Do you know that your lifestyle impacts not only your health now, but also your future health and well-being? We used to think that how long you live is in a way predetermined and depends on what type of genes you inherited. And your inherited genes do factor into your longevity. However, research shows that how we live affects expression of our genes, meaning the ways our genes are activated or deactivated or change levels of activity. It is called epigenetics (Epi means over or upon in Greek). For example, if we eat a healthy diet, engage in regular physical activity, manage stress well, get enough sleep, avoid toxic substances and have a purpose in life combined with strong social connections, our “good” genes express more and “bad” genes express less. The study by Dr. Ornish on men with prostate cancer showed that healthy lifestyle changes affected expression of over 500 genes in the prostate gland and that “bad” genes that promote cancer growth were down-regulated. (1)
The other important thing to know when we talk about longevity is telomeres. They are “caps” at the ends of our DNA strands that protect our genetic material during cell division. Think of them like aglets (the plastic caps on the ends of shoelaces). (2) If the aglets were damaged or worn out it would be very difficult to lace the shoes properly. Our telomeres also get “worn out” and become shorter when cells divide, and when they get too short the cells can no longer divide. And that becomes a big deal because we cannot replenish the damaged cells (for example, our immune cells, our gut lining cells, our skin cells and so on). And some of these damaged cells are not just simply sitting there, they are sending chemical alarm signals throughout the body causing inflammation and therefore more damage, creating a vicious cycle. Stress, chronic diseases and poor lifestyle choices seem to accelerate telomere shortening. On the other hand, good diet, regular physical activity, proper sleep and other aspects of healthy lifestyle seem to slow this process.
Should you find out your telomere length or assess other key factors that help determine longevity? We can help you better understand and improve the choices you make that lengthen or shorten lifespan.
I took this photo in my garden. Gardening has been associated with longer and healthier lifespan.
1. D. Ornish, M.J.M Magbanua, G. Weidner et al. Changes in prostate gene expression in men undergoing an intensive nutrition and lifestyle intervention. Proc Natil Acad Sci USA. 2008;105(24):8369-8374
2. E. Blackburn; E. Epel. The telomere effect. Grand Central Publishing, 2017
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