Are you taking good care of your health? Here’s a new study that once again confirms that a healthy diet, a good night’s sleep and exercise can protect your body against the damages caused by stress.
A new study from UC San Francisco is the first to show that while the impact of life’s stressors accumulate overtime and accelerate cellular aging, these negative effects may be reduced by maintaining a healthy diet, exercising and sleeping well.
“The study participants who exercised, slept well and ate well had less telomere shrinking than the ones who didn’t maintain healthy lifestyles, even when they had similar levels of stress,” said lead author Eli Puterman, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at UCSF. “It’s very important that we promote healthy living, especially under circumstances of typical experiences of life stressors like death, caregiving and job loss.”
The paper will be published in Molecular Psychiatry, a peer-reviewed science journal by Nature Publishing Group.
Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age. They are combinations of DNA and proteins that protect the ends of chromosomes and help them remain stable. As they become shorter, and as their structural integrity weakens, the cells age and die quicker. Telomeres also get shorter with age. Its shortening length has been correlated in other studies as a key predictor for the development of chronic diseases and aging (including heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and more). Long term stress is known to shorten telomere length. But stress reduction can interrupt and reverse this process.
Lifestyle Best Practices
The key to slowing down the aging process and extending maximal human lifespan will ultimately involve preserving or restoring telomere length to the DNA (as well as decreasing chromosomal damage, cellular oxidation, and many other factors). Several measures have already been shown to achieve this goal:
- Simply adopting a comprehensive dietary and lifestyle change consistent with good health has been shown to preserve telomere length.
- Physical exercise has been shown to be associated with preserving telomere length.
- Meditation has been shown to preserve telomere length by reducing the negative effects of stress.
- Higher vitamin D levels are associated with longer telomeres
- Since levels of inflammatory markers in the blood correlate with telomere shortening, natural strategies that reduce inflammation are very important in reducing the rate of telomere shortening.
Telomere Reduction Linked to Diminished Healthy Behaviors
In the study, researchers examined three healthy behaviors -physical activity, dietary intake and sleep quality – over the course of one year in 239 post-menopausal, non-smoking women. The women provided blood samples at the beginning and end of the year for telomere measurement and reported on stressful events that occurred during those 12 months. In women who engaged in lower levels of healthy behaviors, there was a significantly greater decline in telomere length in their immune cells for every major life stressor that occurred during the year. Yet women who maintained active lifestyles, healthy diets, and good quality sleep appeared protected when exposed to stress – accumulated life stressors did not appear to lead to greater shortening.
“This is the first study that supports the idea, at least observationally, that stressful events can accelerate immune cell aging in adults, even in the short period of one year. Exciting, though, is that these results further suggest that keeping active, and eating and sleeping well during periods of high stress are particularly important to attenuate the accelerated aging of our immune cells,” said Puterman.
In recent years, shorter telomeres have become associated with a broad range of aging-related diseases, including stroke, vascular dementia cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, and many forms of cancer.
Research on telomeres, and the enzyme that makes them, telomerase, was pioneered by three Americans, including UCSF molecular biologist and co-author Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD. Blackburn co-discovered the telomerase enzyme in 1985. The scientists received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2009 for their work.
“These new results are exciting yet observational at this point. They do provide the impetus to move forward with interventions to modify lifestyle in those experiencing a lot of stress, to test whether telomere attrition can truly be slowed,” said Blackburn.