Telomeres and Longevity

A telomere are the genetic sequences at the ends of chromosomes in our cells that keep our DNA from unraveling. As each cell replicates and divides these telomeres get shorter and shorter – which is a key process in aging. The length of our telomeres determines our biological age rather than our chronological age. As telomeres get shorter, we lose important genetic information at the end of our chromosomes and therefore the ability for certain genes to be expressed. This speeds up the aging process and puts us at higher risk for age-related diseases such as heart disease, cancer, stroke, dementia and osteoporosis.

In a pilot study at the University of California San Francisco (UCSF), scientists found that implementing certain lifestyle changes can actually help to lengthen telomeres and slow down the aging process. The following lifestyle interventions have been found to significantly increase the length of telomeres. Over the course of five years, those that implemented these changes increased the length of their telomeres by about 10% compared to those who didn’t implement these changes. In fact, those that didn’t implement these lifestyle changes had 3% shorter telomeres than they originally had at the beginning of the study period.

Diet
Not surprisingly, consuming a diet which is primarily plant-based and low in processed foods can help protect and lengthen telomeres. This means eating plenty of vegetables, plant-based proteins, fruits, nuts and seeds.

Exercise
Scientists at UCSF found that walking for 30 minutes a day for six days a week contributed to lengthened telomeres.

Stress Management
Subjects who practiced meditation, yoga or breathing techniques for 60 minutes a day to reduce their stress levels were found to have a dramatic increase in the length of their telomeres.

Increased Social Support
Participating in weekly group support sessions and incorporating more love and intimacy were additional factors that were found to contribute to telomere length.

These aren’t the only factors that scientists have linked to telomere length. To increase the length of your telomeres or to protect them from shortening even more, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, participate in vigorous exercise at least 4 times per week, and increase feelings of joy and purpose in life. Additionally, any activity that puts a lot of stress on the body or mind such as smoking, toxic relationships, lack of sleep and poor diet can shorten the length of telomeres and cause us to look and feel older than we actually are.