One of my all-time favorite comedians, Billy Crystal, is perhaps best known for his performance ending quip that went like this: "It's more important to look good than feel good, and right now darling, you look marvelous."
Could Crystal have been correct? Is it more important to look good than feel good? After all, everyone wants to feel good and most of us want to look great, too. Well, guess what? Emerging medical science now reveals that Billy may have been correct. How young you look, scientists now say, may actually be more important than your age in years.
To put it in a slightly different way, are your looks killing you?
Perhaps this story will help illustrate the idea:
A Case In Point:
My first patient of the day, Paula, a 51-year-old executive, looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, "I think I'm dying. I look so old!"
Although I didn't say so, I was struck by how aged she did look. Yes, she was only 51 years old, but her appearance told a different story. At first glance, you might think she was 70. It wasn't just that her skin sagged and that she had deep lines and wrinkles around her mouth and engraved smile lines around her eyes. No, it was much more than that.
Her skin just didn't look healthy. There was no glow, no color and no vibrancy left to her countenance. I guess one might say she had lost "the blush of youth."
"Well, Dr. Dharma," you might say. "After all, she ain't no spring chicken."
"Sorry," I say. "I don't necessarily agree with you." Why? Because 51 clearly isn't all that old, especially these days when people are saying that 60 is the new 40.
Regardless of her age, she doesn't have to look all worn out, tired and stressed to the max. She shouldn't look older than she is -- and neither should you. In fact, according to emerging medical research, if you look younger than someone of equal age, you may live longer than they will. And, if you look older than your age, medical science now tells us, you have a greater chance of dying younger.
Recently I attended perhaps the most advanced medical conference in recent history. It was called Telomere Biology in Health and Disease and was held in Stockholm, Sweden. To say the conference was top notch would be a rather large understatement. Indeed, the keynote address was given by Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, the Nobel Laureate in 2009.
Dr. Blackburn was awarded the prize for her groundbreaking discovery of the importance of the telomere. She was joined on the faculty by many other leading scientists from around the world, who discussed the critical connection between telomere length, longevity and optimal health. I was honored to present a paper there on my own meditation research, which I'll share a bit later in this blog.
Telomeres are one of the most recent medical discoveries. A telomere is the cap of your DNA, and as you age or develop an illness it shortens. Short telomeres are consistent with accelerated aging, inflammation, stress, memory loss, diabetes, cancer, heart disease and prematurely aging skin (as was seen with my patient Paula). It's no wonder then that she also had memory issues, as well as other signs of accelerated aging.
On the third day of the conference, an intriguing presentation about skin aging occurred that held me spellbound. The speaker revealed an intriguing study from The Danish Aging Research Center and The Danish Institute of Public Health. In this work, called the Longitudinal Study of Aging Danish Twins (LSADT), they found that for 1,826 twins, the perceived age from a facial photograph -- as determined by three groups of raters including doctors, nurses and lay-people -- was a "robust predictor of mortality" during the next seven years. All of the raters agreed on each photo as to which twin looked older than the other, and the one who looked older died sooner during the succeeding years.
Looking younger was correlated with less depression, better health habits such as nutrition and exercise and being married. Beyond that, looking older was associated with shorter telomeres, memory loss and poor physical condition.
Conversely, longer telomeres mean you're aging well. Interestingly, it will soon be possible to follow your progress on a lifestyle modification program by measuring your telomeres on a regular basis, not unlike how you have your blood pressure or cholesterol checked periodically today. How old or young you look, therefore, is a clear determinant of your overall health, your memory function and how long you may live.
So how can you look younger? How can you stop the passage of time from ravaging your skin?
First of all, looking younger starts from the inside out, not the outside in, so let's start by excluding procedures such as botox injections, fillers and plastic surgery. Rather, let's begin with proven techniques that can lengthen your telomeres.
The first thing you must do is pay attention to your stress levels. Chronic stress has a very detrimental effect on your general health and that of your skin because it shortens your telomeres, and leads to inflammation, depression and cognitive decline, all shown to be associated with looking older and dying sooner. Chronic stress decreases your overall well being, which leads back to more stress, anxiety, depression and poor health. In this way it's a vicious cycle.
Research has shown that meditation as part of a life style modification program (that includes a 10 percent fat vegetarian diet, taking certain supplements such as fish oil, selenium, Vitamin C, Vitamin E and being social) will help break the stress cycle and lengthen your telomeres. As I've shared on my other blogs, all meditation is great for stress reduction. The fastest, scientifically-proven meditation for reducing stress and enhancing well-being, is an easy mental exercise called Kirtan Kriya (KK), which takes only 12 minutes a day. KK is proven to strengthen brain function, reverse memory loss, decrease inflammation, boost mood and increase telomere length by a whopping 43 percent.
So I urge you to make sure you're doing everything possible to look young by creating beautiful skin from the inside out. Eat well, take supplements if necessary, and definitely reduce your inner stress with meditation. Your telomeres will thank you, and you may up the likelihood that you'll live a long time with a clear mind and lovely looking skin.