A new study published in Lancet Oncology suggests that such lifestyle changes as exercise, diet and stress reduction can actually lengthen the telomeres that control cell ageing. These are the DNA strips at the end of chromosomes that protect the integrity of the DNA in our cells. They have been likened to the plastic tips of shoelaces that stop our DNA unravelling and fraying. They get shorter each time a cell divides until they can no longer do the job and the cell ceases to function.
University of California scientists studied 10 men with prostate cancer who were asked to implement lifestyle changes against a control group of 25 who were not. The changes included exercise, stress-reducing meditation and a plant-based diet. After 5 years the telomeres of each group were examined. Those making the changes showed an average 10% lengthening of telomeres, whereas the control group showed a 3% average shortening. This is a tiny study, but it points the way to future research that might be done. It does not necessarily show longevity, though future studies might.
Most of us were already inclined to suppose that cutting down on fats, eating more vegetables and taking regular exercise would improve our health, and many think that controlling their stress levels helps. These things have been associated with reduced risk of cancers, diabetes and heart disease, and now the possibility is opened up that they might help us to combat and even modestly reverse the ageing process.
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