Here are four tips from Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, and Elissa Epel, Ph.D., a professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco and author of The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer.
Anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, shield telomeres from damage. On the other end of the spectrum, certain foods act like telomere toxins. “Processed red meat and sugar stand out for their potent negative effects on telomere maintenance,” says Epel.
Minimize your intake of those foods and eat free-range, organic meats whenever possible. (Upgrade your diet with The 20 Best Organic Foods.) Finally, steer clear of supplements that tout telomere-lengthening benefits. These haven’t been proven safe or effective.
We’d love to peek inside Lewis Black’s cells because cynicism, hostility, and pessimism are hard on telomeres. “Daily stress is a part of modern life,” says Epel. “What matters is how we approach these situations and recover from them.” As you grasp at negative thoughts, you pump out stress hormones, which sabotage telomeres.
Try a strategy known as thought distancing: Imagine the stressful situation as a movie scene. You’re just in the audience watching it go by.
Exercise is the single most important tool for protecting telomeres because it busts two bad influences: Inflammation and stress. “The very time when you don’t want to exercise is the best time to do it for your telomeres,” Blackburn says.
Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, done three days a week for 45 minutes, may even double the activity of an enzyme called telomerase that helps repair frayed telomeres.
However, a warning to weekend warriors: Don’t save your exercise for one big mega-workout, since overtraining actually harms telomeres.
Instead of lounging on a beach, take a trip that will refresh you in a different way. Epel and Blackburn recently found that a six-day meditation retreat helped people fend off telomere damage.
More and more travel companies now offer wellness and meditation retreats, but you can also practice mindfulness on your next vacation no matter what the destination. Unencumbered by your day-to-day obligations, you can use vacation as a perfect opportunity to practice new stress-resilience skills, says Epel. (To learn more about the power of meditation, take a look at 6 Things That Happened When I Tried Meditating Every Day For a Month.)