Ever wondered how to lengthen telomeres? But what are they in the first place? Telomeres are protective proteins found at the ends of chromosomes. They protect the ends of chromosomes the same way plastic caps protect the ends of shoe laces. Without them, the DNA strands become damaged and unable to function properly.

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Every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. Eventually, they become so short that the cell can no longer divide and dies.

As we grow, our body cells divide. And each time they divide, the telomeres shorten. They continue to shrink with age until the body stops making them. And the faster they shrink, the faster we age. Eventually, we become vulnerable to chronic diseases. Is there a solution? 

Even though telomeres shorten as we age, they can also shorten due to a person’s lifestyle, like a poor diet. So there’s a solution that involves a lifestyle change to reduce the rate at which telomeres shrink. But can a lifestyle change increase the length of telomeres? If yes, how can you achieve that? You’ll find out soon. First, let’s see what shortens telomeres and the risks that come with it.

What Causes Short Telomeres?

Age is the natural way through which telomeres shrink. Some people may have an inherited short telomere syndrome which is beyond their control. But besides that, other factors within your control can cause the problem. These include

1. Smoking

2017 review of 84 studies revealed a correlation between smoking and short telomeres. According to the studies, current smokers have shorter telomeres than people who never smoke and former smokers. But other research fails to show any correlation, claiming inconsistent evidence

Nonetheless, smoking can still facilitate premature aging as well as increase the risk of various conditions, including heart disease and lung cancer.

2. Poor diet

A poor diet can cause short telomeres for a number of reasons. First, a diet high in processed and Junk foods can lead to inflammation throughout the body. This inflammation can damage DNA, including the telomeres. 

Second, a poor diet can lead to oxidative stress, which can also damage DNA and shorten telomeres.

Third, a poor diet can cause weight gain and obesity. Obesity is associated with shorter telomeres, likely because of the increased inflammation and oxidative stress that obese people experience.

Finally, a poor diet can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. These diseases are all associated with shorter telomeres.

3. Sedentary lifestyle

Most people know that a sedentary lifestyle can cause weight gain and other health problems, but few realize that it can also cause short telomeres. A new study has found that physically inactive people have shorter telomeres than active ones.

The study looked at data from over 3,000 adults aged 18-85. The participants were divided into two groups: those who were physically inactive and those who were physically active. The researchers found that the inactive group had telomeres that were 5% shorter on average than the active group. This may not seem like much, but it adds up over time.

4. Stress

It’s no secret that stress can have negative effects on our health. But did you know that one of the ways stress can impact our health is by causing short telomeres?

Studies have shown that chronically stressed people have shorter telomeres than those who aren’t. This is believed to be one of the mechanisms by which stress causes premature aging and increased risk for age-related diseases.

So if you’re feeling stressed, try to find ways to relax and de-stress. It may not only help you feel better in the moment, but it could also help you stay healthy in the long run!

5. Exposure to pollution

A new study has found that exposure to air pollution may be associated with shorter telomeres in adults.

The study, published in the journal Environment International, looked at data from over 4,600 participants in the Nurses’ Health Study who were followed for 20 years. The researchers found that exposure to particulate matter air pollution was associated with shorter telomeres after taking into account other factors such as age, smoking status, body mass index, and physical activity level.

Do Short Telomere Have Effects 

Shortening of telomere doesn’t cause any disease, but it increases the cells senescent or deterioration. That makes the person vulnerable to diseases. A 2014 study review found a link between short telomeres and cardiovascular problems. That means a person with short telomeres can get heart complications at a younger age than usual.

Short telomeres can also lead to the production of unhealthy cells, which increases the risk of cancer. Therefore, it’s critical to avoid harmful practices that shorten telomeres. Now, let’s see whether it’s possible to lengthen telomeres.

Can You Lengthen Telomeres 

Slowing down the shortening process of telomeres seems feasible, but what about increasing their lengths? A 2013 research by professor Dean from the University of California showed that it’s possible to lengthen telomeres.

The research involved 35 men, 10 of whom made lifestyle changes and 25 who didn’t. Researchers observed all the men for five years. Those who made lifestyle changes exercised 30 minutes daily, consumed a low-fat diet and whole grains, received social support, and engaged in stress management activities. 

Results showed that the telomeres of the men who made lifestyle changes increased in length by 10%. And for those who didn’t make lifestyle changes, their telomeres were reduced by 3%. The research also found that the more lifestyle changes a person made, the more improvements they got in telomeres length. 

This reverse process is possible because of an enzyme called telomerase. The work of this enzyme is to lengthen telomeres and repair damage to these proteins. So the recommended lifestyle changes increase the production of telomerase, which in turn stimulates the growth of telomeres. 

Unfortunately, the reversing effect of short telomeres doesn’t mean you can regain your youth. But it can make you look a few years younger. More research is needed in this area to provide more evidence on the reversing effect of short telomeres.

But from what is available now, you can reduce the shortening rate of telomeres and even increase their lengths. Here’s how you can achieve that.  

Exercise Regularly

2017 study in the United States involving over 5,000 men and women showed a meaningful connection between the length of telomeres and physical exercise. Participants who engaged in more intensive physical activities had longer telomeres than those who didn’t.

There was an insignificant difference between those who engaged in moderate exercise and those who lived sedentary lives. So to get higher benefits, physical exercises need to be frequent and more intensive. Most healthcare providers recommend having moderate to intensive workouts for at least 150 minutes weekly. 

Physical exercise reduces inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. The result is increased telomerase production and a lower chance of damaging telomeres. The more intensive the workout, the better. Research shows it can make you look up to nine years younger.

Eat Healthy Food

The types of food that help increase the length of telomeres include fruits, nuts, legumes, and seaweed. Also, certain types tend to shorten telomeres. These include red meat, sugary beverages, highly processed food, and alcohol. 

2016 study recommends eating the Mediterranean diet. It’s a traditional diet that countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea used to eat. These countries include Italy, France, Greece, and Spain. 

Researchers noted people in that region were healthy and had lower risks of chronic diseases. So they found a link between their exceptional health and their food. Mediterranean food consists of healthy fats, legumes, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Also, a 2018 study showed a significant connection between dietary fiber and telomeres length. This study involved over 5,000 men and women representing U.S. adults. Researchers found that adults who consumed more fiber had longer telomeres than those who didn’t. When put in terms of years gained, they found a difference of up to six years. That means a diet with lots of fiber can make you look six years younger or increase your lifespan by up to six years.  

Reduce Stress

Stress makes the body produce hormones that lead to oxidative stress. In turn, oxidative stress causes DNA damage, resulting in shorter telomeres. So reducing stress can help prevent oxidative stress and protect the telomeres. 

Lots of studies associate chronic stress with poor health. And people who get stressed for many years can experience premature aging. Life stresses, such as caring for a sick loved one, can shorten telomeres. That’s what a 2004 study revealed.

The study involved 58 mothers, 19 of whom had a healthy child each, and 39 who had a chronically ill child. Those who cared for a sick child had higher exposure to stress and shorter telomeres. And the longer the mother spent caring for a chronically ill child, the shorter her telomeres became. This study showed that mothers without stress gained at least a decade in their life span compared to those who had much stress.  

Avoiding stress is a good way to increase the length of telomeres and boost your overall health. You can try some simple stress management techniques like meditation and yoga. Ask for support from family and friends and become more socially active. Those are some tips most professionals agree can help reduce stress.

But if your situation doesn’t improve or you’re battling chronic depression and anxiety, seek professional help from counselors.

Other Ways to Lengthen Telomeres

Eating healthy food, exercising, and managing stress are the main strategies for lengthening telomeres. But besides those methods, you can still lengthen telomeres using other ways. These include;

Taking Supplements and Vitamins

If you can’t always access the proper diet to lengthen telomeres, compensate by taking supplements. Some helpful ones include vitamins D, C, B6, and B12. Vitamin D promotes the production of telomerase, the enzyme that stimulates the growth and repair of telomeres. 

Aging adults usually have insufficient B vitamins. And lack of these vitamins makes them vulnerable to age-related diseases. Taking vitamins B12, B6, and folate reduces the toxic homocysteine levels and helps lengthen the telomeres. 

Managing Weight 

Being obese or overweight can cause oxidative stress and systemic inflammation, which can damage telomeres. It also increases lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. And research shows there’s a close relationship between diabetes mellitus and the length of telomeres.

So managing your weight can help lengthen telomeres. You can do this by minimizing sugar intake and unhealthy fats. Also, physical exercise and eating healthy diets can help keep your weight low. 

Quitting Smoking 

Lots of previous research associated smoking with short telomeres. But currently, there’s a lack of modern research to provide more evidence on the subject.

So to be safe, it might be better to quit smoking. After all, most healthcare providers agree that smoking has a negative effect on overall health. So quitting it might help lengthen telomeres. 

Getting Enough Sleep

Poor sleep is linked to poor health. That’s because it results in physical fatigue, which can cause oxidative stress. Research shows insufficient sleep in children can shorten telomeres. Therefore, sleeping at least seven hours a day can help lengthen them.

There are a few things you can do to help improve your sleep and potentially lengthen your telomeres:

1. Establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it as much as possible. This means going to bed and waking up at the same time each day, even on weekends.

2. Create a relaxing bedtime routine to help you wind down before sleep. This could include reading, taking a bath, or doing some light stretching.

3. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cool to create an optimal environment for sleep. Consider using blackout curtains or an eye mask if the light is an issue.

4. Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening, as they can disrupt sleep quality.

5. Make sure you’re getting enough exercise during the day as physical activity can improve both the quantity and quality of sleep.

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The Bottom Line 

Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of each chromosome, and they get shorter as we age.

They play a critical role in protecting DNA from damage. Unfortunately, these useful proteins shorten with age and poor lifestyles like lack of exercise, stress, and unhealthy diet. The good news is that you can lengthen telomeres by adopting the recommended lifestyle. 

Lengthening telomeres can slow down aging, but it can’t stop it entirely. That’s because there are other factors that contribute to aging, such as mitochondrial dysfunction and oxidative stress. Therefore, you might have normal-looking telomeres but lots of aging cells.

That doesn’t mean you have no control over how fast you age. If you implement the above strategies, you can slow down the aging process and increase your life span by almost a decade. Furthermore, studies show the more lifestyle changes you make, the more your telomeres remain longer.

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