Could our telomeres be the key to the fountain of youth? (If you are not interested in the science, skip the next two paragraphs. You won’t feel like you missed much.)
The blueprint for everything “us” is in our DNA. Our DNA is neatly packaged in chromosomes during cell division. “In human bodies, cells divide nearly two trillion times every day.” (ASU) Each time a cell divides, the DNA is replicated, and the end of each chromosome is slightly shortened. Telomeres protect the DNA by covering the ends of the chromosomes (like an aglet protects a shoelace.) Each time they replicate, it is the telomere that is shortened, protecting the DNA. Imagine that you are an architect and you have a blueprint that needs to be duplicated many times for all of your contractors. But every time you make a copy, part of the original is removed. The end result would not be a very healthy building. It would be disastrous. (UCSF)
And so it is with our chromosomes. Rather than allowing the ends of the DNA to fray with each replication, the telomeres protect the tips and are whittled away with each copy made. “The ends of our chromosomes are made up of cells with a DNA sequence that protects the threads of DNA from unraveling, a natural fraying effect that is part of cell division.” (How Stuff Works) Thank you, telomeres! Your selfless acts of self-sacrifice allow me to keep replicating my cells in a healthy way! But once they are gone, the cell can no longer divide.
What can we do to preserve our telomeres to protect our DNA? “One study so far has observed an increase in telomerase activity (which protects and lengthens telomeres) by persons enrolled in a health program including eating a healthy diet, getting daily exercise, and using stress reduction techniques such as yoga and/or meditation.” (Telomere FAQs)
Bottom line: Why does it matter? It matters because it appears that we can actually lengthen our telomeres by implementing a healthy lifestyle, which in turn allows our cells to continue replicating longer keeping us younger and healthier! What is the latest superfood of the day? What fad diet it spreading like wildfire? What is the most recent exercise craze? The beautify of is that It doesn’t matter! What does matter is that we adopt healthier lifestyles. Exercise more. Eat healthier foods. Eat less of the unhealthy foods. When you increase your telomeres, you quite possibly increase your life!
Remember: Balance. Moderation. Variety.