Healthy aging is a lifelong process. The saying and well known book "Life Begins at 40" turns out to be very true. Choices we make from childhood on affect our body's longevity. If the choices are good, 40 could just be the beginning.
The greatest, most harmful misconception is that of the point of no return. That you would believe you are now old and therefore resigned to pain and illness. Yet, science shows us that improvements are always achievable. And they always pay off. Research on telomeres--the proteins at the ends of our chromosomes--is beginning to explain why.
Telomeres: The Ends of Our Chromosomes
Our chromosomes contain the DNA that makes every one of us unique. When a new cell is created, it takes DNA from the old cell. This process happens all the time. If the old cells lose all their DNA, they die.
Telomeres are in place to prevent our chromosomes from shrinking and weakening as a result of constant DNA replication. They also help to stave off cellular aging. Research has shown that longer telomeres are associated with longer, more enjoyable lives.
The bad news?
Telomeres shrivel and shrink with age. According to the same studies, shortened telomeres are associated with increased vulnerability to various diseases and rapid aging.
In 2011, a pilot study established that small yet effective changes in lifestyle may boost a specific enzyme that helps maintain and even restore telomere length (more on this later).
Prior to that, studies indicated that consistent exercise and healthy nutritional choices (like intelligent supplementation) could also protect telomeres from eroding. Healthy lifestyle habits have been shown to prevent your body from aging at the cellular level.
The cells in our bodies lose power as we get older. This microscopic process, known as senescence, is linked to the body's natural deterioration with age. While getting older is inevitable (we cannot stop time), drastically declining health is not necessarily a presumed part of our life cycle. People can be active, fit and vigorous at any age.
In the long run, proper lifestyle habits--the things we do every day--make a lasting difference.
Why and How?
Telomere deterioration is linked to many common symptoms and health conditions, many of which are the precursors of diseases that are not presumed to be related. High blood pressure, high levels of triglycerides and high blood sugar levels are common terms in any doctor's office because they warn of cardiovascular disease, a notoriously deadly health condition.
What many do not realize, however, is that those very same health indicators increase a person's risk of dementia late in life. And obesity is associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
When your Maximized Living wellness doctor tells you to exercise, your appearance is far from the only thing at stake.
At any age or level of physical fitness, exercise helps control the risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Exercise--at any age or level of physical fitness--improves your health now while simultaneously protecting your brain from deteriorating in the future. Current research has further supported these claims, demonstrating that exercise protects you from emotional stress and reduces brain atrophy.
Taking Care of Your Telomeres
If telomeres are allowed to shorten, cells struggle to multiply properly. This makes it tough to rebuild and repair bodily tissue. As mentioned earlier, shortened telomeres open the door to disease.
According to research led by Dr. Dean Ornish, the enzyme telomerase is "significantly associated" with maintaining telomere length.
The presence and activity of telomerase dictates your telomeres' abilities to withstand the erosion caused by lifelong cellular division and oxidative stress. Poor lifestyle habits, including lack of physical activity, accumulated stress and poor diet, cause the inflammation and stress that accelerates the shortening of telomeres.
If stress and inflammation are allowed to persist, severe health conditions may develop:
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Depression, and others
Each of these conditions is among the many that have been linked to shortened telomeres in the human body. Conversely, a diet high in antioxidants and an active lifestyle have been shown to reduce inflammation and stress while increasing the activity of telomerase.
Through their aforementioned research, Ornish and colleagues determined that dietary improvements and increased exercise "significantly increase telomerase activity and consequently telomere maintenance capacity in human immune system cells."
What You Can Do
All actions and choices affect your body and are thus inevitably intertwined. The activities and eating habits of your twenties catch up to you by the time you hit 40 and can positively affect your lifespan and quality of life.
The length of your telomeres indicates and even predicts your health. And the same research has shown two key points:
- Longer telomeres are tied to longer, healthier, happier lives.
- Healthy lifestyle choices protect your telomeres by safely and naturally increasing telomerase activity.
The key is to find the most effective approach possible that is also easy for you to sustain. These things strengthen your body. They protect your mind.
Make the right choice. Starting tomorrow may be an option, but it will never replace the benefits of taking action today.