Telomere: The Long and Short of It

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s web site, https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov, “In the nucleus of each cell, the DNA molecule is packaged into thread-like structures called chromosomes.” In every single cell in our body, we have 23 pairs of chromosomes. At the end of these are telomeres, which protect genetic information when the cell divides. They act as caps. Cells divide to duplicate each other, but if they aren’t copied exactly, problems can occur. I had never heard of telomeres until I read an article about them in Health. So speaking of genetics (regarding my post yesterday) here is something you may not know about how premature aging and disease that occurs inside our bodies, packed with cells. 

So every time the cell divides, it shaves a little protection off of the telomeres. Cells divide around 50 to 70 times during an average lifetime. Overtime, telomeres shrink because of this wearing away. When a telomere becomes too short, it leaves your cells DNA exposed. So the molecule will try to copy itself with a like molecule or two exposed chromosomes (missing telomeres) will bind. The problem is when two chromosomes fuse, the cell can genetically die or lead to an abnormality. And this is where disease comes in. When the caps come off telomeres, your cells can no longer divide and they either die or become dangerous cells. These “zombie” cells secrete substances that damage healthier cells.

The all important telomeres get shorter as the cells divide each time and the telomeres atrophy. The cell division that naturally occurs and the subsequent shortening of telomeres in the process is what leads to aging. Skin cells die and we begin to see wrinkles. Hair follicle cells die and we get gray hair. But it is when our immune cells start to die that we are at risk for cognitive decline, premature aging and other deadly diseases. 

Prevention is key from keeping immune cells from dying. Following a Mediterranean Diet as I’ve written about in another post is shown to improve teleomere length in those who followed the diet. Also, another important to sweat. Regular cardiovascular exercise preserves your telomeres. Those who exercise the recommended 30 to 40 minutes, five days a week, were genetically nine years younger than those who didn’t. 

The process is reversible with changes to BMI and activity levels that can actually lengthen shortened telomeres. This very important part of our chromosomes, our genetics, is somewhat under our control.

Colder temperatures may be a time when we skip out on our workouts, but actually working out in colder temperatures is easier and you burn more calories until your body adjusts to the temperature. So hike it to the gym and hit that treadmill. Or, invest in a hiking jacket and decent shoes for running and working out outdoors this year. I’ve never heard of money better spent. 

I wanted to add a picture of a reasonably priced coat I found for running outdoors in the cold, but Amazon is no longer offering it – it must have sold out. The brand is Wantdo. Here is a link to Wantdo’s site and specifically to a coat similar to what I purchased on Amazon for around $54. I went for orange!

https://www.wantdo.com/collections/womens-hiking-jackets-coats/products/womens-hooded-waterproof-rain-jacket-fleece-lined-ski-jacket 

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