We all want to be healthier and live longer, better lives... right? Nobel Prize Winner Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel have written The Telomere Effect to help us head in the right direction, focusing on one of the most smallest and most important parts of our bodies: telomeres.
I'm not going to give a big long scientific lecture about what telomeres are. I thought the authors did a great job explaining them to the common person, but I have to say I did think they went a little light on their explanation. Anyway, telomeres are basically the caps on the ends of our chromosomes that have shown to be directly related to health: the longer your telomeres, the longer you remain in the "healthy" zone of your life and thrive. Telomeres shorten after every cellular division and help determine how fast our cells age and eventually die- the authors use the analogy of the little plastic caps on the end of our shoe laces. So the more you can do to protect your telomeres, the longer they will remain, and, theoretically, the healthier you will stay (obviously there are a lot of exceptions, but you can read the book for those).
So, how do we keep our telomeres from shortening prematurely, and even lengthen them (they can get longer! Telomere health can be improved!)? There are many, many things, but here are the major categories:
1. Eat healthily: less processed food and red meat, more omega-3s and plants
2. Sleep: Quality of sleep is incredibly important for our bodies to heal and recharge
3. Exercise: Cardiovascular activity most days for thirty minutes is one of the most important things you can do for your telomeres. A variety of activity helps, as well.
4. Educate yourself: Those that have gone to college have longer telomeres (as do their children).
5. Manage stress: Ongoing, long-term stress does a ridiculous amount of harm to your telomeres
6. Foster relationships: Having people who you are close to lengthens telomeres. Weekly sex has substantial benefits as well (just saying what the science says).
7. Avoid chemical exposure: Be mindful of where you live and products you use in your home.
The book also spends some time discussing the role childhood trauma can have on telomere length, the genetic aspects of the process (telomere length starts in the womb), and positive thinking.
A lot of what this book discussed was just common sense, in terms of things we should do to live healthy lifestyles. Connecting them down to the chromosomal level and providing evidence to back everything up was really powerful for me, though. There are a lot of things I do well (exercise, relationships, being outside, and have an advanced education), but there are many things I need to work on (better sleep, managing stress, and consistently eating well, as I tend to fluctuate between apples and cupcakes too often).
I really enjoyed this book, both from the perspective of someone who enjoys life science and from someone who tries to be mindful of her health. It was a quick read and has stayed with me- I have developed this internal monologue that frequently lectures me for doing things that may shorten my telomeres. Annoying, but good.