How Old Are You?

There are several terms used to quantify aging. Our chronologic age is the number of years since birth. Our metabolic age is an estimate of age that factors in height, body weight, percent fat and percent lean muscle mass. Some people have a age that intentionally underestimates their chronologic age. A relatively new term you may not be familiar with is biologic age. Biologic age is derived by comparing your chromosomes with thousands of other peoples’ chromosome samples. How do we compare chromosome from one person to another?

Telomere Biology 101

In 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize was given to researchers who studied telomere biology. Telomeres are the caps on the ends of our chromosomes. Like shoelace tips, telomeres protect and prevent fraying of the ends of our chromosomes. Yet, every time our cells divide, our chromosomes are duplicated and our telomeres shorten. When telomeres get to a critically short length, the cell is no longer able to divide and our ability to replace and repair damaged tissues decreases and aging accelerates.

Using sophisticated DNA testing, the length of telomeres on chromosomes from white blood cells can be measured then compared to other people’s telomere measurements. We now know that longer telomeres correlate with longer life.  There are several commercial reference laboratories that measure telomere length and the cost ranges from $500 to $1200.

Stress Shortens Telomeres

There are many factors that are associated with shorter telomeres. Smoking, excessive alcohol intake, as well as several medical conditions are associated with shortened telomeres. But did you know stress can shorten telomeres. Researchers studied mothers caring for chronically ill children and their telomeres were significantly shorter than age-matched controls. The old adage that stress will kill you turns out to be true.

Manage Your Stress

Whether it’s Yoga, meditation, or relaxation techniques, find simple ways to help shut the world and worries out of your mind for a few minutes several times a day. The Harvard University School of Medicine concluded that meditation can increase telomere length. Exercising 20- 30 minutes 3-5 times a week is a great way to relieve stress as well and protect your telomeres. Getting adequate sleep also helps you handle stress better. Next month, I’ll review other ways you can prevent premature telomere shortening and aging. Remember- you can manage how you age!

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