You know that living in a healthy way—eating properly, exercising and performing mental health-boosting exercises like meditation—can make you feel a whole lot better. But what exactly is happening to create this new, rejuvenated you?
Sure, exercising can help to shed some of those extra pounds you’ve been carrying around and that can make you feel more energetic. Eating properly can give you a spike in badly needed nutrients that boost not only your energy levels, but make you less susceptible to suffering from an illness. And meditating can rest your mind, allowing it to reach a place of calm and peace where stress and worries can’t penetrate.
But did you know that there might be more going on under the surface? People who adopt a healthy lifestyle might actually be slowing down the process of aging at the cellular level.
University of California researchers came to this realization when they studied 35 men with prostate cancer. These men changed their lifestyle to include at least three healthy behaviors. The research team then monitored physical changes that took place in the bodies of the men. What they found was quite remarkable: the men showed clear signs that their cells had become genetically “younger.”
The youth-creating lifestyle changes included adopting a vegetarian diet, following a set timetable of exercise, and participating in meditation and yoga sessions.
The researchers were able to glimpse the benefits from this healthy regimen at the microscopic level. They discovered that the protective caps at the ends of the men’s chromosomes—called telomeres—were better preserved. Telomeres protect chromosomes as they divide and help to safeguard the genetic information stored in each chromosome. When chromosomes replicate, it is the telomeres that make sure there are no errors as information is copied.
As we age, our telomeres tend to get shorter, making them less effective at protecting chromosomes. As a result, cells can stop dividing and die off, or divide with the wrong genetic information. Researchers still don’t know if telomeres shorten automatically as we age, or whether this process could be stopped or reversed.
During the study, the researchers measured telomere length at the outset and at the five-year mark. They found that men who had adopted the lifestyle changes showed a 10% increase in telomere length. A placebo group that didn’t adopt any healthy lifestyle changes showed a more typical three percent drop in telomere length.
The researchers are hoping that future studies will prove that lifestyle changes trigger longer telomeres that will ultimately result in less age-related diseases. This list could potentially include heart disease, cancer, and conditions associated with chronic inflammation.
Telomeres are not the only marker for human aging. There may be other mechanisms that need to be better understood before scientists uncover the fountain of youth. For now, this is more evidence that you should adopt a lifestyle that includes regular exercise, healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes and fatty fish, along with a little meditation or yoga.
Source(s) for Today’s Article:
Roberts, M., “Health kick ‘reverses cell ageing,” BBC News Health web site, Sept. 16, 2013; http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-24111357, last accessed Sept. 17, 2013.
Walne, A.J., et al., “Mutations in the telomere capping complex in bone marrow failure and related syndromes.” Haematologica. March 2013; 98(3): 334-8.
Siegel, L.J., “Are Telomeres the Key To Aging and Cancer?” The University of Utah; http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/begin/traits/telomeres/, last accessed Sept. 18, 2013.