One of the new aspects of optimal aging involves measuring the tiny fragments of DNA found at the end of each chromosome. These caps called telomeres prevent the tips from fraying – much like the plastic tips on shoelaces prevent them from unraveling. Each time a cell divides, the telomere shortens. It’s like an internal biological clock, unique to each person. As the telomere shortens, the cells begin to age.
Perhaps you have noticed that some people suffer from chronic disease and become frail earlier than their peers. Others are working full time, some are competing in Senior Olympics, and a few have run for President! If your telomere length is in the lower third of your age group, your cardiovascular disease risk can increase by 40%.
So, how do we add telomere lengths to our Christmas list? First, it’s important to know how to measure them. Specific laboratories will take a sample of white blood cells (T-lymphocytes) and measure the length. The patient’s telomere score will be based on a sample of the American population in the same age range. The higher the telomere score, the “younger” the cells. This test is an indicator of how rapidly one ages relative to his or her peers.
You can get a head start on optimal aging even before you take the telomere test. Factors directly associated with repairing and lengthening telomeres include a healthy diet (think Mediterranean with lots of olive oil, fresh vegetables, fish and healthy fats). Just say no to fast food, sodas, eggnog, etc. Leave Santa healthy cookies and sparkling water. Set a goal to be active for an hour most days of the week. Then when evening comes, try to sleep for 8 hours. Get a body composition along with your telomere test to find out your percent of body fat as well as your metabolic rate and other interesting facts.
Last of all, do your best to manage stress well during this holiday season and into next year. Research has shown that chronic stress shortens telomeres and can actually add an extra decade or more to your score! Aging optimally requires mindfulness in body, soul, and spirit. Give yourself the gift of wellness by living intentionally. Here’s to long telomeres!
Wellness is a lifestyle, not an event. To your health!