Do Our Lifestyle Choices Lengthen Our Life?

Jillian From New Mexico writes:

I am 63 and have been looking for ways to slow the aging process. I keep hearing about genetics being affected by our environment. Can you please explain if we can control our lifespan by our lifestyle choices? 

Dear Jillian,

Great question. The good news is that we are much more in control of our lifestyle choices than we ever thought before. For many years the scientific community has told us that it’s primarily in our genes. Whatever Mom or Grandpa had in the realm of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or arthritis, would typically be the cards we would be dealt. We are learning that nothing could be further from the truth. It is about our genes, however, our genes can be affected by the choices in our daily lives. The aspect of our DNA (which is the blueprint of our cells) that we are learning more about is called the telomeres. The telomeres are considered “long” when we are young and healthy and thought to “shorten” as we age and encounter negative lifestyle factors such as poor dietary choices, environmental toxins, stress, and lack of physical activity. 

Your doctor tells you frequently “eat a better diet and exercise.” You say, ok great! But you are really thinking, “now what do I do?” Let me show you what the research says. There was a study done with 2400 twins that looked at the components of exercising and how it affected their telomeres. Those that exercised a total of 3 hours per week (abort 30 minutes per day), actually “lengthened” their telomeres! The study was performed on those twins in their 40’s. The results were that their telomeres lengthened back to what they had in their 20’s! Ok, I am no mathematician, but that is great news! Researchers also looked at those habitual exercisers that started in their 20’s and how their telomeres looked into their 40’s. The result? There was minimal change in their overall length. We can actually put a dimmer switch on the aging process by our lifestyle choices. To even further support this, studies were performed on 400 women performed for over a year looking at their lifestyle choices. They found that their diet played the largest role in telomere lengthening. By increasing a diet full of fruits, vegetables, omega-3 fats, and lean proteins, the results were remarkable. They found that the largest indicator was the decrease in cholesterol. When overall cholesterol was lowered, the telomeres lengthened. This is great news. One of the best ways to affect cholesterol is to exercise daily, limit saturated fats, and increase omega-3 fats (fish, fish oil, avocados, nuts, etc.)

So regardless if you have beat up on your telomeres (body) for many years with poor lifestyle choices, excessive inflammation, etc., you can get it back. Our lifestyle choices really do make a difference. So stop-using excuses about your parents had this disease or that condition. You create the life that you want. Make the better choices backed by the evidence. Forget about the past, its gone, focus on today, that’s your gift, and realize, your best days are still ahead.

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