“God Damnit, Son of a Bitch, Mother …!” I thought to myself.
I was initially devastated by the “good” news for the very opposite reason I was ecstatic when the doctor told me I had high cholesterol and was pre diabetic. Having telomeres the length of the average 35 year old makes accomplishing my already practically impossible mission significantly harder. If my telomeres were the average length of the average 40 year old, my chronological age, I would not have to work nearly as hard to lengthen my telomeres by two years to the length of the average 38 year old. Similarly, it is exponentially easier for an eighty year old man to lengthen his telomeres than it is for a five year old child.
There is, however, a positive side to my test results. My biological age is 12½% less than my chronological age and as such, I am aging quite well. It means if I continued living the lifestyle I was living prior to this endeavor, relative to my peers, I would live a longer life and enjoy an extended healthspan. It is also great that I can now honestly tell the women I meet that I am 35 years old; biologically speaking.
I can very truly say I have done absolutely nothing intentional to deserve to be younger at the cellular level. In fact, for much of my life I have done things that one would think would shorten my telomeres. I smoked heavily, overindulged in alcohol, stressed over stupid things, never ate vegetables, rarely got enough sleep and snored loudly when I did, and hardly ever did any cardiovascular exercise. Why are my telomeres long, considering the lifestyle choices I’ve made? One can only guess. My belief is that genetics certainly are somewhat responsible. Further, most of my working life has been spent in a physical job in which I did not spend all day sitting at a desk. I have also remained fairly active and interested in lifting weights and various athletic activities through most of my life. That being said, there have been periods, sometimes quite lengthy periods, in which I have let myself go and ballooned up to 180 or 190 fat lbs. Three weeks ago when I took the blood sample for this test I was 186.6 lbs. So, I’m kinda surprised by the news of my telomere length, but not shocked.
Included in the packet from TeloYears was a “Blueprint for Aging Well.” The pamphlet begins with an introduction that explains what telomeres are. It reminds us that cells, which contain our individual DNA, contain 46 chromosomes arranged in 23 pairs. Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes that protect our genetic information during cellular division. Cells must divide to replace old, worn out cells. With each cell division, our telomeres lose a bit of their DNA and get shorter. Telomeres are also negatively impacted by oxidative stress, which could include; poor diet, excessive alcohol consumption, toxins in the air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, air pollution, traffic fumes, and cigarette smoke. Cellular senescence occurs when chromosomes in a cell reach a critical length in which they can no longer divide. The Blueprint includes a self assessment test that enables one to assess lifestyle factors that impact telomere length. The Blueprint also contains five actionable sections including: Eating Well, Stress, Physical Activity, Sleep, and Chronic Disease. The pamphlet is basically an abbreviated version of the incredible book “The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer” by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr. Elissa Epel.
The Blueprint for Aging Well is filled with useful information from interesting studies on telomeres. It describes one study in which women who took a daily multivitamin had telomeres that were 5.1% longer than women who did not. Multiple studies have determined that sugar sweetened drinks have a negative impact upon telomere length. Another study found that the telomere length of heavy drinkers was found to be half, yes, half, that of social drinkers. The more drinks per day, the shorter the telomere length. Studies also seem to indicate that the Mediterranean Diet, a diet mostly plant based that uses healthy fats like olive oil with a limited consumption of fish and poultry and very limited red meat consumption is strongly associated with longer telomeres. Sitting or being sedentary shortens telomere length. The more time you spend binge watching Netflix, the more likely you are to be shortening your telomeres. The longer and better you sleep, the longer your average telomere length will be. Snoring is a sign of sleep apnea. Sleep apnea, which I likely have or had, is strongly associated with shorter telomeres. A 2016 study found a direct correlation between the length of time one spends snoring each night and telomere length.
The Blueprint discusses the Dean Ornish study published in Lancet in 2013 that looked at the effect of lifestyle changes on telomere length among men with prostate cancer over a five year period. The study found that lifestyle changes in diet, exercise, stress management, and increased social support had a statistically significant increase in telomere length from baseline compared to those in the control group. This is the study that lead me down a path towards embarking upon this endeavor. I stumbled across it somewhere and thought to myself, not only can I do that, but I can do it times ten. I can religiously follow a stricter diet, exercise harder and longer, learn to meditate like a Buddhist Monk, get 8 hours of sleep a night, and figure out ways to hack my biochemistry to reduce my biomarkers of aging to that of an athletic 25 year old. Furthermore, the participants in this study were not doing the one thing in particular that has conclusively been demonstrated to extend life; namely, intermittent fasting. I became convinced, if I devote a year to this, I could conceivably lengthen my telomeres by a greater percentage and do it much faster.
According to the Blueprint, surprisingly, you can exercise too much. Overtraining is not only bad for your muscles, it is also apparently bad for your telomeres. Some studies suggest that moderate exercisers have longer telomeres than those who are sedentary as well as those who are heavy exercisers, such as ultra marathoners. Everything I have read regarding overtraining and telomere length fails to consider the use of Heart Rate Variability. I believe this is a critical missing component from both the training routines of most elite athletes and the analysis of exercise on telomere length. I am not yet qualified (it’s really complicated) to discuss this matter in detail. I am, however, taking daily Heart Rate Variability readings and working hard to educate myself on the subject, so expect to be able to intelligently discuss this cutting edge science in the coming months.
We are living longer. We are on the cusp of living much, much longer. Aging is simply NOT an inevitable consequence of being born. Science shows us that physical and mental decline associated with growing old are the results of biochemical processes influenced by genetics, environmental factors, and lifestyle choices. We as individuals have the ability to not only slow down some of these biochemical processes, but in some cases, reverse them. And what we can’t do ourselves through hard work, study, and devotion, scientists like Aubrey de Grey and his colleagues will be able to do in laboratories in the coming decades. So, stay fit. Live healthily. It is not inconceivable that if you do, in the words of Google Executive Ray Kurzweil, that you will be able to, “Live Long Enough to Live Forever.”