Many of us are aware that our diet, and how much we exercise, can have an effect on how old we feel - and how healthy we are as we age.
But did you know that aspects affecting our mental wellbeing, including stress and loneliness, can actually shorten our lifespan - perhaps to the same extent?
Help Stop Me Ageing! on ITV at 7.30pm features one of the world’s foremost experts on the science of telomeres - genetic indicators of how well we are ageing. She reveals the way to change your life for the better.
Protect your genes
Dr Elissa Epel, of the University of San Francisco explains that telomeres are protective caps at the end of our chromosomes. As we get older our cells replicate, and naturally some wear and tear occurs. This means that the telomeres shorten with age. On its own, this isn’t too worrying.
However, Dr Epel and others have discovered that some lifestyle factors can accelerate telomere shortening - like a poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic stress, and loneliness. When the telomeres become too short, the cells stop replicating and this leads to conditions of ageing.
But all is not lost. Even if we’ve spent years damaging our telomeres, Dr Epel says that we can strengthen them at any age. There are things we can all do to keep feeling and looking more energetic, full of vitality, and even younger than our chronological age. And some of them may surprise you!
A diet filled with sugar, processed foods and lacking in essential minerals has been proven to increase the risk of conditions associated with premature ageing - like diabetes. Unhealthy foods can also affect our appearance by damaging our skin cells, making our skin sag.
Conversely, as nutritional chef Dale Pinnock explains, there are anti-ageing foods which could extend our health span:
The most important are Omega-3 fatty acids, present in oily fish. Oily fish help the body make anti-inflammatory compounds. Salmon, tuna, mackerel, kippers - all are beneficial and Dale recommends eating them two to three times a week.
- Antioxidants and carotenoids
Exercise and Mindfulness - good for the body, good for the brain
A lack of exercise can lead to conditions of ageing such as muscle wastage, obesity, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
Dr Miriam Stoppard OBE is one month shy of 80. But to look at her you’d never know it. While she eats well, she says that her key secret to youth is a combination of high-intensity exercise and stress-relieving mindfulness, meditation and yoga. She also keeps her brain active - she’s currently working on three jobs, and continually takes on new challenges.
All by myself...
As we do get older one of the most chronically stressful life events we face is loneliness. In the UK nearly half of people over 75 now live on their own.
So for organisations like the Older Women’s Co-Housing community (OWCH), connecting people is a priority. This Co-operative Housing group is the first of its kind in London. Everyone has their own flat but they share communal spaces, such as a kitchen, lounge and garden. And they all have an equal say in how the place is run.
To live in this particular community, you have to be a woman and over 50. Currently the 26 residents range in age from 51 to 87. And there’s a waiting list.
Former GP Tessa Dresser is a 77 year old divorcee. She lived alone in a five bedroom house before moving to the community. She says that her health has improved enormously since she came to the OWCH development.
Tessa hasn’t been back to hospital since the move.
The Telomere Effect - Mind and Body tips
Age UK - resources on loneliness
Dale Pinnock: Health benefits of food
Dr Miriam Stoppard’s advice on healthy eating
Why bodybuilding at 93 is a great idea: Charles Eugster’s TEDx talk
Help Stop Me Ageing! is on ITV this evening at 7.30pm.