Why do some people begin to show signs of old age early in their 60s, while others remain active and sharp as a tack into their 90s?
The difference may lie in their telomeres, according to biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, who co-authored a new book on the topic.
Blackburn won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for her discovery of the role of telomeres ― the shoelace-like caps on the ends of DNA strands that protect the genetic material inside ― in aging and disease.
“The telomeres are long and robust in healthier older people, and they’re more likely to get crumbled away and eroded away in people who are more susceptible to diseases at earlier ages,” Blackburn told HuffPost’s The Scope in a Facebook Live interview Tuesday.
Telomeres naturally shorten as we age, but as a growing body of research has shown, this process can be slowed down, sped up or even reversed by lifestyle factors including stress, sleep quality, diet, exercise and mental outlook.
In their new book, The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach To Living Younger, Healthier, Longer, Blackburn and psychologist Elissa Epel outline measures that anyone can take to further protect their telomeres, such as adopting a more plant-based diet and practicing meditation.
Looking to the latest findings from the world of telomere science, the book suggests that we may have a great deal more control over our own health and longevity than we might think.
Check out the video clip above for more insights from Blackburn and Epel’s interview with The Scope.