If crow’s feet and creaky joints are creeping up faster than you expected, it may be time to take care of your telomeres — the DNA ‘caps’ at the end of your chromosomes (much like the ones at the ends of your shoelaces) that keep your cells healthy and strong. Growing evidence shows telomere shortening can speed up aging — but all it takes to slow down the process is a little gene TLC.
Strengthen to lengthen
One of the best places to fight Father Time is at your local gym. A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine compared the telomere length of 2,400 twins. After one year, the twins who exercised had longer telomeres and were biologically younger than those who didn’t. In fact, the telomeres of the most active subjects were 200 nucleotides longer (that’s a lot!) than those of the least active subjects. For longer, stronger telomeres, try to fit in three workouts a week that combine 30 minutes of strength training with 30 minutes of interval cardio.
Add some astragalus
Sounds like asparagus, but astragalus is actually an antioxidant-rich plant used in traditional Chinese medicine for its immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory properties, and new research is putting this herb at the forefront of anti-aging therapies. A study in the Journal of Immunology found substances within the plant’s root can slow aging by activating production of telomerase (an enzyme that supports telomeres). Although astragalus has few side effects, it does interact with some other herbs and prescription medications, so check with a health care practitioner before taking it.
Fill up on fish
Ah, omegas. Is there anything they can’t do? Because, sure enough, it turns out their inflammation-fighting powers also slow the aging process. Researchers at Ohio State University fed more than 100 adults omega-3 supplements for four months and found those who popped the pills had longer telomeres. (Top omega-3 fish sources include salmon, halibut, tuna and mackerel.)
Make time to chill
Just a little time out might be all it takes to turn back the clock. A recent review in Cancer Prevention Research found you can reverse telomeric aging by shutting down stress and getting more sleep. In fact, decreasing stress (through yoga, meditation or social support) increased telomerase activity in both men and women. In one study, participants increased the activity of this age-defying enzyme by 43 percent through meditation alone.
Chatelaine expert Natasha Turner is a naturopathic doctor and author of The Carb Sensitivity Program and The Hormone Diet.