants who ate foods high in vitamins C and E also had longer telomeres. Oranges, peppers and kale are among the top vitamin C foods. For vitamin E, turn to almonds, spinach and sweet potatoes.
4. Practice meditation and yoga
It’s time to unroll your mat and unwind. In a 2014 study among breast cancer survivors, those who participated in mindful meditation and practiced yoga kept their telomeres at the same length; the telomeres of the control group, who did neither activity, shortened during the study time.
A 2008 study among men found that, after three months of a vegan diet, aerobic exercise and stress management, including yoga, there was increased telomerase activity. A 2013 follow-up study found that those lifestyle changes are associated with longer telomeres.
Meditation comes in different forms for different people. For me, it’s healing prayer and setting aside time to reflect. For others, it might be setting an intention for their day, attending a regular yoga class or spending time with loved ones without the distraction of technology or work. Whatever your meditation looks like, it’s clear it’s good for our minds and bodies.
While we wait for science to unravel all the mysteries of telomeres and how they work for — and against — us, we can make changes to lengthen them and positively affect the rest of our lives.