If someone told you you could absolutely slow the aging process and increase your health-span and quality of your life without spending a dime – that the solution was scientifically proven and it was easier than you could imagine – would you pay attention?
When I heard about Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider, and Jack Szostak’s Nobel Prize for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and telomerase (the enzyme that keeps cells from dying) I was intrigued. But, I just about fell out of my chair listening to Blackburn’s TED talk.
Have you not heard about this?? It makes me want to shout from the rooftops what we all, no doubt, have instinctively known about our own health and well-being.
With the help of psychologist Elisa Epel and many other scientists from various fields and disciplines – and after 10,000 scientific papers later – the findings have concluded that we have the ability to protect our health-span. “Healthspan” is the number of healthy, youthful and productive years in our total life span. On the contrary, “disease span” is the number of years spent sick and on the decline.
As an educated society, we’ve transcended the hand-wavy “stress makes you sick” sort of thinking and now can prove that how we choose to focus our thoughts, how we choose to interpret, and how we choose to perceive is determining just how many years of our lives are spent in a state of thriving. In other words, we have control over our own aging process, we have control over just how much we thrive… or not.
Here’s what’s up:
Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of every chromosome. Every time the cell divides the telomere takes on a bit of wear and tear. As soon as it’s too worn down, the cell is signaled to die. The shorter our telomeres, the more aged, rigid, and old we are. (So conversely, the longer the telomeres the more youthful, productive, and thriving we are.)
Telomerase is an enzyme that keeps the telomere intact and prevents it from breaking down. Therefore, a robust telomerase maintenance capacity correlates to a long and lovely health-span.
What all the scientists have concluded is amazing: What directly influences your telomerase maintenance capacity is HOW YOU RESPOND TO THE LIFE EVENTS THAT HAPPEN TO YOU.
After all the studies, they found that it isn’t the stressful life events that occur in one’s life that weakens and shortens the telomeres, it is the interpretation that these life events are negative, threatening, and not wanted.
Look, stuff happens. Contrary to popular belief there is no inherent meaning in the stuff. We experience meaning by how we choose to perceive the stuff. Life can deliver really big servings of scary hairy crap sandwiches. How we react to and interpret what’s on our plate is up to us. We can see it as a triggering threat – and we’ll ruminate, whine, entertain worst-case scenarios, and internally marinate in long baths of the stress hormone cortisol. OR, we can take it in stride, maybe find the silver lining, find a way to be light-hearted, and interpret it as a thrilling or rigorous challenge to overcome.
It’s our choice.
We get to choose to interpret stressful events in a non-stressful way… this is exactly what keeps our telomeres intact. This is exactly what keeps us youthful. We have more control over the aging process than we could have imagined.
I hope you’re as excited by this as I am. I love knowing that I have the remote control of my mind in my hand. I love knowing that I get to choose what channels of good feeling thoughts I want to entertain. I love knowing that all I need to do is be intolerant of feeling crappy. I love knowing it is up to me.
If you want to bolster your ability to interpret in a way that serves you better, check this out: a study out of UCLA showed that individuals negatively affected by the chronic stress of caring for a loved one with dementia improved their telomerase maintenance capacity by meditating as little as 12 minutes a day for 2 months. If that’s not enough reason to take up the habit of taking time-in, I don’t know what is! (Check this out if you want a bit more guidance on meditation as a life practice).
I’m all fired up that there’s more exciting evidence of the mind-body connection. Stoked there’s a scientific reason why I whistle while I work. 🙂