Recently we revealed that to live a long and healthy life, we need to effectively turn back the clock on the aging of our telomeres. Here’s how to do it.
Telomeres and longevity
The other day we revealed what telomeres are and how they affect our longevity. If you missed it, read about it here. There are things you can do to influence these changes in your telomeres. Think of it as anti-aging for your DNA!
Lifestyle habits for long telomeres
To reset the clock on our DNA, so to speak, and lengthen our telomeres, there are several things we can do. Here’s some tips on how to do it.
1) Dietary Changes
Once again “you are what you eat” and this is key. It’s also easier than you think. Think Mediterranean Diet, the way you eat in Greece, and the way Yiayia and Mama cooked at home.
- Avoid processed meat
People who eat processed meat just once a week have shorter telomeres. Stick to organic, free range whole meat for healthy telomere length.
- Eat a whole food diet
Fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and legumes are ALL good for your telomeres.
- Stick to non-inflammatory foods
Aging cells with short or damaged telomeres send out pro-inflammatory signals that cause the body’s immune system to turn on itself – meaning it won’t work right. Inflammation also causes immune cells to prematurely divide and replicate, which shortens telomeres even more.
To help stop contributing to this process, avoid inflammatory foods and instead eat foods that prevent inflammation. Red, purple, green, and yellow whole foods all contain the necessary nutrients to help reduce inflammation. In other words, eat the rainbow!
- Eat more foods rich in omega-3s
People living in the Blue Zones have longer telomeres. Omega-3s help keep the telomeres in top shape. This means that the more omega-3 found you’re in blood cells, the less the telomeres decline. Get your omega-3s from fish, nuts, seeds, and egg yolks – they’re are all high in omega 3’s.
- Up your vitamin C intake
People with high blood levels of vitamin C have longer telomeres. What’s the best place to find vitamin C? Fruit, of course! Try to incorporate plenty of fresh whole fruit into your daily diet.
- Let the sunshine in
Higher levels of vitamin D are related to longer telomere length — especially in women. Responsible sun exposure, food sources, gut health and supplements when needed are all effective ways to help raise your own vitamin D levels.
- Don’t skip your kafedaki
Once again, especially for women, those who drink caffeinated coffee are shown to have longer telomeres than those who don’t! Another reason to enjoy your daily cup!
- Follow a Mediterranean diet
Overall, people who follow a Mediterranean Diet have longer telomeres. This is not surprising, considering the above food suggestions are all hallmark characteristics of the Mediterranean-style of eating. Even more amazing, is that the closer you adhere to this diet, the longer your telomeres will be.
2) Environmental Changes
Your environment plays a pivotal role in your health. Start thinking about your environment and what’s going on. It’s affecting you in more ways than you realize. Let’s look at some changes you can make.
- Know your neighbors
How often do you hear people say that they DON’T know who their neighbors are? Or that they don’t even wave hi when they see each other? Neighborhoods that are low in social cohesion (no sense of overall well-being for its members) are bad for telomeres — no matter what the income level is or where you live.
Keep in mind that knowing your neighbors is NOT the same as the same as liking your neighbors. You don’t necessarily have to like them but knowing them is what helps promote an overall sense of belonging which in turn, helps keep our telomeres long.
- Remove toxins
Pesticides, herbicides, and chemicals found in our food, water, and environment (i.e. backyards, cleaning products) have all been found to prematurely shorten telomere length. Make an active attempt to avoid these chemicals wherever you can. This is a must for optimal telomere length.
3) Mindset Changes
Now, if you only make changes in your diet and environment, you won’t get the proper effect. When we look to change and grow, we won’t achieve success unless we adjust our mindset. Sometimes we could all use an attitude adjustment or ways to de-stress. Here are some ways to do it.
- Meditate like the ancients
- View stress as a challenge rather than a threat
How we perceive and/or appraise threats around us dictates the effects on our telomeres. In other words, if you perceive your overall stress as unmanageable, threatening and out of your control, you’re telomeres will prematurely shorten.
However, if you perceive your daily stressors as challenging and ultimately in your control, you’re telomere length will reflect that. (For more information on how to shift your stress response to a more adaptive one, regardless of the stress, see here).
- Practice a single-minded focus
Women with the highest levels of self-reported mind wandering had telomeres that were shorter than those who felt they were generally more focused. While many individuals praise themselves on the ability to multitask, research continues to demonstrate that multi-tasking not only negatively affects long term goal attainment, but seems to contribute to premature aging as well.
- Practice Evdaimonia
Individuals who scored high on questionnaires aimed at measuring their ultimate belief of their purpose in life, had longer telomeres. Existential psychologists have long known that a person’s inner conflict may be due to that individual’s confrontation with their givens of existence. Modern day research on telomeres now demonstrates that existential angst (lack of purpose) not only affects us on a mental level, but at a cellular level as well.
Evdaimonia can help! What’s evdaimonia? It’s the ancient Greek word commonly translated to human flourishing and/or excellence.” It’s often used as the term describing the “highest human good.” Practice evdaimonia (activities aligned with your purpose that help you flourish) to help lengthen and/or maintain your telomeres.
Currently struggling with finding your purpose?
Think of what makes you proud and do that. Actively choosing to participate in small (sometimes seemingly mundane) activities that ultimately make you feel proud will ultimately help you realign yourself.
“All men by nature desire knowledge-” Aristotle
The wisdom of the ancients
We’ve definitely come a long way from the ancient Greeks in regard to what we know about aging. We now know, that aging and specifically premature aging — specifically pertaining to telomeres – is largely due to our own individual choices and NOT predetermined decisions passed down to from unforgiving gods, as was once thought.
In other words, how quickly we age is very much under our own control. While aging results from the interaction of many different factors of which telomeres are only one, knowing and implementing as many of the techniques mentioned above, will not only help you live a longer, healthier life, but a happier, purposeful one as well.
For a long and healthy life, let’s lengthen those telomeres, Greek style!
Sources and Inspiration:
The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel.
Rethinking Depression, by Eric Maisel.
Need help making health-related changes? Contact Roula today for a free initial consultation and let’s get you on the road to good health.
Get more health tips from Roula Marinos Papamihail, CHHC:
She trained at Functional Diagnostic Nutrition, the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. and holds a Masters in Clinical Psychology from the University of Indianapolis. She’s also the proud mom of 4 little boys. Roula is currently accepting new clients in her office, at home, over the phone, or via Skype. Visit her website at www.myhealthysoma.com.