For more on how to defy your years with the help of my best anti-aging and wellness techniques, check out my book The New Rules of Aging Well: A Simple Program for Immune Resilience, Strength, and Vitality – and start the journey today.
Spot those first laugh lines across your forehead and your first thought likely is, make it stop! While there’s no sure-fire way to stop aging – both visible and not – it is possible to slow the process down quite a bit, and it’s not that hard to do. You can give your body and mind an anti-aging leg-up by embracing a number of the healthy habit essentials you’ve heard me talk about before — like eating whole, unprocessed foods; getting enough movement and good sleep; managing stress. But here’s one more thing you can do: focus on protecting the length of your telomeres.
Telo-what? If you’re not familiar with them, telomeres are the ‘endcaps’ that protect the DNA in your chromosomal strands. Those endcaps help keep your cells youthful, in other words, you youthful. Think of them as the DNA equivalent of those plastic tips that keep your shoelaces from fraying. Starting in the womb, our telomeres go about their business, protecting the chromosomes but, in so doing, they also get shorter, bit by bit, day by day. By the time you reach middle age, that’s a lot of telomere that’s been chipped away, inhibiting the ability of cell lines that divide frequently to keep on dividing – for instance, in the skin, gut, immune system – which is what you need to stay youthful and healthy.
Over time, it’s that cumulative shortening of the telomeres that’s one of the key drivers of aging. How quickly those telomeres shorten determine the pace at which you age, so the more you can do lifestyle-wise to protect your telomeres and slow the pace, the better. Though there may not be a single fountain of youth to tap into, take on the protection of your telomeres with a multi-pronged – or multi-fountain – approach. Here’s how and where to find those protective fountains – and minimize telomere wear-and-tear:
Time for your telomere topline.
Studies indicate that long telomere lengths are associated with health and longevity, and short telomeres with most or all of the classic ills of aging: heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, and the like. Fueling the recent interest in telomeres is a ground-breaking Harvard study in which researchers were able to reverse aging in mice by chemically flipping on telomerase, the enzyme that maintains telomeres, thereby demonstrating the tight relationship between aging and telomeres. Though the mechanics aren’t yet fully understood, at a practical level, this work suggests that if we tend to our telomeres — as in, avoid shortening them with loads of unhealthy habits like stress, poor diet, sedentary lives, etc. — we can extend our life spans and ‘health spans.’ Living healthier for longer? That sounds like an excellent option to us
Embrace my ‘Top 9 Telomere-Protecting Tips’.
The best way to protect your telomeres is simple: embrace the healthiest lifestyle you can, starting today. The length of your telomeres depends on it. If you’re doing most things right, keep up the good work, but feel free to keep tweaking further. If you’re not currently on the healthiest course, there’s still time to turn the ship around, the sooner the better. Start with the essentials:
Ditch destructive substances – like tobacco, sugar, and alcohol. Beyond being lousy for your overall health, they’re notorious aging accelerators.
Embrace meditation and relaxation – stress is a telomere-shortener, so add a 5 – 20 minute (or more) daily meditation or restorative yoga practice to your routine and enjoy the anti-aging benefits.
Shake your groove thing – as in, move more throughout the day, particularly as you move into middle age. Research has found that regular activity accounted for significantly longer telomeres and those longer telomeres found in active adults accounted for the cellular equivalent of being 9 years younger
Drop extra weight – one more reason to trim down. Studies indicate that shorter telomeres are associated with higher body mass indexes, so commit to trying to get to a healthy weight.
Prioritize sleep – and get good at it. During sleep, your body is busy clearing out cellular debris and making repairs. In the brain, it’s the “glymphatic system” that handles the maintenance duties. When you don’t sleep well or for long enough, less cleaning occurs and damaged proteins and other toxins build up, over time leaving you more vulnerable to rapid brain aging and neurological disease.
Clean up your dietary act – and you may be able to actually lengthen your telomeres. Your telomere-supportive mission: go heavy on antioxidant-rich and anti-inflammatory foods at every meal and follow these basic guidelines:
- Lean heavily on fresh, organic or farmers’ market produce.
- Cut back on animal products, opting for small amounts of high-quality grass-fed and finished, pasture-raised animals.
- Opt for low-in-mercury, small, oily fish like sardines and mackerel to boost omega-3s levels.
- Dump processed foods, sweets, simple carbs and telomere-shortening sugary sodas
- Eat the rainbow, load up on healthy fats, and dig into good stuff like leafy greens, avocado, seaweed, asparagus, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, berries, nuts and seeds, to name a few.
- Drink green or rooibos tea to take advantage of their natural antioxidant boosting benefits.
Supplement your telomeres – because the vitamins and nutrients running through your veins matter. Too little vitamin D can shorten telomeres, while several studies have linked higher levels of antioxidants like vitamin C and E with longer telomere length. In addition to a clean, healthy diet, I recommend a few simple supplements to add another layer of telomere support:
- A high-quality omega 3 supplement with 1.4 grams EPA and 1 gram DHA to help tame inflammation. One study showed that telomeres shortened more slowly in those with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids than people who fell short.
- Vitamin D — but have your levels checked first to avoid overdoing it (which can be hard on your kidneys). Once your D levels are optimized, a daily dose of roughly 2,000 IU should be enough.
- A good multivitamin to help fill in any gaps.
- Nicotinamide riboside (aka, NAD), a form of vitamin B3 that is considered a major anti-ager, helping to repair damaged DNA and fortify cellular defenses
Eat a bit less – as in, get into intermittent fasting, for example, training yourself eat all your meals within a daily 8 -12 hour window. Doing this on the regular slightly stresses the cells of the body, in a good way, suppressing the activity of mTOR (the complex of proteins that can accelerate aging once we’re full-grown) and triggering autophagy, two of the body’s key youth and telomere-preserving processes.
Change your attitude – and retrain your brain. Glass always half empty? Love to say, “I’m too old for this crap,” or kvetch about how much better things used to be? Here’s a word of advice: Stop! To help fend off the telomere-related ravages of time, turn your frown upside down. Several studies have shown that those who identified as pessimists had shorter telomeres than those who identified as optimists. But what if pessimism is your default setting? Work on your gratitude. When you think about it, there are likely plenty of things, and people, to be grateful for. And when you practice gratitude — and it is a practice — you help train your brain to redirect negative thoughts in a more positive direction and support the health of your telomeres to boot.