Slowing down the body’s aging process has long been a hopeful aspiration for humankind. From the average person just beginning to witness signs of aging on their own bodies, to the grand conquest of Ponce De Leon to find the fountain of youth; the idea of prolonging one’s lifespan is and always has been an exciting prospect. But is it just a fantasy or is it really possible to effectively pad your lifespan? Nobel-winner Elizabeth Blackburn along with health psychologist Elissa Epel have surveyed a large amount of research that suggests it is very much possible to have a deliberate effect on your lifespan—with only the power of your daily thoughts.
Blackburn and Epel described how telomeres, parts of our DNA that determine cell reproduction, are directly affected by our thought patterns and disposition. These telomeres trigger cell reproduction for a finite period of time-based on their physical length. Longer telomeres are associated with a longer lifespan, while shorter telomeres result in a shorter lifespan (ie accelerated aging and susceptibility to age-related diseases).
Telomeres form lids, if you will, on our chromosomes to protect them and keep them intact and in sequence. They exist deep within a cell, and telomeres themselves are not replenished by cell division. When telomeres become too short, the cell can no longer divide and dies. Therefore, long telomeres mean a long cell life and so on. Although they are not the only reason that a cell may stop dividing, they are very good indicators that have allowed scientists to better understand the aging process and what affects it. The average person age 35 has approximately 7,500 base pairs of telomeres. By age 65, the number falls to 4,800 and decreases further over time; but these numbers are subject to change based on your mental attitude.
How Telomeres are Affected by Our Thoughts and Behaviors
It’s not just our thoughts that have an effect on telomere length, it’s also our diet, exercise, our daily habits, and more. All of these factors contribute to either the preservation of telomeres or the acceleration of their wearing down. But far the most significant as shown throughout recent studies is our mindset.
As Blackburn and Epel have pointed out, cynical hostility has a negative effect on telomeres. As you can guess from the term, cynical hostility describes people who are easily annoyed, don’t trust others, and anger quickly. These irritable people are literally shortening their lifespan through the stress that anger causes. To put it into the simplest terms, negativity causes stress on not only our minds but our bodies too. Therefore, positivity does the opposite. A positive mindset and optimism lead to healthy lives by reducing stress and allowing all of our natural internal processes to run smoothly.
Types of Thought to Avoid if You Want to Live Longer
Cynical hostility isn’t the only negative attitude that affects telomere health—it’s quite literally all of them. All negative, angry or frustrated thoughts are destructive to our cells and speed up the aging process. But based on certain studies, here are some types of thoughts that produced a measurable negative impact on telomere health.
Always seeing the glass half empty can actually trim your lifespan according to studies. A pessimistic outlook has also been shown to affect overall health. And in patients with serious illnesses, a pessimistic attitude allowed their condition to worsen faster than anticipated.
Dwelling on problems or past events and reliving them in head or replaying scenarios is called rumination. This leads to depression and in turn, has an effect on telomere length. It’s important to find a way to let go of these recurring thoughts. However you can make peace with the sequence of events that keeps unfolding in your mind will benefit your health in the long run.
Neglecting to come to terms with certain thoughts or feelings is called suppression. Pushing these thoughts aside and refusing to deal with them properly keeps them buried in the back of your mind. Constant avoidance of beckoning thoughts creates stress, and this stress leads to shorter telomeres.
Forming Healthy Habits is Key
This all suggests that a holistic approach to one’s health—mind and body as one—is very much valid in terms of how your body ages. Your attitude, mindset, and daily thoughts play a major role in your health. If you wish to eliminate negative thoughts, or have become accustomed to a pessimistic point of view, you can start training yourself to think positive and adopt a more optimistic outlook.
How to Develop a Positive Mental Attitude
There are many ways to condition your mind, but all of which take time and regular practice. Meditation is an excellent way to gain more control over your thoughts and improve concentration. Being able to better focus your mind on what you want will enable you to see things in a positive way on a regular basis. Activities like long-distance cycling or running allow the mind to reach a state of concentration that can be therapeutic.
Most important of all is to always be mindful of your thoughts and don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in cyclic negative thought patterns or behavior. In the great words of Frank Outlaw:
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words;
watch your words, they become your actions;
watch your actions, they become your habits;
watch your habits, they become your character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
And if you ever hear someone say, “lighten up, you’ll live longer,” heed their advice, because it’s now been scientifically proven.