It is argued that variations in telomere length may explain what can make some forty year olds look sixty, and some sixty year olds easily pass for forty.
Research teams, especially those that focus on aging, are expanding on the research that won Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn the Nobel Prize for her work on telomeres.
Telomeres are those extra long tips found on our DNA that protect our genetic code from degradation. Others have likened it to the plastic ends protecting your shoestrings from wear and tear.
When these tips wear down far enough, we expose the critical DNA of our cells to deterioration, aging and disease. Dr. Blackburn and colleagues discovered that an enzyme can add DNA back to the telomere ends and restore the cell to a healthier, younger state.
So what, if anything, accelerates or slows this process? Chronic stress, poor diet, insufficient sleep and sitting all have been shown to shorten telomeres. Likewise, studies have shown that shortened telomeres lead to inflammation, which is a known risk factor for all types of diseases.
While research is not suggesting that the shortened telomeres cause the disease, it is believed that they play a role in unmasking an individual’s genetic predisposition to a particular disease.
A study of 1500 older women showed that more than ten hours of sedentary behavior had an impact on cells. Those 1500 women were essentially eight biological years older than their healthier counterparts.
Some of Dr. Blackburn’s research is beginning to reveal specific lifestyle recommendations for maintaining our telomere health. Don’t despair, you needn’t be signing up for the next marathon; studies show that 30-40 minutes of moderate exercise and a solid seven hours of restorative sleep each day may do the trick.
If you find this all rather fascinating, you’re not alone. Dr. Blackburn, along with Elissa Epel, director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Aging, Metabolism and Emotions Center, released their book entitled, “The Telomere Effect” just last month. Their book endorses the thinking that we really can do something about aging.
Take steps to lengthen your telomeres, and in return, your life!
1. Weintraub, Karen, You may have more control over aging than you think, say ‘The Telomere Effect’ authors, January 3, 2017, Retrieved from https://www.statnews.com/2017/01/03/aging-control-telomere-effect/
2. Delehanty, Hugh ,Why Our Telomeres Matter, AARP Bulletin, Jan./Feb. 2017, Retrieved from http://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2017/elizabeth-blackburn-stress-dna-hd.html