Age-prrof your body R

Newre­search­sug­gestswe­may­have­more con­trolover­age­ingth­anwe­think… ewind­ing the clock’ might be a term you’ve heard all too many times be­fore, but ground­break­ing new sci­ence might fi­nally lead you to be­lieve it’s no fairy­tale. Worlds away from the fluffy pro

Women's Fitness (UK) - - Health -

Ge­net­ics vs epi­ge­net­ics

Ever won­dered why a friend, family mem­ber or neigh­bour of a sim­i­lar age looks so much younger than you? ‘Good genes’ tends to be our au­to­mated re­sponse, quick to set­tle with the idea that such dis­par­ity is de­ter­mined by na­ture and na­ture only. Es­sen­tially, we think, it’s out of our hands. A school of thought be­lieved for mil­len­nia, there is still no deny­ing that many of our pre­cur­sors come from our par­ents.

How­ever, more and more peo­ple are be­gin­ning to no­tice that the qual­ity of our health and life­span is shaped too by the way in which we live. In fact, new re­search sug­gests that around 90 per cent of the signs of age­ing and dis­ease are caused by lifestyle and en­vi­ron­ment, not genes. It’s a term called epi­ge­net­ics, and it’s what Dr Sara Got­tfried pegs as the key to ex­tend­ing your healthspan in her new book, Younger:the Break­through­pro­gram­me­tore­se­ty­our­genes an­dre­verseage­ing. ‘Epi­ge­net­ics con­cerns the in­ter­ac­tion of genes with the en­vi­ron­ment lead­ing to her­i­ta­ble changes in the way DNA is ex­pressed in your body,’ she re­veals. ‘Ge­net­ics loads the gun, and the en­vi­ron­ment pulls the trig­ger. There­fore, up­grade that 90 per cent to af­fect the ge­netic 10 per cent.’ The new buz­zwo�d In or­der to un­der­stand how, we must look a lit­tle closer. En­ter the lat­est buzz­word on the

anti-age­ing stage: telom­eres, the pro­tec­tive caps at the ends of chro­mo­somes in cells. (If your sec­ondary-school bi­ol­ogy is fail­ing you right now, chro­mo­somes carry the cell’s ge­netic in­for­ma­tion.) Likened to the tips of shoelaces – whereby if you lose the tip, the lace starts to fray – look­ing af­ter your telom­eres is one of the most ef­fec­tive ways to stave off the years. ‘We use mea­sure­ments for telom­eres as a bi­o­log­i­cal marker for age­ing,’ re­veals Dr Rupy Au­jla, blog­ger at the­do­c­ ‘The ‘short­en­ing’ of these telom­eres is re­lated to the process of age­ing which ren­ders us more sus­cep­ti­ble to can­cer mu­ta­tions, in­flam­ma­tion and, yes, wrin­kles!’

The punch­line? Lat­est re­search has found that telom­eres are re­spon­sive to many as­pects of our daily life. How stressed we feel, the food we eat, the move­ment we un­der­take and the qual­ity of our sleep can lit­er­ally al­ter the length of our telom­eres. And it’s keep­ing them long that can see us ben­e­fit from look­ing and feel­ing younger. Molec­u­lar bi­ol­o­gist Dr El­iz­a­beth Black­burn has ded­i­cated her life to the field and won the 2009 No­bel Prize in Phys­i­ol­ogy of Medicine for her dis­cov­ery of telom­eres, which now cul­mi­nates in her new book­the Telom­ere­ef­fect, writ­ten along­side psy­chol­o­gist Dr Elissa Epel. The mes­sage of the book? ‘Our telom­eres are re­spon­sive, lis­ten­ing, cal­i­brat­ing to the cur­rent cir­cum­stances in the world,’ say the pair.

Putting it into prac­tice

Armed with the as­sur­ance that things are, ac­tu­ally, very much in our hands, these pi­o­neer­ing find­ings can be trans­lated into ev­ery­day life – and it’s eas­ier than you might think. ‘You con­trol your exposures, whether it be diet, en­vi­ron­ment or be­hav­iours, by your daily habits of body and mind, both con­scious and un­con­scious,’ ex­plains Dr Got­tfried. ‘Man­ag­ing your ex­po­some [ev­ery­thing you’re ex­posed to] by mak­ing prac­ti­cal lifestyle tweaks al­lows for a more per­son­alised ap­proach to pre­vent­ing dis­ease and un­nec­es­sary age­ing.’ Want to keep your telom­eres in good nick? Here’s where to start...

Change your at­ti­tude to st�ess

Dur­ing their stud­ies, El­iz­a­beth and Elissa found stress and de­pres­sion to be the two driv­ing forces be­hind short­en­ing telom­eres. Chronic, last­ing stress equals shorter telom­eres but, per­haps more in­ter­est­ingly, so too does the way wedeal­with these stresses. ‘A pre­dom­i­nant ha­bit­ual threat re­sponse can, over time, work it­self into your cells and grind down your telom­eres,’ re­veals Elissa. ‘A pre­dom­i­nant chal­lenge re­sponse [al­most like a “bring it on” at­ti­tude], though, may shield your telom­eres from some of the worst ef­fects of chronic stress.’ It may be eas­ier said than done, but mak­ing a con­scious ef­fort to re­wire the way we re­act to stress­ful sit­u­a­tions could be one of the most im­por­tant and ben­e­fi­cial changes we could make in the quest to slow age­ing. ‘The chal­lenge re­sponse is not a falsely chip­per, gee-i’m-so-

happy-that-stress­ful-things-are-hap­pen­ingto-me at­ti­tude,’ say the pair. ‘It is the knowl­edge that even though times may be dif­fi­cult, you can shape stress to your pur­pose.’

Switch your mind­set

‘Sci­en­tists are learn­ing that cer­tain thought pat­terns are un­healthy for telom­eres,’ ex­plain Dr Black­burn and Dr Epel. ‘Cyn­i­cal hos­til­ity is linked to shorter telom­eres. So is pes­simism. Other thought pat­terns, in­clud­ing mind wan­der­ing, ru­mi­na­tion, and thought sup­pres­sion, may also lead to telom­ere dam­age.’ Of course such hard-wired neg­a­tive thinking can’t be changed overnight, nor by sim­ply or­der­ing your­self to stop. They, in­stead, en­cour­age ‘re­silient thinking’, which they claim can sta­bilise or even lengthen our telom­eres. ‘Re­silient thinking is en­com­passed in a new gen­er­a­tion of ther­a­pies based on ac­cep­tance and mind­ful­ness,’ they ex­plain. ‘These ther­a­pies don’t try to al­ter your thoughts. In­stead, they help you change your re­la­tion­ship to them. You don’t have to be­lieve your neg­a­tive thoughts, or act on them, or have a lot of bad feel­ings be­cause the thoughts crossed your mind.’ Fo­cus on mind-body ex­er­cises such as mind­ful­ness med­i­ta­tion and long-dis­tance run­ning to aid thought aware­ness and present ori­en­ta­tion.

Get mov­ing

The ben­e­fits of ex­er­cise have truly never been so af­firmed. ‘Peo­ple who ex­er­cise live longer and have a low­ered risk of high blood pres­sure, stroke, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, de­pres­sion, di­a­betes, Alzheimer’s and meta­bolic syn­drome,’ ex­plain Dr Black­burn and Dr Epel. In­deed sev­eral stud­ies – in­clud­ing one con­ducted in 2008 on 1,200 twin pairs – have found that seden­tary peo­ple have shorter telom­eres than peo­ple who are even a lit­tle more ac­tive. ‘Sit­ting is the new smok­ing and fun­da­men­tally we are all de­signed to move,’ agrees Dr Au­jla. The ex­er­cises that telom­eres love? Var­ied aer­o­bic fit­ness and HIIT – in­ter­est­ingly, over re­sis­tance train­ing – is thought to be the most ef­fec­tive. And don’t fear: you needn’t be an Olympian to reap the ben­e­fits; any­thing other than lin­ger­ing in a seden­tary state – like walk­ing – will suf­fice.

Don’t diet

Be­ing over­weight doesn’t af­fect telom­ere length as much as you may think. How much you weigh on the scales is, ac­tu­ally, near-on ir­rel­e­vant in telom­ere terms; it’s your meta­bolic health (how much mus­cle ver­sus body fat we have) and where fat is stored that mat­ters the most, ac­cord­ing to Dr Black­burn and Dr Epel. ‘Telom­eres tell us not to fo­cus on weight,’ the pair re­veal. ‘In­stead, use your level of belly pro­tru­sion and in­sulin sen­si­tiv­ity as an in­dex of health.’ What’s more, ob­sess­ing over calo­ries and di­ets can ac­tu­ally have an ad­verse af­fect on age­ing; re­strict­ing is stress­ful, which we know to have a much greater effect on our telom­eres.

Go Mediter­ranean

‘To say diet is merely a source of en­ergy and not in­tri­cately re­lated to health (or age­ing in this ex­am­ple) is frankly un­sci­en­tific,’ states Dr Au­jla. But con­sid­er­ing the level of con­flict­ing food ad­vice that sur­rounds us, it’s easy to feel con­fused. ‘We trust telom­ere ev­i­dence be­cause it looks at how the body re­sponds to foods at mi­crolevel,’ Dr Black­burn and Dr Epel ex­plain. ‘These find­ings tell us that di­ets don’t work, and that the most em­pow­er­ing choice we can make is to eat fresh, whole foods in­stead of pro­cessed ones. As it turns out, eat­ing for healthy telom­eres is very pleas­ant, sat­is­fy­ing and non-re­stric­tive.’ No need to cut out gluten, or dairy, or carbs, then. Get­ting a var­ied diet of fresh fruit and veg, whole­grains, beans, nuts and seeds, legumes, omega-3 fatty acids and low-fat, high-qual­ity sources of pro­tein – coined a “pru­dent” pat­tern of eat­ing or the Mediter­ranean diet – will do just the trick.

Beauty sleep

‘Re­searchers have looked at how sleep length af­fects telom­eres in dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tions, and the same an­swer keeps com­ing up: Long sleep means long telom­eres,’ say Dr Black­burn and Dr Epel. The ideal length? Seven hours, al­though it’s im­por­tant to fo­cus on sleep rhythm (go­ing to bed and wak­ing up at reg­u­lar times) and sleep qual­ity, too (it’s the deep, REM sleep that reaps the most re­wards). Strate­gies as sim­ple as re­mov­ing elec­tronic screens from our bed­rooms can boost sleep qual­ity.

A hap­pier li�e

Eat­ing well, mov­ing more, sleep­ing enough... In­deed in many ways it’s what we knew be­fore. But rather than just help­ing us live­longer, such sci­ence has proven that in car­ing for our bod­ies ap­pro­pri­ately, we can also live­bet­ter­well into later life. ‘You may be stuck with the genes you in­her­ited but not with the way they talk to the rest of your body,’ says Dr Got­tfried. ‘Through epi­ge­net­ics, you can up­grade the way your genes talk with tar­geted and wise lifestyle choices.’ Dr Au­jla also be­lieves the change lies in our hands, but is quick to main­tain we shouldn’t ex­pect im­me­di­ate re­sults. ‘Our bod­ies and minds are not de­signed to func­tion in an x+y=z ba­sis, which is why to “slow age­ing” is a mul­ti­fac­eted process,’ he con­cludes. ‘Fo­cus on achiev­ing qual­ity sleep, in­clud­ing qual­ity in­gre­di­ents into your diet, prac­tis­ing mind­ful­ness and ex­er­cis­ing. These are the only ev­i­dence-based in­ter­ven­tions for a real anti-age­ing effect and they are very pow­er­ful.’

New re­search sug­gests that around 90 per cent of the signs of age­ing and dis­ease are caused by lifestyle and en­vi­ron­ment, not genes

Ob­sess­ing over calo­ries and di­ets can ac­tu­ally have an ad­verse af­fect on age­ing

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