We all know women who are 40 and look 60, and women who are 60 and look 40. So is there anything we can do to stay in the aging “slow lane”? Groundbreaking science says yes! “Our biological age is separate from our chronological age and corresponds directly to the health of our chromosomes,” asserts neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D., author of The Grain Brain Whole Life Plan. The key to staying young: taking steps to lengthen telomeres — strands of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that determine how quickly we age.
Think of telomeres like the plastic caps on shoelaces that stop them from fraying, says Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., coauthor of The Telomere Effect and Nobel Prize recipient in telomere research. The longer they are, the better. But each time a cell divides, its telomeres shorten, until none remain and the cell dies. “The faster telomeres shorten, the faster cells age and the more vulnerable we are to problems associated with aging like memory issues and weight gain,” says Blackburn. The good news: “Cultivating telomeres optimizes your chances of living a life that’s not just longer, but better.” Read on for the easy how-tos.
The best healthy-aging food: fatty fish.
“Internal inflammation creates oxidative stress that damages telomeres, contributing to heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and more,” says Dr. Perlmutter. To outsmart inflammation, he suggests enjoying foods rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3s, like salmon and tuna, two to four times a week. In a study of older adults published in JAMA, the rate of telomere decline was 2.6 times slower in people with the highest omega-3 blood levels. You can also supplement with at least 1,000 mg of DHA (like GNC Triple Strength DHA 1,000 mg, $25 for 45 softgels, Amazon.com). Bonus: Studies show a daily dose of fish oil eases joint pain by 61 percent and sharpens reaction time by 20 percent.
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The best daily habit for anti-aging: brisk walks.
Staying active has been shown to reduce telomere loss by 75 percent, and recent findings in the European Heart Journal suggest why: Getting 45 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise (like brisk walking) three times a week for six months doubled the production of telomerase, a protective enzyme that adds DNA back to chromosomes during cell division. Even better: doing shorter bursts of intense activity, which raises the amount of oxygen used when exercising, a factor closely correlated to telomere health. The easy workout Blackburn recommends: Walk briskly for 3 minutes, then stroll for 3 minutes; repeat 4 times. Interval workouts also lower blood sugar 3 times more effectively than continuous exercise to outsmart cravings and fatigue.
The best anti-aging supplement: B-complex.
One in eight women have high blood levels of the amino acid homocysteine—a factor that triples the rate of telomere shortening, say scientists in the journal FEBS Letters. The good news: “Taking a B-complex vitamin can effectively lower homocysteine levels,” says Dr. Perlmutter, who advises asking your doctor for a blood test to check your levels. If they’re high, taking a supplement that contains 50 mg of vitamin B6, 400 mcg of folic acid and 250 mcg of vitamin B12 can lower homocysteine levels and lengthen telomeres. One that fits the bill: Twinlab Stress B-Complex Caps ($26 for 300 capsules, Amazon.com). And because past research shows these B vitamins boost the production of feel-good serotonin and sleep-inducing melatonin, you’ll also enjoy brighter moods and deeper zzzs.