At last, we've got solid proof: You can renew and revitalize the DNA embedded in your cells to make improvements in your health and live longer. And you don't have to take questionable supplements (some good ones are mentioned later) or make a late-night agreement with someone who smells like sulfur to get it done. By adopting a handful of beneficial lifestyle habits, you'll actually be practicing cutting-edge gene therapy!
So let us introduce you to the amazing — sound the trumpets — telomeres. They're the caps on the ends of your genetic material (like the plastic tips on shoelaces) that are designed to keep each cell's strings of DNA from fraying. Telomeres start out fresh and long, shrinking a bit every time one of the cells they're attached to divides. That's normal. But health missteps also shrink your telomeres. They shrivel further and faster when your system is assaulted by inflammation, toxins and negative stress. For example, obesity seems to accelerate telomere shortening (or aging) by 30 percent or more. Smoking speeds it up by 18 percent. When telomeres are super-short, cells die prematurely or become what one telomere researcher calls "zombie cells" — weak, ineffective, but still living. And bringing short, skimpy telomeres to the party is associated with an ever-growing list of health problems: heart disease, high blood pressure and clogged arteries, diabetes, breathing problems like emphysema, arthritis, brittle bones and dementia.
But the big news, according to our friends at the University of California San Francisco and California's Preventive Medicine Research Institute, is that you can do more than just protect these essential tips on your genetic material; you can reverse telomere shrinkage and make them longer! Longer telomeres can help you avoid those health hazards by helping cells duplicate and repair previous damage.
How do we know you have that much control? In a new case study of 35 guys with early-stage prostate cancer, 10 upgraded their diet, got regular physical activity, practiced stress management every day and spent more time with friends and loved ones. Twenty-five other men stuck with their usual habits. After five years, the first group's telomeres were 10 percent longer on average; that's the equivalent of a 20-year-younger RealAge for a 55-year-old! And the guys' telomeres were even longer if they were super-conscientious about making healthy lifestyle changes. The men who didn't make any lifestyle changes saw their telomeres shrink 3 percent.
Ready to do a little at-home gene therapy? Start here:
1 Remove the Five Food Felons from your diet: added sugars and sugar syrups, saturated fat, trans fats and any grains that aren't 100 percent whole. Replace with plant-based edibles such as vegetables, fruit and proteins like walnuts, beans and tofu. And we do believe that supplements like DHA, lutein, zeaxanthin, vitamin D-3, calcium and half a multivitamin twice a day are a good insurance policy against an imperfect diet.
2 Move for at least 30 minutes daily, heading for a goal of 10,000 steps or more! If it's too hot, too cold or too dark outside, whether you're at the gym, home or office, take a spin on a stationary bike, march in place or stride on a treadmill. To cement this habit, make it an everyday activity, maybe while you watch your favorite (recorded?) TV show. And we know what that is.
3 Take time to relax daily. Guys in this study devoted an hour a day to managing stress. Don't have 60 minutes to spare? There's good evidence that even five minutes of tension-melting meditation can make a big difference. Find a quiet spot, sit comfortably, shut your eyes and pay attention to your breathing. Add progressive muscle relaxation, tensing and releasing muscle groups from your toes up to your head.
4 Minimize exposure to harmful toxins such as first- and secondhand smoke and BPA-laced receipts.
Learn more about telomere-saving techniques at sharecare.com.
NAPS HELP LITTLE ONES GET, STAY SMART
Many adults confine their naps to boring or overly long movies in darkened theaters.
But preschoolers usually grab a cool 60 minutes or (much, much) more daily, and parents and teachers should be glad they do! Not only does it give Mom or Dad time to take care of other tasks or have downtime themselves, naptime is part of a young child's learning process. It's when their super-active brains consolidate newly acquired info and store it in memory.
What's the typical "need to nap" for young children? Most kids take a morning and afternoon nap till around age 2; then they just want an afternoon snooze. By age 3, a quarter of kids have stopped napping altogether; from ages 3 to 4, about half will stop. A quarter of kids will nap until they are 5 to 6.
Unfortunately, some preschools want to eliminate naps for 3- to 5-year-olds. But skipping naps won't make kids healthy, happy — or smart! No nap? Find another facility, or convince yours of the importance of naptime. And make sure that if your child is 4 or older and still naps, your chosen facility will accommodate his or her schedule.
GNARLED, TANGY SPICE HAS SUPERPOWERS
In 17th century England, a pound of ginger could be traded for a healthy sheep! The spice has been valued as seasoning and medicine for thousands of years. Scientists are investigating whether it can help prevent colon and ovarian cancer. It's a must-have heading into cold and flu season. Its other powers include:
• Calming nausea. As a tea or cooked into a congee (a therapeutic rice porridge) it can ease morning sickness, motion sickness and sluggish digestion. To make the tea: Cut 2 inches of cleaned and peeled ginger root into small pieces or thin slices; put in a pan with a few cups of water; boil for at least 10 minutes. Stir in lemon, mint or lime juice; add 1 teaspoon of honey if your taste buds require.
• Soothing sore joints and muscles. Ginger contains anti-inflammatories called gingerols that can ease the discomfort of osteo- or rheumatoid arthritis, sore muscles and even headaches. You can drink it as a tea or grate the root, wrap it in cheesecloth, place in hot water for 30 seconds, and when cool enough, apply directly to your achy areas for 20 minutes.
• Keeping your immune system strong. For a sore throat, sniffles or the flu, try a powdered ginger supplement (it's not for anyone on blood thinners).