The Long and Short of Anti-Aging

A while back, I wrote about the various nutritional supplements HB and I take. I mentioned one of the key reasons we take some of the supplements we do is they’re proven to promote longer telomeres.

Telomeres are like little caps on the end of your chromosomes. They protect your genetic information each time a cell divides. Instead of your genetic data unraveling, you lose a little bit of telomere each time a cell divides.

Eventually, the telomere becomes to short to protect its chromosome, and the cell stops dividing… and eventually dies.

Cells with longer telomeres live longer. And if all your cells live longer, the theory is you will, too.

So HB and I get plenty of Vitamins C, D and E, plus lutein and zeaxanthan. All of these nutrients (and they’re not the only ones) are linked to longer telomeres.

In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, just taking a multivitamin regularly appears to promote longer telomeres.

This got me wondering if our lifestyle could affect telomere length, so I did a little digging.

It turns out stress is a big factor in shortening telomeres. Since antioxidants seem to have the opposite effect, this didn’t surprise us. Smoking is another culprit. Pesticides, air pollution, lead and quite a few chemicals are also linked to shorter telomeres.

Exercise that builds your VO2Max – your peak ability to take in oxygen – encourages longer telomeres, too.

Scientists in Norway found 20 volunteers. Half were in their 20s, while the others ranged in age from 66-77. Half of each of those groups were endurance athletes.

The younger men all had telomeres of about the same length. But the situation was different for the older guys. Among men in their 60s and 70s, those with a higher VO2Max had measurably longer telomeres.

But my doctor keeps telling me to avoid long endurance runs. He says shorter bursts of intense exercise – what we called “intervals” back in my high school days – are much better for building your heart and lungs.

So I did a little more searching, and found another study from Norway. In this one, they tested 40 “moderately trained” men. Some trained for endurance while others did interval training.

Guess what? The men who did the interval training – shorter, more intense bursts of exercise – built greater VO2Max than the endurance group.

In other words, you can exercise less and get bigger rewards… if you do the right exercise.

I came across another interesting study in my search, too. And this one found you can promote longer telomeres by doing the opposite of exercise.

In this study, women who practiced loving-kindness meditation had longer telomeres than those who didn’t. Basically, spending a few minutes a day focusing on the wellbeing of others was all it took!

Now, before you say I’m crazy, let me tell you who did this study: Massachusetts General Hospital and the Harvard Medical School.

Here’s what I think this shows: We know stress accelerates aging. And meditation is a great stress buster. I suspect that any form of quiet meditation would have a similar effect.

By now, you may be asking, “Is there any benefit to all this?” I looked that up, too. And the answer is, “Yes!”

Doctors from Boston University compared the telomeres of 38 people aged 97 – 108. The ones who remained independent – who had healthy hearts, healthy circulation, healthy blood pressure and sharper minds – also had longer telomeres.

Needless to say, HB and I will (mostly) follow my doctor’s advice on exercise. And maybe we can even find a few minutes a day for quiet meditation.

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