At last, we’ve got solid proof: You can renew and revitalize the DNA embedded in your cells to make improvements in your own health and live a longer and healthier life. And you don’t have to take questionable supplements (some good ones are mentioned later) or make a late-night agreement with someone who smells like sulfur to get it done.
By adopting a handful of beneficial lifestyle habits, you’ll actually be practicing cutting-edge gene therapy!
So let us introduce you to the amazing – sound the trumpets – telomeres. They’re the caps on the ends of your genetic material, like the plastic tips on shoelaces, that are designed to keep each cell’s strings of DNA from fraying.
Telomeres start out fresh and long, shrinking a bit every time one of the cells they’re attached to divides. That’s normal. But health missteps also shrink your telomeres. They shrivel further and faster when your system is assaulted by inflammation, toxins and negative stress.
For example, obesity seems to accelerate telomere shortening (or aging) by 30 percent or more. Smoking speeds it up by a whopping 18 percent! When telomeres are super-short, cells die prematurely or become what one telomere researcher calls “zombie cells” – weak, ineffective, but still living. And bringing short, skimpy telomeres to the party is associated with an ever-growing list of health problems: heart disease, high blood pressure and clogged arteries, diabetes, breathing problems like emphysema, arthritis, brittle bones and dementia.
But the big news, according to our friends at the University of California San Francisco and California’s Preventive Medicine Research Institute, is that you can do more than just protect these essential tips on your genetic material; you can reverse telomere shrinkage and make them longer!
Longer telomeres can help you avoid those health hazards by helping cells duplicate and repair previous damage.
How do we know you have that much control?
In a new case study of 35 guys with early-stage prostate cancer, 10 upgraded their diet, got regular physical activity, practiced stress management every day and spent more time with friends and loved ones.
Twenty-five other men stuck with their usual habits. After five years, the first group’s telomeres were 10 percent longer on average; that’s the equivalent of a 20-year-younger “real age” for a 55-year-old! And the guys’ telomeres were even longer if they were super-conscientious about making healthy lifestyle changes. The men who didn’t make any lifestyle changes saw their telomeres shrink 3 percent.
Ready to do a little at-home gene therapy? Start here:
1. Remove the Five Food Felons from your diet: Added sugars and sugar syrups, saturated fat, trans fats and any grains that aren’t 100 percent whole. Replace with plant-based edibles such as vegetables, fruit and plant-based proteins like walnuts, beans and tofu. And we do believe that supplements like DHA, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin D-3, calcium and half a multivitamin twice a day are a good insurance policy against an imperfect diet.
2. Move for at least 30 minutes daily: Head for a goal of 10,000 steps or more. If it’s too hot, too cold or too dark outside, whether you’re at the gym, home or office, take a spin on a stationary bike, march in place or stride on a treadmill. To cement this habit, make it an everyday activity, maybe while you watch your favorite (recorded?) TV show. And we know what that is.
3. Take time to relax daily: Guys in this study devoted an hour a day to managing stress. Don’t have 60 minutes to spare? There’s good evidence that even five minutes of tension-melting meditation can make a big difference. Find a quiet spot, sit comfortably, shut your eyes and pay attention to your breathing. Add progressive muscle relaxation, tensing and releasing muscle groups from your toes up to your head.
4. Stay clean: Minimize exposure to harmful toxins such as first- and second-hand smoke and BPA-laced receipts. You can learn more about telomere-saving techniques at sharecare.com.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.