What you can do now to age slowly for then
Nobel Prize-winning scientist and pioneering researcher into ageing, Elizabeth Blackburn, likes to talk about the healthy part of our life as our ‘health span’ and then, as we age, we move into the ‘disease span’.
The trick is to try to lengthen our health span to keep the disease span as short as possible. This has the advantage that we age more slowly. And there are ways we can do that.
She and two other researchers received the Nobel Prize for their research in telomeres (the protective DNA at the end of chromosomes). It opened up Blackburn’s understanding of ageing.
She explained it this way to The Guardian: ‘We all have health spans—the number of years we remain healthy, active and disease-free—and the shortening of our telomeres contributes to ageing and our entry from health span into disease span.’
She adds that we can do things that will keep our telomeres longer and delay entering the disease span. ‘So we are talking more about keeping people healthier for longer and staving off some diseases of ageing.’
The Telomere Effect
A couple of years ago she and an associate brought out a book called The Telomere Effect. (For an overview, check out the Next Avenue report.)
In her book, she says that the ‘extraordinary discovery’ from the research labs is that ‘ageing need not be, as thought for so long, a one-way slippery slope toward infirmity and decay. We all will get older, but how we age is very much dependent on our cellular health.’
The problem comes from the foods we eat, how we respond to emotional challenges, and the amount of exercise we get, all of which can impact.
In short, ‘One of the keys to a long health span is simply doing your part to foster healthy cell renewal.’ So what can we do to increase our health span?
Here’s what we can do
Blackburn suggests the following:
- Evaluate sources of persistent, intense stress. What can you change?
- Transform a threat to a challenge appraisal.
- Become more self-compassionate and compassionate to others.
- Take up a restorative activity.
- Practice thought awareness and mindful attention. Awareness opens doors to well-being.
- Be active.
- Develop a sleep ritual for more restorative and longer sleep.
- Eat mindfully to reduce overeating and ride out cravings.
- Choose telomere-healthy foods like whole foods and omega-3s; skip the bacon.
- Make room for connection; disconnect from screens for part of the day.
- Cultivate a few good, close relationships.
- Provide children quality attention and the right amount of ‘good stress’.
- Cultivate your neighbourhood social capital. Help strangers.
- Seek green. Spend time in nature.
So I guess I’ll see you out in nature, soon.