One hundred twenty years – 120 years of life that is. That’s what you get at the most. That’s what the Bible seems to say. That’s what today’s observation of the longest living humans shows. And that’s what science says. Healthy living is simply dying at the slowest rate possible, improving the chances of making it to 120 years old.
Most of us won’t make it to 120 years. Why? A major reason is most of us engage in unhealthy habits.
When we speak of extending life, what we really are talking about is taking steps to delay death. So instead of thinking about adding time to the clock, we should think in terms of preventing time from being taken off the clock prematurely.
The best available science says the cells in our bodies are programmed to live about 120 years with each cell capable of dividing 40-60 times before it dies or becomes senescent. This limited capacity of cells to divide is called the Hayflick Limit and was discovered by Leonard Hayflick in 1961. And it is consistent with today’s observation of the longest living humans.
Prior to Hayflick’s discovery, it was felt that human cells could divide indefinitely when grown in cultures.
What Are Telomeres?
Now with advancements in telomere science we now know that the Hayflick Limit is related to telomere length.
Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences found at the ends of our chromosomes. For a long time scientists did not know the purpose of telomeres and they sometimes referred to as junk DNA. We now realize that telomeres are both a marker and cause of cellular aging.
Telomeres have been likened to aglets, the tiny plastic caps at the end of shoelaces. If the aglet is damaged the shoelace unwinds and becomes frayed or damaged. Something similar happens to the DNA in our chromosomes. Cells divide in response to cell injury. The faster cells are injured, the faster they exhaust those 40-60 divisions.
Every time a somatic cell (non-germ cell) divides the telomeres gets shorter. After 40-60 divisions the telomeres becomes so short that it can no longer protect the chromosomes. If there are enough critically short telomeres the cells die or become non-functional.
Telomere health is the key to healthy living and more closely reaching those 120 years we are programmed to live.
Think about it like this. At birth you are dealt 120 years. Healthy living better enables you to reach those 120 years. Inflammation, oxidation, and glycation (among others) are processes that speed telomere shortening and will take time off your clock.
What Are the Keys to Telomere Health?
There are plenty of steps you can take to protect the health of your telomeres. The following steps will help prevent inflammation, oxidation, and glycation.
Don’t smoke and limit alcohol use. Get regular exercise. Maintain a healthy body weight. Avoid sugar as much as possible. Keep hormone levels optimal. Learn to manage stress. Stress will shorten telomeres faster than smoking or obesity. Some nutritional supplements appear to protect telomeres. These include fish oil, vitamin D, alpha lipoic acid, acetyl-L-carnitine, CoQ10, N-acetylcysteine, L-carnosine, and TA-65.
The Immortality Edge by Michael Fossel, MD, PhD, Greta Blackburn, and David Woynarowski, MD