Researchers just might have discovered the proverbial fountain of youth. And while it involves some work, they say that their study, which was directed by well-known physician Dr. Dean Ornish, offers a path to actually reversing aging on a cellular level, reported the Huffington Post on September 16.
The study indicates that by making lifestyle changes such as exercising, shifting to a plant-based diet and reducing your stress, you can increase the relative telomere length, which is the part of chromosomes that impacts cell aging.
"We know from earlier studies that eating an unhealthy diet, smoking cigarettes, being under chronic emotional stress, loneliness and depression may shorten telomeres. But this is the first one we can actually increase the length of them," said study researcher Dr. Ornish, author of "The Spectrum: A Scientifically Proven Program to Feel Better, Live Longer, Lose Weight, and Gain Health" (click for details). He is the founder and president of the Preventive Medical Research Institute, clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, and medical editor at HuffPost.
Why telomeres are important: Just as shoelaces end with caps to stop fraying, telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes. Increasing their length is important because short telomeres are linked with higher risks of cancer, dementia and premature death as well as cell aging.
Previously, experts thought "that only telomeres could get shorter,” said Dr. Ornish. “Now we found that they actually can get longer. Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate," he added. "These findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. To the extent we're willing to make changes to diet and lifestyle, we can change things that were once thought to be impossible."
Participants in the study made the following changes:
- They ate a diet that emphasized plant-based protein, fruits, vegetables and unrefined grains.
- They participated in moderate aerobic exercise for 30 minutes per day, six days per week.
- They took part in stress management activities such as yoga-based stretching and meditation.
- They attended weekly social support group sessions.
After five years, telomere length increased by an average of 10 per cent in the group of men who followed the lifestyle changes, reported CTV News on September 16. By comparison, in the group that didn't follow the lifestyle changes, telomere length decreased by an average of three per cent.
Worth noting: You're never too old to make a change. Researchers reported that "the more people positively changed their lifestyles, the longer their telomeres got at any age." You can learn more about the type of diet used in the study by reading "Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish: 150 Easy, Low-Fat, High-Flavor Recipes" (click for details).