Telomeres (Excerpt from The Tao of Longevity)

Telomeres are repeating sections of non-coding DNA found at the ends of each of our chromosomes. DNA is a self-replicating material that is present in most organisms as the main component of our chromosomes. Chromosomes are the structures that are found inside our cell nucleus and is made up of proteins and DNA which are formed into a while which are our genes. Cells contain 23 pairs of chromosomes.

A Telomere is found at the end of each tip on X shaped chromosome These tips form caps. A common reference used to describe them is made when describing the caps at the ends of shoelaces. As we live life and cells age, they divide to

  • keep cells growing and dividing in number during childhood
  • to replace cells that in damages tissue
  •  to replace cells that become old and are dying due to too many divisions
  • To replace cells that are damaged

The more cells divide, the shorter the Telomeres become until a cell can no longer function. As Telomeres decline and thus cells decline so does the body’s ability to heal and slow the aging process. All of this is to say that Telomeres and healthy cell regeneration is very important to longevity.

In recent years medical scientists have discovered that we have a serious and relevant influence on telomere health through our lifestyle choices. This means that through our choices it is possible to for some of us to positively change and improve our Telomere health which I view as necessary for Longevity.

I was pleasantly surprised when I found, through research, that the means of slowing and stopping Telomere degradation, growing them, and even sometimes growing new ones, was the same for healing other chronic diseases. I do not know how they are connected exactly but when you put into practice these protocols, you greatly improve your ability to heal, restore, and prolong longevity.

Meditation and Mindfulness.

Some years ago, I learned that Meditation could improve Telomere health through its stress reduction effect. Stress reduction is a must for Telomere health and restoration and mindfulness-based meditation has shown that it works. When I learned Mindfulness Meditation not only did my physical health improve, but all other areas of my life got a lot better.  Not only was I able to manage and reduce stress, but I was also able to take back some control over moods, have more discipline, and become self-aware of important choices that changed my life in profound ways. I also read out that when people can focus their minds on the present moment and the task at hand, they have longer Telomeres. These skills are something that you must practice and cultivate. [1]

Qigong and Tai Chi

With their meditative coordination of breath, mind, body, and movement, Qigong and Tai Chi have been shown to help Longevity in different ways. Qigong and Tai Chi are a form of meditative mind-body exercise. I have practiced these for well over a decade and found them to be effective at reducing stress, as well as improving balance, strength, and coordination. In addition to that, the stretching and exercise component helps with physical fitness with also enhances Telomere health. They are gentle yet effective, so it is a good way to get moving for those who have joint problems, dizziness, obesity, and not-so-good coordination. For Telomere restoration, its main component may be stress reduction and its ability to increase Telomerase, an enzyme that creates new Telomere patterns.[2]

Qigong is cultivated on a foundation of meditation which cultivates self-awareness and focus. Qigong is a component of Tai Chi that adds complex movements that require concentration in a multi-tasking intent. The coordination of breath, form, and energy circulation becomes like a mantra that cultivates the internal alchemy of life forces energy, or Qi. While I have never read or heard that Qi can help Telomere health, I believe that it does so from my own experience of healing. This meditative exercise is very good at promoting stress reduction from less mental activity. Simply, to perform Tai Chi correctly your mind cannot wander and think about any other activities, such as worrying. The complexity of this coordinated multitasking is what you train on holding mental focus to. With practice, it becomes second nature and your body will go into a relaxation response very quickly.

Cardiovascular Exercise.

Studies have shown that sedentary people typically have shorter Telomeres.[3]Two types of cardiovascular exercises seem to work best for improving Telomere health. Moderation Aerobic endurance for 45 minutes, three times per week, and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) which are short bursts of heart-racing activity followed by periods of recovery. Both increased Telomerase twofold plus all the other cardio benefits to fitness and stress reduction.[4]

Social Support Group (Friends and Family)[5]

This aspect of Longevity came into my knowledge when I read the book by Dan Buettner, The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who’ve Lived the Longest.

One of the secrets to Longevity practiced by long lived people in these places that he studied was the element of social support and connectivity between friends, family, and co-workers. Perhaps it is the less stress and nurturing environment. Or maybe it’s just the fun of hanging out and having fun with people you care for and care about you. From my own personal experience, there is something powerful and restorative in ending the day being with people who care for you and support you. Being around people who can make you laugh, who listen to you, and what you trust seems to restore the heart and mind from the daily stresses and challenges. There is nothing like going home after a hard day or being away and rejoining with your village. I can see why and how this can relieve stress. It seems that even children thrive when they can return from stressful days at school and come home to play and exercise away their challenges. The nurturing effect of friends, family and play can help to maintain and improve their Telomeres.

The feeling of belonging is an intangible but powerful virtue. In Tao teachings, Karmic Affinity for relationships is a powerful karmic tool that is believed to carry from lifetime to lifetime.

Aging is a natural part of life, yet we do have an influence in the quality of aging longevity. Remember Lao Tzu’s promise, “destiny is not predetermined”. Just like chronic disease, we can prevent so much of atrophy and decline by how we live. Lifestyle and habits matter, so it will benefit you to improve. Telomere health is another protocol to follow that directly benefits Longevity.

[1] See the chapters “Meditation” and “Mindfulness” in Part Two, Spiritual Cultivation

[2] The Telomere Effect; Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, Elissa Epel, PhD, Pub – Hachette Book Group

[3] Mayo Clinic Proceedings. May 03, 2015, DOI, article about Leisure-time Screen-Based Sedentary Behavior Mechanism

[4] See the chapter “The Exercise Protocol”, Part Four, The Healing Protocol

[5] See the chapter “Social Interaction”, Part Four, The Healing Protocol