So what is a telomere exactly? Simply put, it’s the cap at the two ends of each chromosome (like the plastic cap on the end of a shoelace), and it keeps the chromosome from fraying each time it’s replicated. Telomere length is associated with aging and age-related disease. Shorter telomeres have become associated with many forms of cancer as well as stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and vascular dementia. Longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life. So the longer the better.
Molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn shared a Nobel Prize with psychologist Elissa Epel for their research on telomeres. In their book, The Telomere Effect, they lay out a scientific case that you can actually lengthen your telomeres by following sound health advice to not smoke, eat well, sleep enough, exercise regularly, and cut down on stress. Blackburn, who is the president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, says “Telomeres listen to you, they listen to your behaviors, they listen to your state of mind.”
Other studies have indicated it’s unclear whether it’s possible to lengthen your telomeres but suggested there are ways to at least slow down the shortening process. In either case, there seems to be consensus that lifestyle changes can encourage either telomere lengthening or delay shortening. While all of us, and especially patients in treatment, can feel a loss of control at times, the following lifestyle changes can not only put us back in the driver’s seat, but may even make our telomeres grow. How cool is that?
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SUE'S GIFT BLOG
Sherry Martin is the Patient Services Director for Sue's Gift, a licensed clinical social worker with over thirty years of experience in the field of oncology social work, and author of the book, Beginning Again: Tools for the Journey through Grief: A Step-by-Step Guide for Facilitators of a Grief Support Group. Sherry lives with her husband in Woodland Park, Colorado.
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