Spanish explorer Ponce de León traversed the Atlantic Ocean in search of the fabled Fountain of Youth, but could the secret to youth have been inside of us all along? A recent pilot study found that a part of DNA, called the telomeres, could be responsible for the effects of aging and may, under the right conditions, enable something like “reverse aging.” Although science has not yet found a way to turn back the clock on aging, understanding how telomeres work and how they affect your body could help you in the ongoing battle against time.
What Are Telomeres?
Telomeres are found in the building blocks of DNA, residing at the ends of DNA strands. Telomeres make it possible for cells to divide, which is a critical function for all living organisms. When cells are no longer able to divide, the organism ages and, in a biological sense, begins dying.
But what is it that makes telomeres so important? Well, think about your shoelaces. Shoelaces have a small cap at the ends. If that cap comes off, your shoelaces start to fray and won’t last much longer. Telomeres do the same thing for DNA. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When the telomeres are too short, the cell can’t continue dividing.
How Are Telomeres Related to Aging?
Scientists think that telomeres could be the key to reverse aging, making them something like a genetic Fountain of Youth. Keeping telomeres longer could help people live longer and stave off certain chronic diseases.
So, what keeps your telomeres long and healthy? A group of scientists performed a study to find out. They divided 35 men into two groups: 10 practiced a healthier lifestyle while 25 maintained their current habits. The healthy lifestyle group walked for 30 minutes each day, ate a low-fat and plant-based diet, practiced yoga and meditation, and spent more time with friends and family. After five years, the researchers followed up with both groups. The men who engaged in healthy lifestyles had longer telomeres. In fact, their telomeres had grown.
While some activities lengthen the telomeres, certain behaviors were found to shorten them. Smoking, ongoing emotional stress, and a lack of exercise all contribute to shortening your DNA’s telomeres.
What can people realistically get from these sorts of studies? In essence, reverse aging can be achieved by practicing all the behaviors we already know are healthy. People who eat well and exercise regularly have the best chance of living longer. One important component of healthy living that many people overlook is stress management. In addition to eating right an exercising, people looking to live longer should find ways to relax, slow down, and appreciate their surroundings. Many people have found practices like yoga or meditation to be a beneficial part of stress management.
A healthy lifestyle and long telomeres also help prevent debilitating chronic diseases. These reverse aging strategies are associated with lower rates of heart disease, some forms of cancer, and type II diabetes.
Reverse aging can’t wait. If you want to take advantage of the salubrious effects of reverse aging, start forming healthy habits now. It is never too late to make lifestyle changes. Try walking for 20 minutes a day or eating an extra vegetable with dinner. Live your best self to encourage long telomeres and a long life.