These Everyday Dangers Are Making You Older, Faster

If you’re concerned about aging (and honestly, who isn’t?), then you’ll be interested in the latest science surrounding telomeres—the cellular component researchers are calling “the secret to longevity.”

Telomeres play a critical role in keeping you young and healthy. They “cap” the end of your DNA strands in each of your chromosomes. They’re a lot like the little plastic tips on your shoelaces that keep your laces from fraying.

telomere anatomy
IMAGE SOURCE: Purelosophy.com

They protect your DNA from becoming damaged, as cells divide and copy themselves over your lifetime. And each time your cell is copied, your telomeres shrink, little by little.

telomeres dna
The role telomeres play in our cells.
IMAGE SOURCE: News-Medical.net

Eventually when a cell’s telomeres become too short, the cell can no longer divide (The average cell divides between 50 to 70 times before it’s no longer able to.)

As a result, the cell either dies (apoptosis), or stays in the body as an “aged” cell (the medical term for it is “senescence”). And when these aged, senescent cells no longer have telomeres left to protect them, chromosomes are left vulnerable to DNA damage.

That’s why short telomeres have been linked to premature aging, as well as a long list of health problems and disease, including:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Anxiety
  • Asthma
  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor immune function
cell divisions of telomeres
Cell division shortens telomeres, speeding up the aging process, and making you more susceptible to disease.
IMAGE SOURCE: Reflexions.uliege.be

So obviously, you want to keep your telomeres intact as long as you can.

Essentially, the longer your telomeres, the longer your lifespan.

Today I’ll point out the everyday dangers that can shrink your telomeres and accelerate cellular aging. Plus, I’ll reveal several strategies to slow telomere shortening and add years back onto your life.

Telomere protection is the real “fountain of youth”

A variety of genetic and lifestyle factors come into play when it comes to your telomere length.

Although you don’t have much control over your genetics, you can change your lifestyle. Not surprisingly, the following lifestyle factors have been shown to significantly shorten telomeres:

  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Smoking
  • Unmanaged stress

Fortunately, researchers have found a number of all-natural interventions that offset the risk factors listed above and promote the length, stability, and lifespan of telomeres. Which means a few simple tweaks to your daily routine may be all it takes to slam the brakes on cellular aging.

Slow cellular aging in three easy steps

1. Lower stress levels.

Of all the major risk factors, unmanaged stress is perhaps the biggest threat to telomere length.

In one 2005 study, researchers studied the health markers in 62 healthy women. Those with higher levels of mental stress were found to have lower telomerase activity. (Telomerase is an enzyme that—when highly active in cells—can slow down telomere shortening and even lengthen them). This lower telomerase activity was also associated with the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease—the leading cause of death for Americans every year.

Another study examined a group of high-stress versus low-stress people. The telomere length in the high-stress group was significantly shorter—so much so that it was equivalent to about a 10-year reduction in lifespan.

You can effectively reduce stress and protect your telomeres with:

  • Yoga: One 90-day study observed the effects of yoga on an obese older man. They found that this intervention reversed markers of aging by increasing telomerase activity, lowering oxidative stress levels, and decreasing damage to DNA.
  • Meditation: In one 3-month meditation trial, researchers found 30 percent significantly higher telomerase activity as compared to the control group.

Additionally, a recent meta-analysis found that meditation effectively reduced cognitive stress and stress arousal, and increased positive states of mind and the specific hormones that lengthen and maintain telomeres.

2. Strengthen your vagal tone.

You may recall that your vagus nerve is the longest nerve in your body, stretching from your brain to your abdomen, touching every major organ in your body.

How well it functions is measured by something called vagal tone. The stronger your vagus nerve, the higher your vagal tone. (I talked more about vagal tone in Sound Health a few weeks ago. You can read that article here.)

Low vagal tone is linked to shorter telomeres and a poor resilience to stress. Researchers have found that an increase in vagal tone can strengthen and lengthen telomeres as well as reduce disease-causing inflammation.

You can strengthen vagal tone and telomeres through:

  • Vagal nerve stimulation. Self-created sounds such as singing, humming, or chanting mantras, have been shown to improve vagal tone and naturally reduce high blood pressure. If you want to learn how to stimulate your vagus nerve, check out my Whole Body Sound Healing System.

  • Deep breathing. One 2018 study showed that deep, controlled breathing techniques called pranayama—in conjunction with yoga poses and meditation—were effective in stabilizing telomeres and levels of telomerase.

    I taught one of my favorite pranayama techniques in this recent Sound Health article.

3. Eat a healthy diet.

Several studies have found that increasing your intake of omega-3 free fatty acids (think salmon, mackerel, oysters, shrimp, and trout) and antioxidants (think colorful fruits and veggies, nuts, beans, and whole grains)—while decreasing the consumption of processed foods and red meat—can increase telomere length. 

Grow younger in less time

The bottom line here is that despite what we’ve been conditioned to think, aging does not mean withering away into a weak, frail, and unhealthy individual.

In fact, you have the power to put the brakes on aging and even reverse it. And you can start right now, by following the three simple steps I outlined above.

Here’s to a younger, happier, healthier you.


SOURCES:

Aunan, J., Cho, W., and Søreide, K. (2017). The Biology of Aging and Cancer: A Brief Overview of Shared and Divergent Molecular Hallmarks. Aging and Disease. 8(5): pp. 628 – 642. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5614326/

Eliminating cancer cell immortality. (2013). Université de Liège’s Reflxions. Retrieved from: reflexions.uliege.be/cms/c_353712/en/eliminating-cancer-cell-immortality?portal=j_55&printView=true

Epel, E., et al. (2006). Cell aging in relation to stress arousal and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Psychoneuroendocrinology 31(3): 277-287. Retrieved from: dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3128692/Mendes_CellAgingRElation.pdf

Epel, E. (2012). How “Reversible is Telomeric Aging? Cancer Prevention Research. 5(10): pp. 1163 – 1168. Retrieved from: cancerpreventionresearch.aacrjournals.org/content/5/10/1163

Kong, C., Lee, X., and Wang, X. (2013). Telomere shortening in human diseases. The FEBS Journal. 280: pp. 2180 – 3193. Retrieved from: febs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/febs.12326

Kumar S., Yadav R., Yadav R., Tolahunase M., and Dada R. (2015) Telomerase activity and cellular aging might be positively modified by a yoga-based lifestyle intervention. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. 21(6): pp. 370-372. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25964984

Martarelli D., Cocchioni M., Scuri S., and Pompei P. (2011). Diaphragmatic breathing reduces exercise-induced oxidative stress. Evidence-Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3139518/

Norris, J. (2011). Aging, Chronic Disease, and Telomeres Are Linked in Recent Studies. University of California San Francisco. Retrieved from: ucsf.edu/news/2011/02/103672/aging-chronic-disease-and-telomeres-are-linked-recent-studies

Rathore, M., and Abraham, J., (2018). Implication of Asana, Pranayama and Meditation on Telomere Stability. International Journal of Yoga. 11(3): pp. 186 – 193. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30233111

Shammas, M., (2011). Telomeres, lifestyle, cancer, and aging. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care. 14(10): pp. 28 – 34. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3370421/

Sze, L. (2015). How can we slow the ageing process? British Council. Retrieved from: britishcouncil.org/voices-magazine/how-can-we-slow-ageing-process

What is a telomere? (n.d.). T.A. Sciences. Retrieved from: tasciences.com/what-is-a-telomere.html

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.