The Pace of Aging - Genuine Care Physical Therapy
Youngsun Kim

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The Pace of Aging

Ageing

Blue zones are regions of the world in which people live much longer than the average life-expectancy. That’s pretty amazing, right? An example of one blue zone is Loma Linda, an area in America in which, according to National Geographic, “some residents live 10 more healthy years than the average American”. But, why is that? How we age has been debated over centuries, and it is only in the last hundred years or so that we’ve found any practicable answers. So, in this post we discuss all things age! From why we age… to what we can do about it. Here we go!

Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of the aging process, shall we? It all starts with a little something called ‘telomeres’. Telomeres are an integral in human cells; according to Nobel Prize winning researcher, Elizabeth Blackburn, “telomeres are the little protective tips at the end of chromosomes.” Technicality aside, what is most fascinating about telomeres is that their length directly effects lifespan! Yes, that’s right – the shorter your telomeres are, the shorter you’ll live! It is therefore no wonder that people are willing to spend hundreds of dollars finding out how long their telomeres are, right? One thing to note, though is that if the length of one’s telomeres can affect the pace of aging, it can also effect the onset of age-associated diseases. That’s a scary though. Luckily, something can be done about it. 

Now, I’m here to tell you that lifestyle effects the length of your telomeres. Just take a look at the residents in Loma Linda – they live stronger, healthier, longer lives… why? Their lifestyle choices!

Here’s what I mean: most residence in Loma Linda enjoy a vegetarian diet, they don’t really smoke or drink, they do a lot more exercise than the average American, they are out in the sunshine a lot more, thereby acquiring more Vitamin D than most Americans, and – they laugh more.

Ok, so, when it comes to the above lifestyle choices, it’s probably nothing new to you. You’ve heard it all before, but here’s the thing: there’s a difference between hearing something, knowing something, and living something. The residents in Loma Linda live their choices. And with that in mind, let’s look at a few particular choices they’ve made that I really would like to impress on you.

By now, especially with the vegan craze sweeping the world, there is no doubt that you’ve heard of the fact that a vegetarian diet can reduce heart diseases, obesity, and cancers. Remember that National Geographic article I mentioned right at the beginning? Well, it goes on to explain that people in blue zones eat “a biblical diet of grains, fruits, nuts, and vegetables,” so would it surprise you if I said they have significantly lower numbers of diseases there, too? If you’re not religious, that’s alright. But it doesn’t take a theologian to understand that diet directly affects longevity! And better yet, did you know that there is strong evidence suggesting that a vegetarian diet can reduce the shortening of your telomeres, as well? Now you’re listening! Here’s how:

Fiber and a Vegetarian Diet:

First, vegetarian diets help us to eat more fiber. Fiber is critical for digestion, especially bowel movement, and it helps us control our appetites. How? Well, fiber makes us feel fuller for longer. And not only that, fiber scrubs off toxic wastes in our body just like a dishwashing sponge, too – in other words, there are fewer toxins when you eat fiber, thus fewer factors negatively effecting your telomere length. 

Antioxidants and a Vegetarian Diet:

Secondly, a vegetarian diet contains natural antioxidants which reduce the speed of telomere shortening. Antioxidants are found in seeds, kiwis, berries, green tea, broccoli, sprouts, red grapes, tomatoes, olives, fish, and other foods rich in vitamins C and E.

But, of course, it’s not just about the vegetarian diet. Those who live longer adhere to other lifestyle choices, as well. For example, they are acutely aware of the quantity of food they ingest. Research performed by Jenning, et al., shows the importance of dietary restriction. Protein-restricted diets, especially early on in life, lead to a long-term suppression of appetite, a reduced growth rate, and an increased lifespan, all of which is related to longer telomeres. Remember, obesity doesn’t just increase the risk disease, but speeds up the pace of aging, too. Love-handles do not translate into a longer lifespan!

Environmental factors also play an essential role. Unsafe work environments, pollution, and smoking instantly shorten the length of telomeres. We need to be smart about the situations in which we place our bodies: our work surroundings, where we spend leisure time, and what kind of chemicals we expose ourselves to.

Let’s not forget about doing regular exercises. According to Song’s (et al.) research, “exercise could reduce harmful fat and help mobilize waste products for faster elimination, leading to reduced oxidative stress and preservation of DNA and telomeres.” Great news! 

Having a support system, a social network, and close friends are clear factors when it comes to longevity, too. They not only reduce stress – which acts negatively on your telomere length – but, give you the motivation to continue making healthful lifestyle choices.

And lastly, there is a lifestyle choice that residents in Loma Lima take very seriously: religion. Now, if you’re not religious, I’m not trying to preach. I am, however, pointing out that there is a lot of research showing the benefit of faith when it comes to life-expectancy. In work done by Harvard researcher Tyler J Vanderweele, he indicates that frequent attendance of religious services is associated with a significantly lower risk in mortality rates. He suggests that “religion and spirituality may be an underappreciated resource that physicians could explore with their patients.” Food for thought.

So, there you have it: telomere research clearly points out that being happy, having a supportive family, enjoying close friendships, being part of a social support structure, gaining excellent emotional stability, and being loved are the keys to longevity. The truth is, your mind, body, and spirituality cannot be separated. 

And thus, the good news is... your aging-pace really can be something you control. A healthy lifestyle affects the length of your telomeres positively. Therefore, eat healthy food, live in healthy, clean environments, don’t expose yourself to harmful chemicals, enjoy happy times with friends and family, and partake in regular exercises and meditation. It’s not that hard… in fact, some research explains that it only takes 20 minutes a day to make a difference. It’s time to make the change.

If you’re reading this and thinking that you just have to know the length of your telomeres, right now, don’t fret. Instead of spending money and worrying about it, make some positive changes. Say “I love you”, eat a nutritious meal with family and friends, and go for a nice long walk. It’s amazing how much younger you’ll feel!

Dr. Youngsun Kim

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