We begin with the idea that our lives have two distinct phases, our Healthspan and our Diseasespan. We have the choice to age in health or to age with disease, and this choice is made with each moment we are given. Life is a gift and our lifestyle choices dictate how we will live that gift. It is not just nutrition, though this plays a vital role, it is also what we do with our bodies physically (movement and exercise), how we interact with others (our social connections) as well as how we connect with ourselves (meditation and quieting our minds). Moreover, if we stumble in our choices, we always have the present moment to make a new and more optimal choice in how we live our lives. It is never to too late to focus on living with health and balance. This truth brings us hope and empowers us to live our best lives.
Telomeres are the key. These little ‘shoelace caps’ on our chromosomes determine both our longevity and the quality of the time we are given. Though indeed we are born with a set of predetermined genes, it is our choices which will determine whether those genes will be turned on or off. Remember that “genes load the gun and the environment pulls the trigger.” Pg 6
Rather than a fatalistic view of our lives – predetermined and out of our control – this truth frees us to live in hope and empowers us to choose whether or not pull that trigger. Moreover, our choices can, in some instances, even reverse and lengthen our telomeres.
“The foods you eat, your response to emotional challenges, the amount of exercise you get, whether you were exposed to childhood stress, and even the level of trust and safety in your neighborhood – all of these factors and more appear to influence your telomeres and can prevent premature again at the cellular level.” Pg 7
Our cells have to ability to renew themselves, including our immune, bone, gut, lung, liver, pancreatic, skin and hair cells. Our choices can keep those cells in what is called the ‘luxuriant growth’ stage and delay the stage known as ‘senescence’, in which our cells tire and divide fewer times, eventually leading to apoptosis (cell death).
“Senescent cells can leak proinflammatory substances that make you vulnerable to more pain, more chronic illness. Eventually many senescent cells will undergo a preprogrammed death.” Pg 9
There are some specific choices we can make to ensure that our cells do not tire and die, including:
· Reframing our view of situations in a more positive way
· Reducing stress, increasing our levels of Telomerase – the enzyme responsible for replenishing telomeres
· Avoiding processed foods – especially processed/cured meats
· Maintaining strong social bonds with our community
· Getting regular exercise and movement in our daily lives
· Focusing on the present moment through breathwork and meditation
One of the most important choices we can make in ensuring our telomeres remain intact and continue to lengthen throughout our lives is to practice living in the present. Focusing our minds on what we are currently doing, even if we are simply listening to our breath, has a powerful impact on the health of our telomeres. In our busy world, this may seem incongruous to what we are taught – to always be busy, productive and active. Remember that breathing is an activity and focusing on our breath is a powerful thing to ‘do’. We can focus on doing, of course, but we must not forget to also focus on ‘being’, lest we lose sight of the present and get lost in the past or the future.
This focus of our minds allows us to enjoy the gift of life we have been given and by focusing on the positive aspects of our lives we are able to live longer in our healthspan time and avoid a prolonged and painful diseasespan. It is restorative to be present and not rehash the past or worry about the future. Remember, life is a dynamic process and our cells are constantly in flux – take a moment now to Stop.Breathe.Focus.Move.Flow.
Be present. Be empowered. Be calm. Be positive. Your cells and your telomeres will thank you with the gifts of health and joy.
“It is restorative to focus your mind inside (noticing sensations, your rhythmic breathing), or outside (noticing the sights and sounds around you). This ability to focus on your breath, or your present experience, turns out to be very good for the cells of your body.” Pg 16