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3 lifestyle changes that could turn back the cellular ageing clock

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Small study finds lifestyle changes that could extend telomere length

If you have known risks for health problems, take heart. A small study shows you can slow cellular ageing with lifestyle changes that anyone can accomplish.

What does it mean to slow cellular ageing?

As we grow older our cells age, which is part of our genetic code. At the ends of our chromosomes are telomeres that are akin to little caps that protect our DNA.

But with ageing, telomeres become shorter, which affects how long we live.

The study, led by Dr. Dean Ornish at UC San Francisco and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, is the first to show that any lifestyle intervention can slow the way our cells age.

Longer telomeres have been linked to lower risk of cancer, dementia, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as examples.

“So often people think ‘Oh, I have bad genes, there’s nothing I can do about it,’” Dr. Ornish said in a press release. “But these findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life.”

The study

Dr. Ornish and his team followed 35 men for five years who had early stage prostate cancer, tracking the length of their telomeres with blood samples. The men were split into two groups.

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One group of 10 men engaged in active lifestyle changes and another group of 25 men were asked not to make any major changes.

Lifestyle changes that appear to slow aging and assigned to the men include:

  • Eating a low-fat, low-carbohydrate diet high in unrefined grains and fruits and vegetables
  • Moderate exercise 30-minutes a day, six days a week (walking)
  • Gentle yoga exercises to include stretching, breathing and meditation for stress reduction

The men in the study also attended group support sessions and were closely screened and biopsied.

After five years, men who practiced stress reduction, ate a healthy diet and exercised had a 10 percent increase in their telomere length that the researchers say is “significant”.

In contrast, the men that made no lifestyle changes had a 3-percent decrease at the end of the study, published Sept. 16, 2013 in The Lancet Oncology.

“This was a breakthrough finding that needs to be confirmed by larger studies,” said co-senior author Peter R. Carroll, MD, MPH, professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Urology in a press release.

Other ways to extend lifespan that have been linked to slowing cellular aging include calorie restriction and consuming omega-3 fatty acids.

Telomerase activity in the study participants was increased, which is responsible for the increased length of telomeres.

He adds that researchers believe increased telomere length could extend lifespan and prevent chronic diseases, which has also been suggested in mouse studies. The findings, the authors say, likely extends to anyone, not just men with prostate cancer.

“Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study”
Prof Dean Ornish, et al

Updated 3/12/2017