Book Review: The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel
Exercise, meditate, eat right. Avoid sugar, tobacco, depression and constant stress. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
OK, we know how to raise the odds of a long, healthful life, and we know how to wreck our bodies before we are 60. But what's at the core of all this? Why does this advice help you avoid such seemingly diverse diseases as diabetes, cancer and heart attacks?
In The Telomere Effect
, Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel have an answer for you. Remember the old line warning you not to burn the candle at both ends? Substitute chromosome for candle and you're close to current scientific understanding of aging and body decline.
Chromosomes are the long chemical strands that contain your DNA -- the code that built and maintains your body. As your body cells die off, their chromosomes copy themselves to make new cells. The chromosomes have end caps called telomeres. When chromosomes duplicate, the telomeres erode a bit. Over decades, the telomeres get so short that they don't protect the chromosomes well enough and new cells have copying mistakes that can lead to disease.
If you protect your telomeres with healthy living -- and the authors even tell ways you can lengthen them a little -- you are much more likely to enjoy an active life into your 80s than if you burn those chromosome end caps with a self-destructive lifestyle. The Telomere Effect
is not about how to live a super-long life, but if you can spend your 50s, 60s and 70s doing what you want to do instead of being disabled or dead, that qualifies as a good deal.
As someone who started a surgeries hobby after I entered my 50s, I was chagrined reading this book. My daughter and many others have been giving me good health advice for a long time, and I've resisted some of it. One rationalization was that I didn't see any over-arching scientific basis for different diets, exercise routines and, worst of all, hours of meditation.
Now Blackburn and Epel are denying me that excuse. How about you?
Evan - Married, three children, two grandchildren, formerly a newspaper journalist, now a public librarian, at all times a board game nut.