By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer
Did you see the movie The Curious Case of Benjamin Button? If not, it’s basically about a male who was born as an old man, wrinkles and all. Instead of getting older as the years passed, though, Benjamin Button grew younger. No doubt it was one of the most interesting flicks I have seen in a long while, but it’s pretty silly to think a person can age backwards… right? Well, according to a team from the University of California, it seems to be possible, and all a person has to do is eat healthy, exercise, and meditate!
Wait, that’s all? That doesn’t make any sense. I know people who do these activities on a regular basis, but they’re still growing old. What’s the deal? Well, according the researchers, it doesn’t show in our bodies, but rather inside our cells.
Inside every single cell is a stringy molecule known as deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which is basically a set of instructions that tells the body how to grow. If we were to take the strands of DNA from every one of our cells and tie them end to end, the string would be long enough to go to the Sun and back over 300 times! That’s a lot of DNA huh? In order to fit neatly into our cells, DNA is twisted into tight coils known as chromosomes. On the end of each chromosome are protective caps known as telomeres. Just like the plastic ends of a shoelace protect the string from fraying away, telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes from wear and tear. As we age, however, they get shorter and once they’re too small, the cell it sits inside dies!
According to this study, individuals with healthy lifestyles can increase the length of their telomeres. In order to show this, the researchers used 35 male volunteers with prostate cancer. While 25 men continued living their regular lives, 10 males began a vegetarian diet, adopted an intense workout schedule, and practiced yoga. At the end of the 5-year-long study, the 10 men increased the length of their telomeres by 10%, which is a lot! By comparison, the rest of the men that didn’t eat well, exercise frequently, or practice yoga shortened their telomeres by 3%.
Does this mean that extreme changes in our lifestyle can make us live longer? Well, the researchers say the study is too small to make any big statements like that. However, Dr. Lyn Cox, a biochemistry expert at Oxford University, says, “Overall, though, the findings of this paper that changes in lifestyle can have a positive effect on markers of aging support the calls for adoption of and adherence to healthier lifestyles.”
Featured image courtesy of Matthew Ragan of Flickr.