Skin Health

Telomere - Can a healthy lifestyle actually prolong the aging process?

A look into telomeres

Malgorzata Sypien, M.D., FAAFP, Integrative Family Practice, Chicago IL

What are telomeres?

Photo by wildpixel/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by wildpixel/iStock / Getty Images

Telomere’s are DNA located at the end of your chromosomes. They help protect the chromosomes from damage and prevent chromosomes from fusing together keeping our DNA intact. These cells divide about 50-70 times in our lifetime and when a cell divides the telomere shortens and over time the telomere is so short that the cell cannot divide and will die or become inactive. We need the division of cells in order to generate new blood, skin and other cells for survival.

What cells have telomere’s?

Our skin, blood, bone and connective tissues all have telomeres at the end of their chromosomes. Our skin, for instance, becomes less pliable and starts to sag and can dry out as we age. Keeping these somatic cells healthy by keeping telomeres lengthened could help us from looking and feeling older. This same concept is true for bone, blood and connective tissues.

Why is it important to understand?

It is important to understand telomere’s, even at a high level, so that we can see how our everyday lifestyle can possible affect our aging down at the cellular level. If there was a way to stop the shortening of telomeres or even lengthening telomeres on the end of our chromosomes, we could potentially prolong the aging process.

Can we stop the shortening of telomeres or even lengthen them?

An enzyme called telomerase can slow, stop or perhaps even reverse the telomere shortening that happens as we age. The amount of telomerase in our bodies can be affected by numerous factors:

Healthy Diet

People with a healthy diet include the Mediterranean diet rich in antioxidants and a diet rich in fiber have shown to have longer telomere. Again, these studies are new more and more research is needed.

Mediterranean diet includes but is not limited to vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, fish, and whole gains.

Foods rich in fiber include but is not limited to fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and nuts.

Stress Management

Oxidative Stress, some think, shorten the telomere on the ends of chromosomes. Oxidative Stress comes from our environment (pollution), smoking, alcohol and excessive stress in our everyday lives. It may cause damage to our DNA and increases inflammation in our bodies.

Increased cortisol, the main stress hormone, in some test participants has shown to shorten telomeres. Managing stress in your life by quit smoking, drink alcohol in moderation and meditate can help maintain or even lengthen telomeres.


Exercise reduces inflammation, reduces oxidative stress and, in some studies, shows longer telomeres in those that exercised. Exercise makes us feel better and keeps us healthy but may also slow the aging process.

Make an appointment with Dr. Sypien to get a telomere test to see how fast you are aging.