25 Aug 2016
The Secret to Graceful Aging: Treat Your Telomeres with Love
I’m sure you’ve noticed. It seems as if there is an entire movement dedicated to the science of anti-aging. Creams, potions and pills galore that are designed to keep us looking good and staying healthy for as long as possible- which means slowing the aging process. In the past few decades, the market for anti-aging products and services has grown into a global industry valued at an estimated $261.9 billion in 2013, up from $162 billion just five years ago.
What Are Telomeres?
Today, scientists are better able to determine a cell’s biological age (meaning how well it functions and not how old it literally is) by measuring the length of its telomeres.
Telomeres are segments of DNA at the end of our chromosomes. Think of them like the plastic tips of shoelaces that keep the laces together. Each time a cell divides, its telomeres become shorter. After years of splicing and dicing, telomeres become too short for more divisions. At this point, cells are unable to divide further and become inactive, die or continue dividing anyway — an abnormal process that’s potentially dangerous.
Telomere length is the best marker of biological age, and the shorter your telomeres, the higher your risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, stroke, dementia, and premature death.
How is Telomere Length Measured?
Measurement of telomere length is done on white blood cells. These cells are used because they’re the only blood cells that contain DNA. Isolation of the DNA from these cells allows the measurement of leukocyte telomere length, or LTL.
You can compare your own telomere length to the telomere lengths of others to find out whether your telomeres are shortening at an average rate, or faster or slower than average.
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. One study showed that mothers who cared for chronically ill children had shorter telomeres and cells that behaved as if they were 10 years older.
Chronic stress doesn’t just put you in a bad mood; it increases your risk of illnesses like diabetes, depression and Alzheimer’s and 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 balancing hormones, the benefits of exercise are well documented. Now there’s another reason to get moving.
People who exercise are less likely to have super short telomeres than their couch potato counterparts. Not only that, but the more a person exercises, the longer their telomeres. The link between telomere length and exercise seems to be strongest among those in middle age. Time to hit the gym!
And while hard exercise seems to work best, it doesn’t mean you have to run marathons. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is also effective. You can learn more about that here.
3. Eat a Variety 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. You can also supplement with antioxidants like resveratrol and pycnogenol.
Additionally, taking a quality 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.
4. Practice Meditation and Yoga
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 group who did neither activity shortened during the study time.
If you’re not a fan of traditional meditation, just know that it comes in different forms for different people. For me, walking meditation works best because sitting quietly stresses me out. For others, it might be writing in a gratitude journal or reading something inspirational or having a technology-free day. Whatever your meditation looks like, your telomeres will appreciate it!
5. Limit Alcohol
Men who don’t drink have the longest telomeres. Women seem to fare better, based on the latest science, when they drink between 1 serving of alcohol per week and less than 2 servings per day, although some studies show that women benefit from avoiding alcohol altogether. You can read more about women and the effects of alcohol here.
While we wait for science to unravel more about telomeres and the aging process, it’s good to know we can make changes now that will work in our favor to help us live the longest, healthiest lives possible.
Dr. Anna Garrett is a menopause expert and Doctor of Pharmacy. She helps women who are struggling with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause find natural hormone balancing solutions so they can rock their mojo through midlife and beyond. Her clients would tell you that her real gift is helping them reclaim parts of themselves they thought were gone forever.
Find out more about working with her at https://www.drannagarrett.com/work-with-me/.