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Healthy Changes Could Lengthen Life Span

Update Date: Sep 17, 2013 02:09 PM EDT

Due to several previous studies, researchers have found mounting evidence that healthy lifestyle changes can extend one's life span. Since healthy eating and physical activity can stave off health complications, such as cancer, hypertension, diabetes and mental decline, people can live longer without worrying about taking medications or being stuck in a hospital room. Even though these studies have found that a healthy lifestyle can extend life, researchers have not identified how these lifestyle behaviors affect biological mechanisms in the body. In a new study, researchers found that healthy lifestyle changes could lead to longer telomeres, which are the parts of chromosomes that control aging.

In this study, the research team from the University of California San Francisco and the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, which is a nonprofit public research institute in California, examined the effects of healthy lifestyle changes on the body. Healthy lifestyle changes include changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support.

"Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate. So often people thing, 'Oh, I have bad genes, there's nothing I can do about it," lead author, Dean Ornish, MD, a clinical professor of medicine at UCSF and founder/President of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute said. "But these findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fever illnesses and longer life."

The research team followed 35 men for five years. The men were diagnosed with localized, early-stage prostate cancer. They were being treated with active surveillance and instructed to partake in lifestyle changes. The recommended changes included eating a plant based diet high in vegetables and fruits and low in fat and refined carbohydrates, exercising around 30 minutes a day six days a week and reducing stress using meditation and breathing techniques. The men's progress was compared to 25 male patients who were not asked to change their lifestyles.

The researchers discovered that the group of men who made lifestyle changes had a 10 percent increase in telomere length. Shorter telomeres have been tied to several age-related disease such as cancer, stroke, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes. The men who did not change their lifestyle had telomeres that were three percent shorter at the end of the study.

"This was a breakthrough finding that needs to be confirmed by larger studies," commented co-senior author, Peter R. Carroll, MD, MPH. Carroll is a professor and chair of the UCSF Department of Urology. "Telomere shortening increases the risk of a wide variety of chronic diseases. We believe that increases in telomere length may help to prevent these conditions and perhaps even lengthen lifespan."

The study was published in The Lancet Oncology.

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