Your genetic blueprint, the instruction manual in your DNA, was long thought to control your destiny by preventing you from developing some diseases while predisposing you to suffer from others.
But recent research into genetics has revealed the environment, rather than your genes, primarily determines whether you remain healthy or not. This means you have more control over your health – and therefore how long you live – than you might have thought.
In this article, you’ll learn about some exciting discoveries which may influence your attitude to ageing.
From the moment you were conceived, you’ve been exposed to your external environment, starting with the fluid in your mother’s womb. There you were surrounded by the nutrients and toxins in her body. Once you’re born, the external environment includes your food, particles in the air, products you put on your skin, the stress you experience and your lifestyle choices. All these aspects are capable of influencing your genes.
Epigenetics are changes in your genetic material not altering your genetic code but causing certain genes to be switched on or off. Your genes are the script for the play of your life, but epigenetics are the theatre directors supervising how the performers play their part. In many cases, genetic tendencies will only express themselves if certain environmental factors are present.
We now know more about what physically happens to cells as they age. The DNA in each cell has tiny structures called telomeres sitting on their ends. A little like the cap on the end of a shoelace, they protect your genetic material. As each cell naturally divides into two, the telomeres become slightly shorter. If they become too short they can no longer protect your DNA, increasing cells’ susceptibility to ageing.
Although telomere shortening naturally happens as people age, the rate varies between individuals and looking at telomere length can reveal your biological age. Smoking, obesity, stress, poor nutrition and pollution levels are all linked with shorter telomere length.
So although your environment pulls the trigger on the gun loaded by your genes, your environment is not a passive factor because you constantly interact with it. You can control a large part of your environment by the lifestyle and dietary choices you make, how you manage stress and the priority you put on quality sleep.
Purpose of review
There has been growing evidence that lifestyle factors may affect the health and lifespan of an individual by affecting telomere length. The purpose of this review was to highlight the importance of telomeres in human health and aging and to summarize possible lifestyle factors that may affect health and longevity by altering the rate of telomere shortening.
Recent studies indicate that telomere length, which can be affected by various lifestyle factors, can affect the pace of aging and onset of age-associated diseases.
Telomere length shortens with age. Progressive shortening of telomeres leads to senescence, apoptosis, or oncogenic transformation of somatic cells, affecting the health and lifespan of an individual. Shorter telomeres have been associated with increased incidence of diseases and poor survival. The rate of telomere shortening can be either increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors. Better choice of diet and activities has great potential to reduce the rate of telomere shortening or at least prevent excessive telomere attrition, leading to delayed onset of age-associated diseases and increased lifespan. This review highlights the role of telomeres in aging and describes the lifestyle factors which may affect telomeres, human health, and aging.
Keywords: aging, cancer, lifestyle, oxidative stress, telomere
Once you recognise your environment rather than your genes is the main influence on health, disease and even ageing, this realisation can be very empowering.
However, certain aspects of your environment can be hard to control. You can’t live in a pollution-free bubble or eliminate all stress. But scientists have recently discovered your mindset can also affect how your genes express themselves, particularly connected with how quickly your cells age.
People age at vastly different rates. How often have you noticed people who act older seem to age more quickly? Incredibly, science has found thinking yourself young can actually keep you young.
One study immersed a group of 75-year-old men in a retreat where they were asked to believe they were aged 55. Researchers surrounded the men with an environment as it would have been when they were 20 years younger, and they were encouraged to dress and act like their younger selves. The men’s memory, eyesight, physical strength, posture and reaction times were tested before and after the study, and after only one week of thinking themselves younger, the participants had improved significantly over a range of categories, with eyesight and memory having improved by 10% and even intelligence significantly increased. A similar group of men spent their time at a retreat still believing they were their current age, and these men didn’t improve on any of the scores.
This research has been supported by other studies. Scientists found optimistic older people were less likely to die over the period of a nine-year study than were pessimists, while people with a positive attitude towards ageing had better mental, cognitive and physical health than those with a negative attitude.
Attitude does not only influence ageing. One study of almost 230,000 people found those who had a positive outlook on life were over one-third less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease. They were also almost 20% less likely to die prematurely from the condition when compared to those with a glass half-empty outlook. It could be the positive people were better at taking care of themselves by eating well and exercising, but we know thoughts and emotions directly change the structure of the brain and this will impact all the functions of your body.
If you’d like to explore how your lifestyle habits can programme your genes towards better health and longevity, contact me today and start your journey to a healthier future.Contact Embracing Nutrition
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