Welcome to 2023, the era of switching gears from focusing on disease, illness, and pathology to wellness, optimization, and resilience. “Regenerative medicine,” “neuroplasticity,” “epigenetics,” “health span extension,” “longevity medicine,” and “cellular anti-aging” all represent pockets of research dedicated to looking at the body’s ability to regenerate, repair, and heal itself from external factors (environmental stressors, toxins, and things we eat and drink) as well as internal factors (inflammation, viruses, and simply getting older).
What researchers are finding is that your chronological age doesn’t necessarily match your “biological age”. Here’s an easy demonstration of this – think of someone you’ve met who is 70 years old but looks and functions like a 60 year old. On the flip side, you may have also met a 70 year old who looks and functions like an 80 year old. Scientists are uncovering the reasons behind that by looking at how cells age and, even, reverse age. For instance, telomeres are the caps on the end of your chromosomes, which protect your DNA. Similar to how an aglet on a shoelace keeps your shoelaces from fraying, telomeres keep your DNA from mutating into diseases, cancers, and chronic illnesses (example: researchers at the University of Utah found that people older than 60 with shorter telomeres are 3 times more likely to suffer from heart disease and 8 times more likely to suffer from infectious diseases).
Scientists study the length of telomeres within individuals to see what factors cause them to shorten faster or slower. It turns out that lifestyle factors such as sleep quantity and quality, smoking and alcohol use, nutrition, obesity, exercise habits, stress management, and meditation can play an important role in accelerating biological aging or reversing it. For instance, researchers at the University of California San Francisco found that men who adopted a mostly plant based diet, walked 30 minutes 6 days per week, and practiced stress reduction methods daily over the span of 5 years had a significant increase in telomere length by approximately 10%. Men who did not make any lifestyle changes were found to have nearly 3% shorter telomeres due to natural aging.
While these findings represent a genuine reason to be optimistic about the future, lifestyle adjustments are often very difficult to make and integrate into a daily routine that is realistic, sustainable, and enjoyable. Clinical health psychologists can assist you if you feel stuck implementing changes, overwhelmed by information, or want support and guidance in applying cutting edge science into your life. Contact our office at 732-988-3441 to schedule a consultation appointment with a clinical health psychologist today.
Lauren Gashlin, PsyD