There are secrets to aging well. The Ancient Greeks and Egyptians, the indigenous people of the Caribbean, Native Americans, Disney anti-heroes—they all believed eternal youth was possible, but only through magic. Today, scientists are finding the Fountain of Youth is real. It’s not in the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean, or in a mystical chalice, however. Conveniently, the Fountain of Youth is in your body’s cells, your refrigerator, and your mind.
Long Telomeres = Long Life
Researchers are learning how to naturally slow the aging process. They’ve found that the secret to youthfulness is held in your telomeres, which are the parts of your chromosomes that control aging. Telomeres are like the plastic tips of shoelaces—they prevent your chromosomes from fraying or getting tangled up. Every time a cell divides, its telomeres shorten. When telomeres become too short to divide further, they die. In essence, the shortening of telomeres is the aging process. If you want to slow the aging process, therefore, you must lengthen your telomeres.
Your choices—food, activity, even thoughts—influence the length of your telomeres. Here are some things you can do to help stretch those tiny passports to anti-aging:
- Exercise. Physical activity boosts mood, energy, and telomere length. Exercise keeps your cells young. One study found that middle-aged hard-core runners (40-50 miles a week) had telomere lengths 75 percent longer than their sedentary peers; their chromosomes were comparable to those of 20-year-olds. Another study found that adults in their 50s who exercised a mere three hours per week lengthened their telomeres. This indicates it’s never too late to start slowing the aging process.
- Eat Your Veggies. And Fruits and Grains and Nuts, Seeds, and Legumes. In a 2013 study, researchers found the easiest way to lengthen your telomeres is to adapt a plant-based diet. In a future article, I’ll detail the science behind choosing plant products over animal products, but the bottom line is this: Regardless of how much you exercise, if you eat acidic, hormone and antibiotic-poisoned foods, you will hasten your cellular aging. Foods that keep you young include: hemp seeds (Omega-rich, complete protein containing all amino acids), flax seeds (ditto—but take care to store flax seeds whole in your fridge and grind them before eating), sunflower seeds (eat raw after soaking to remove the vitamin-inhibiting, toxic coating that deters bugs, birds, and other prey from eating them in the fields), spinach and kale (organic only), sweet potatoes, peppers, and oranges. Spice up your meals with turmeric and cinnamon, both of which are anti-inflammatory and antioxidant powerhouses. For a health-boosting indulgence, choose pure, unsweetened cocoa and check out my article about how to sweeten it up without adding poisonous sugar or sugar substitutes: http://www.fitfierce50.com/2016/07/28/sugar-as-deadly-as-it-is-sweet/.
- Meditate. Stress shortens telomeres significantly. Meditation lowers stress and also helps repair your genes while balancing your brain. In meditation, you learn to observe your thoughts without grabbing hold of them. If you’re new to meditation, start with 2 minutes a day. Close your eyes, inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 4, sending the breath deep into your abdomen. Allow the breath to rise, filling your diaphragm, chest, and shoulders. Hold for a count of 7. Release the breath through your mouth with a sigh for a count of 8. Repeat 6 or 7 times. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend in meditation until you reach 20 minutes or longer per day. Or, take multiple 5-minute meditation breaks throughout your day.
- Abstain from Negative Thinking. Negative thinking shortens your telomeres. You are not responsible for your first thought, but every thought after that is a choice. Choose thoughts that soothe and comfort you. Replace thoughts that trigger anger, fear, guilt, shame, and anxiety with positive affirmations. Google “positive affirmations” to see a list of books, blog posts, and articles that offer specific affirmations for whatever issue is causing you distress, including relationships, money, career, fertility, body image, and health.
- Practice Yoga. Remaining flexible—body and mind—is an essential component of an anti-aging routine, and studies have found that people who practice yoga have longer telomeres than those who don’t. Take care to find a qualified yoga instructor to ensure you learn each posture—asana—correctly. Without proper form, you can do your body more harm than good.
Obviously, aging well is ideal. Aches, pains, cognitive decline, sagging skin, wrinkles—no one wants that. While there’s no natural way to look or feel 25 forever, the right foods and exercises can offset many of aging’s least desirable side effects. Jog, bike, swim, dance. Adopt a shelter dog and take him/her for a half-hour walk three times a day. Sign up for a yoga retreat or workshop and maintain the practice once you return home. Activities you can do on your own, without workout partners, expensive equipment or gym fees, are best. When you eat healthy, unload stress, and make exercise a part of your daily routine, lengthening your telomeres and offsetting some negative aspects of aging is the natural result.
About me: I am an anti-aging health coach who has been researching and writing about health, fitness, nutrition, aging, and cognitive health for over 25 years. As a consultant to MetLife and health journalist whose credits include Cosmopolitan, The Dallas Morning News, San Francisco Chronicle, Philadelphia, and USA Today, I’ve published more than one thousand articles on physical and mental wellness. I am a 55-year-old flying trapeze artist, ballet dancer, and yogi. My mission is to help Baby Boomers and younger generations live longer, healthier, happier lives.