Our genes are arranged along twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold some keys to how we age and get cancer. Telomeres keep chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other, which would destroy or scramble an organism’s genetic information. Each time your cells divide, the telomeres get shorter. When they get too short, the cell can no longer divide and it dies. This shortening process is associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death.

In 2013, Dr. Dean Ornish published a study that suggested that lifestyle and dietary changes such as practicing meditation, yoga, and eating more plants could help lengthen telomeres, and possibly reverse the aging process.  Other factors that can impact telomere length include being a non-smoker, spending less time being inactive and being female.

What can you do to lengthen your telomeres and, perhaps, your life?  Here are some simple ideas that can help.

  • Tame your stress. Telomeres progressively shorten as job-related stress and burnout crank higher. Telomeres may be able to recover if you take steps to manage chronic stress.  Yoga, meditation and relaxation techniques can help ease long term stress.
  • Get up and move.  Some studies show that physical activity can help lengthen telomeres, in part by zapping stress.  The benefits of exercise do not mean that you have to start running marathons.  The recommendation is 42 minutes of vigorous exercise over 3 days—14 minutes a day – to be effective.
  • Eat well!  Researchers believe fiber, especially from cereal, may contribute to longer telomeres in women. Folic acid, which fortifies enriched grain products such as breads and cereals, is thought to help protect DNA, including telomeres. Some studies suggest that levels of folate, the form that folic acid takes in the blood, are related to telomere length in men. Most researchers believe that anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of whole grains and plant-based foods in general help explain the effect as well.

Sounds like advice you’ve heard before?  Science has uncovered many benefits associated with physical activity, a healthy diet and stress management. No doubt, there will be more revelations about the benefits of a healthy lifestyle as the science of well-being matures. Here’s to long telomeres, long life and lower risk of chronic disease!

Andrea wants to live in a world where the neighborhoods are walkable, bike lanes are plentiful, and the food is fresh, delicious and readily available. A 20-year veteran of the health and wellness industry, she started her career in the fitness industry while earning a master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion, and then on to the burgeoning field of worksite wellness. Andrea has competed in collegiate level soccer, worked as a personal trainer, fitness instructor, wellness coach, and master trainer, climbed 14ers, and completed cycling centuries and metric centuries. All of these experiences give her the opportunity to view well-being from many different perspectives. When she’s not helping others to be their healthiest self, you can find her at a farm to table restaurant, down dogging at the yoga studio, or experiencing the Colorado landscape on a bicycle, snowshoes, cross country skis or on foot.