By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
June 17, 2015
- Don’t let stress make you old.
- It’s all about the telomeres
- De-stress and turn on your youth enzyme
Have you ever noticed that some of your friends and co-workers never seem to age, while others seem old beyond their years?
You might think it’s a simple case of genetics. Poor Sally got dealt a bad hand, while Harry over there hit the jack-pot. And then, you might try to figure out where you fall in the aging lottery.
Well, it’s not a lottery.
It’s not luck.
And for the most part, it’s not even genetics.
Today we’re finding that how you live your life counts for a lot more in the aging puzzle than the genes you were born with.
And it turns out the amount of stress you experience on a day-to-day basis, along with how you deal with it, could be a key factor.
You see, stress – whether it comes from depression, anxiety, constant worrying or just having too much on your plate – has a huge impact on the length of your telomeres. These are stretches of DNA that cap the ends of your chromosomes. However, they shorten each time your cells divide.
Telomeres are like the “hands of time” when it comes to aging.
If you have short telomeres, chances are good you’ll grow old and sick long before your time. But if you have long telomeres, the odds are in your favor. You probably appear much younger than your chronological age and seldom have health problems.
So how does stress come into play?
When you’re under constant psychological stress, your body releases cortisol. High levels of this stress hormone decrease the expression of telomerase, the enzyme that protects telomeres from becoming shorter.
At the same time, stress boosts your levels of inflammation and oxidative stress. Both of these add to further telomere shortening.
Next thing you know, cellular aging sets in. And before you know it, you’re older than your years.
So what can you do to cut down on your stress levels?
Well, first of all it’s important to note that there are always going to be stressors in your life. You can’t just snap your fingers and have them disappear.
However, you can change the way you deal with them.
The first line of defense when it comes stress, anxiety and depression is to get physically active. When you exercise, it increases the production of brain chemicals called endorphins. These are the hormones that trigger a “runner’s high” which helps make you feel relaxed and optimistic.
But that’s not all exercise does for you.
People who get moderate levels of physical activity tend to have longer telomeres than those who are inactive or highly active. They also have a smaller proportion of shortened telomeres.
Some forms of exercise, like yoga and tai chi, can be particularly beneficial. These types of programs offer plenty of physical activity, but come with an added benefit. They include breathing techniques and meditation, two things that can go a long way to help you de-stress and gain mental clarity.
Better yet, meditation can kick your telomerase activity into overdrive, increasing it by as much as 40% when you meditate for just 12 minutes a day. This offers even further protection for your telomeres.
It’s like turning your youth enzyme into the “on” position.
Now, you can take yoga or tai chi and get the benefit of physical activity along with breathing and meditative techniques, or, you can try it on your own.
Just set up a time each day for exercise, and a separate time each day for meditation.
The best way to start meditating on your own is to start with breathing exercises. Just close your eyes and breathe normally. Then count your breaths. Breathe in on one, out on two, in on three, out on four (and so on) until you reach a count of 10. Then do two more counts of 10. This will clear your mind and leave you feeling relaxed.
Plus, pretty much any repetitive activity that focuses your mind on the present can be considered relaxing and somewhat meditative, such as knitting, throwing a ball back and forth, chopping vegetables, walking and gardening.
You’ll notice watching television isn’t on the list.
That’s because, despite popular belief, watching TV isn’t relaxing. In fact, depending on what you watch, TV can be very stressful.
Just as important is what all of those hours of sitting in front of the tube does to your telomeres – it shortens them!
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Choi J, et al. Reduced telomerase activity in human T lymphocytes exposed to cortisol. Brain Behav Immun. 2008 May;22(4):600-5.
Savela S, et al. Physical activity in midlife and telomere length measured in old age. Exp Gerontol. 2013 Jan;48(1):81-4.
Ludlow AT, et al. Relationship between physical activity level, telomere length, and telomerase activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 Oct;40(10):1764-71.
Lavretsky H, et al. A pilot study of yogic meditation for family dementia caregivers with depressive symptoms: effects on mental health, cognition, and telomerase activity. Int J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;28(1):57-65.