What can you do to keep your telomeres healthy?When it comes to telomeres, long is good and short is bad. You can help them grow by eating a healthy diet, exercising, dealing appropriately with stress, and creating social support systems, among other healthy habits, the authors say.
One clear move that helps: avoiding sugary drinks like soda, sports drinks, and even those delicious flavoured lattes. “The refined sugar effects were particularly clear in large studies of thousands of people in the U.S., looking at sugared soda consumption,” Blackburn says. “They found the effects on telomeres were comparable in size to what’s seen with smoking.” She explains that the rush of sugar into your bloodstream when you drink these sugary confections causes symptoms of metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors (including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, body fat around the waist, and high blood sugar) that indicate you are in danger of contracting an array of diseases, from heart disease to diabetes to stroke.
Eating a diet that minimises refined sugars and packs in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and omega-3 fatty acids can help “reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and insulin resistance,” Blackburn says. But this isn't about losing weight (thankfully!): Blackburn did not find that weight was a factor in telomere length or growth. In fact, healthy people who are overweight sometimes have better telomere health than thin people who have unhealthy eating habits.
Do telomeres make you look younger, too?Healthy telomeres won't reverse the ageing process once it starts — for example, there are no studies that show that improving your telomere health will un-grey your hair or eliminate your wrinkles. But telomere-friendly habits can help stave off the beginning of these ageing signs, and improving your telomere health can cause the DNA that makes your skin firm and plump to begin producing more and healthier cells, slowing ageing down.