Maybe you’ve heard the word “telomere”; it’s been getting a lot of action lately. Telomeres are like biological clocks built into us on a cellular level. They cap our chromosomes and stop them from unraveling (in the photo above, they’re colored yellow), and they get shorter as our cells divide. Eventually, they get so short that they can’t do their job, leading to the death of cells and the onset of some of the chronic diseases many of us experience as we get older, along with cancer, dementia and other diseases of aging.
This month, The Lancet published a small study by a team at the University of California, San Francisco that suggests we can reverse this cellular clock by making some simple lifestyle changes.
Lead author Dean Ornish told LiveScience, “A number of studies have shown that as telomeres get shorter, the risk of premature death – and most chronic disease, from heart disease to cancer, even dementia – goes up.” This study was unusual in that it saw a lengthening of telomeres; in other words, a reversal of the aging process.
In the study, one group of men was given a regime of exercise, healthy diet, stress reduction and social interaction, while a second group made no changes to their lifestyles. After five years, the first group’s telomeres had lengthened by an average of 10 percent, while the second group’s had shortened by three percent.
The UCSF study was too small to be conclusive, but its author says the findings are significant. In the past, Ornish was responsible for early studies showing we can reverse heart disease through lifestyle changes.
Watch Ornish discuss the study, or read on to learn about the specific lifestyle changes the men made.
Age-Friendly Lifestyle Changes
This infographic from UCSF shows what the lifestyle of the first group of men looked like. When the researchers measured the telomeres in the men’s white blood cells, those who had followed the regime most faithfully showed the most lengthening.
The message: It’s never too late to start – if you have an extra 90 minutes in your day.
Click here to read the press release from UCSF
Click here to read the study abstract in The Lancet Oncology