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Cell aging could be slowed with lifestyle changes

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It’s no secret that a healthy life is a product of eating right, getting enough sleep, reducing stress and exercising but most studies look at how those changes impact your weight or your heart or some other major system.  Now there’s a study at the cellular level that found that lifestyle changes that included eating more fruits and vegetables, spending time meditating or doing yoga and managing stress increased the length of telomeres. 

Telomeres are the caps on our chromosomes that block the ends of the enzymes.  Dr. Dean Ornish, founder of the Preventive Medicine Institute and lead researcher in the study likens them to the plastic caps on our shoelaces.  As we age, those caps get smaller.  What the study tried to do was look at telomeres in individuals who didn’t change their lifestyles and also at telomeres in individuals who did change their lifestyles and found that those that made changes had an increased length in their telomeres.  The more changes people made to their lifestyle, the more changes were evident in the telomeres.  Since shorter telomeres are associated with increased risk of developing chronic diseases and also of decreased lifespan, the study authors hoped to show that increasing the length of the telomeres showed the opposite response.

In some respects, the study doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know.  Ask any doctor, regardless of specialty or even lack of specialty and they’ll tell you not to smoke, eliminate any excess weight, get regular exercise and regular sleep, eat right, be socially engaged, and reduce stress.  That message hasn’t changed much in decades.  But, we often think we are genetically engineered for certain things, here’s a study that says it’s within our ability to change at least some of that engineering, re-engineering if you will that part of us that has seemed unchangeable.  Many media stories are likening it to some sort of longevity effect but the study was very small and wasn’t random so more studies would have to be undertaken to corroborate any sort of conclusions that can be drawn from the study.  Still, it’s interesting that long term (the study was for 5-years) changes in lifestyle affected cells in such a way that those changes could potentially prevent or even reverse some common chronic diseases such as heart disease, early-stage prostate cancer, and type 2 diabetes.  Here are links to an NPR report on the study and also one by Bloomberg that give more indications of the lifestyle changes involved in the study.

If you are like most people approaching retirement or already in retirement, you hope to spend those years traveling, enjoying your family and otherwise making use of the extra time you have available but those dreams depend upon having your health.  Retirement is made up of many aspects but without health you’ll be forced to accept something less.  For instance, if you’re not healthy, you may be forced to move somewhere that provides help or you may have to pay for help in the home.  Those costs add up.  Meaning that, the cost of not caring for your health can be the financially equivalent to choosing to not be able to take a cruise or choosing not to be able to visit where your great-great-grandfather was buried (over and over again).  Your health is your greatest asset.  Protecting it should be your greatest priority.

For a list of geriatric physicians, please call AgingOptions at 1-877-76-Aging.

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