Longevity has been sought after since ancient times. One current and popular theory is that shortening of telomeres results in cell death and aging. Telomeres are DNA sequences at the end of chromosomes. They protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide; thus, they hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer. They have been compared with the plastic tips on shoelaces because they prevent chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would scramble a person’s genetic information, resulting in cancer, other diseases or death. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell no longer can divide and becomes inactive or “senescent” or dies.
In 1965, Leonard Hayflick, a professor from the University of California, San Francisco, discovered that cells in the human body can split and divide only 52 times. This became known as the Hayflick limit. When large percentages of cells become senescent, particularly in a specific part of the body, death is certain. However, there are some cells in the human body that are immortal. They can reproduce themselves again and again without limit. These include cancer and tumor cells, stem cell tissue, and red and white blood celss, among other immune cells. Unfortunately, most of our cells, including bone cells, liver cells, and heart cells, for example--are affected by the Hayflick limit.
Health and fitness expert Dennis Kravetz has devoted his lifelong career to studying and researching how to extend the human lifespan and improve the quality of one’s life with a healthy lifestyle. He offers four proven strategies to promote longevity by preserving telomere length:
- Get into a routine of regular aerobic exercise: A study conducted at the University of Maryland found that telomeres were significantly longer in those who engage in moderate physical activity. The study involved men and women between 50 and 70. The study showed improvements in telomere length can be achieved at various ages, though it is certainly better if people start young, when they can preserve telomeres at their longer length.
- Find ways to manage long-term stressors: Researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, found that women, ages 20 to 50, who had experienced years of stress from caring for a child with a serious illness such as cerebral palsy had shorter telomeres than other women of the same age. The longer the woman had been caregiving, the shorter her telomeres. The take away is this: If you find yourself in a very stressful situation for a long time, get help if you can, and learn how to reduce stress using exercise, sleep, meditation, and other relaxation techniques.
- Adopt these four lifestyle changes: Perhaps the most cited study on telomere length was conducted by Elizabeth Blackburn, Dean Ornish, and colleagues at the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. The researchers attempted to modify the lifestyles of a group of individuals for three months, and then measure the effects of those changes on their telomeres. The factors were: (1) a diet emphasizing fruits and vegetables, low in refined sugar, with only 10 percent of total calories from fat; (2) vitamin supplements; (3) moderate daily aerobic exercise; (4) use of stress-reduction techniques. Telomerase, the enzyme that lengthens telomeres, increased 29 percent in these individuals in this short period of time. Imagine the effects if you adopted these four changes over many years!
- Eat plenty of fish on a regular basis: In 2010, a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that individuals with the highest level of dietary omega-3 fatty acids also had the lowest rate of telomere shortening. Study subjects with the lowest levels of omega-3s had the fastest rate of telomere shortening. The Mayo Clinic recommends salmon, herring, and to a lesser extent tuna as great marine sources of omega-3s.
Dennis Kravetz is the author of A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Live Long, Live Healthy (KAP Books, 2013). More information is available at this link.