Telomere shortening: Are you secretly years older than your real age?
-Nov 6, Jenny Paul, Health -
Getting older is pretty fabulous – the insecurity of youth fades and you become who you feel you were always meant to be. Wrinkles are a badge of honour and a sign of all the wisdom that you have gleaned over the years. But, whilst you might be busy getting on with the very important business of enjoying life while staying happy and healthy, inside our bodies there’s a fairly silent process going on called telomere shortening, and that’s what determines your biological age, as opposed to the number of years which you have been on earth.
What is telomere shortening?
Research suggests that telomere length represents our biological age as opposed to our chronological age. So whilst you might have been alive for a certain amount of years, biologically you could be far older than people who are the same age as you – if you have shorter telomeres. The good news is that it’s possible to slow down this process:
The science is this; at the end of each of our string-like strands of DNA are caps called telomeres – which protect our chromosomes from fraying or getting tangled up with each other. Scientists say they’re like the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces, which stop them from unravelling and getting knotted together. These telomeres shorten as we age and this is bad news, because your life expectancy shortens along with them.
How do telomeres divide?
Dr Josh Axe, who is a certified natural medicine practitioner, explains it in layman’s terms and says that telomeres are a bit like ticking biological time bombs:
“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.
“Essentially, this is how our bodies age. As more of our cells lose their telomeres and go out of commission, without others to take their place, the body follows and begins breaking down. And telomeres don’t leave (or shorten) quietly. Their shortening process has been linked with ageing, cancer and a higher risk of death.
“Each telomere’s ticking biological clock has the potential to alter our lives in drastic ways but, interestingly, it’s not our age that determines when the clock will stop — it’s the length of our telomeres.”
Telomere shortening is pretty serious: Research not only suggests that shorter telomeres equal a shorter life, it also indicates that there’s possible links to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, cardiovascular trouble, diabetes and some types of cancer.
Stress has been shown to speed up telomere shortening. It also speeds up the ageing process and gives you wrinkles. Those laughter lines are actually stress lines. So avoid stress if at all possible.
EAT A HEALTHY DIET
Eating a healthy diet which is packed with antioxidants really does help you live longer – according to recent studies. Goji berries, wild blueberries, dark chocolate, pecans, artichoke, elderberries and kidney beans are all bursting with age-busting antioxidants. For longevity-boosting selenium and glutathione, brazil nuts, oysters, broccoli, cabbage, garlic, spinach, and beetroots are all your food friends.
Meditating is really just about applying the brakes to your brain and helping your body to slow down and relax. Meditation has been shown to be helpful for children (and parents) who are having anger issues, but it’s also a brilliant practice to master because it lowers your cortisol levels and that helps halt the ageing process.
Those bendy yoginis on Instagram are definitely onto something; not only are they perfecting the downward dog and lotus positions, they’re also stopping both their lovely telomeres and their tempers from fraying. There’s solid proof that yoga decreases your body’s overall stress levels. Want to try an easy ten minute yoga routine? Start here, or you could even do these moves in your office during your matcha tea break.
Regular exercise increases endorphins, makes you feel happier and it combats stress. But, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) – which is thirty second sprints of intense exercise with rest periods in between – sends highly oxygenated blood into our cells. A recent study showed that cardio and aerobic exercise prevents telomeres from shrinking. If you’ve been meaning to get back into the gym, but haven’t quite found the energy to get started, Jennifer Lopez’s trainer has a workout you can do at home here, and Margot Robbie’s trainer explains her cardio routine here.
Not only does getting eight hours of quality sleep a night make you feel fantastic the next day, scientists believe that it slows down the shortening of our telomeres.