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Article By
Sandy Clarke
in Sunny Side Up From The Star 2 April 2017

Caring for chromosomes

APRIL 2, 2017 LIVING, VIEWPOINTS (From The Star April 2, 2017)

If youre someone who experiences regular bouts of pressure and have ever thought,
This has taken years off me, it turns out you could be right.

In decades past, medical professionals believed the main risk factors for disease included
habits such as smoking, poor diet, lack of exercise, and high blood pressure. Stress wasnt
considered to pose a genuine risk.

However, in recent years scientists have found that stress can have a significant impact on
our health.

In 2009, molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn won the Nobel Prize for her research
into the anti-ageing process. The research showed that stress degrades the protective tips
of our chromosomes (called telomeres). Every time our cells divide, part of the
telomeres breaks off. When the cell divides too many times, these protective tips are lost,
which increases the risk of major conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and a
weakened immune system.

One study, which monitored people who lived with high levels of stress, found that, over
time, there was an average of seven years lost due to how these highly stressed people
lived their lives.

Thankfully, this isnt a fate were bound to suffer, even if we do experience intense
periods of stress. Our bodies produce an enzyme called telomerase that lengthens the
protective tips of our chromosomes, and one vital step we can take to help this process is
to learn how to manage our stress.

According to the World Health Organisation, mental ill-health (which includes

depression, stress and anxiety) will be the biggest burden of disease by 2030. The
importance of stress management is hardly a new idea, but as Prof Blackburn suggests,
were now only beginning to realise just how important it is to reduce our stress at a
cellular level.

So, what can be done to aid the process of lengthening our telomeres to increase our
chances of good health and longevity? Prof Blackburn highlights exercise as a key tonic,
and stresses that we neednt be marathon runners in order to expand our chromosome

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper in Britain, she said, People who do
moderate aerobic exercise about three times a week for 45 minutes have telomeres
pretty much as long as marathon runners, adding that telomere shortness is particularly
strong in people who partake in little to no physical exercise. Even 10-15 minutes of light
exercise every day can have a beneficial effect on the anti-ageing process.

An alternative option that research suggests has a considerable effect on telomere growth
is meditation. When were under pressure, the stress hormone cortisol begins to flood our
system. This is useful in times when, for example, we need to perform efficiently or focus
intently on a task. However, when were in distress and when theres no release
cortisol keeps us in a state of fight-or-flight, which suppresses our immune system,
causes inflammation, and raises our blood sugar levels.

Several studies have suggested that regular practices such as mindfulness meditation or
loving-kindness meditation, are effective in reducing our stress levels, as they help to
lower our breathing, pulse rate, blood pressure and metabolism rates. As little as 10
minutes every day over eight weeks can considerably improve our psychological and
physical well-being.

And while its easy to believe the stress that causes us damage comes via traumatic or
overwhelming experiences, most of the damage for the body and mind happens when we
constantly experience little stresses that build up over time without release. One reason to
explain why this is a growing problem is because were often so caught up with being
switched on all the time that we forget to unplug regularly, to relax and unwind.

While most of us lead busy lives, its a safe bet to assume that we can all find a spare 10
minutes in our day to de-stress. The Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh recently said that we are
so busy that even our text messages and e-mails are rushed, adding, We always have
time for at least one in-breath and out-breath before we press send on a text or e-mail.

How true that is there are few tasks we perform so hurriedly as when we send messages
to our friends and colleagues.

The advice to slow down and take time out on occasion has been around for thousands of
years, and now science is able to confirm the wisdom behind some of the old teachings
and philosophies pointing the way to good health.

Theres nothing we take for granted more than our body and mind. While they
impressively endure all that we put them through, theres only so much they can take
before problems start to occur. With this in mind, perhaps we should commit to giving
them an occasional break, which might help to add years onto our lives rather than take
them off.

Sandy Clarke has long held an interest in emotions, mental health, mindfulness and
meditation. He believes the more we understand ourselves and each other, the better
societies we can create. If you have any questions or comments, e-mail