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This Explains Why People Age at Different Rates


When someone makes an unkind comment about you, does it keep replaying in your mind over and over? How about, are you prone to anger when driving? Surprisingly, these and countless other negative thoughts can harm your health at the DNA level, an effect that could shorten your life, according to a new book titled The Telomere Effect.

The authors, Elizabeth Blackburn, winner of the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2009, and Elissa Epel, health psychologist, assert that our lifestyle, environment and social relationships affect our genes. While twists of fate influence them, how we respond to these twists of fate has a greater effect. “Even though you are born with a particular set of genes, the way you live can influence how they express themselves.”

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Components of DNA called telomeres determine the rate of cell and body aging, Blackburn and Epel explain. Short telomeres are the main driving force behind the aging process of cells. However, the length of these structures can be changed. This means that aging “could possibly be accelerated or slowed and, in some aspects, even reversed.”

What Shortens Telomeres?

Telomeres have garnered much interest in the research world ever since evidence started indicating they are biomarkers of aging. As our lifespan is partly dependent upon their length, scientists want to know the factors that can make them shorter or longer. They’ve discovered the same negative emotions that predispose a person to illness also shorten telomeres. To illustrate, the authors give the examples below:

  • Pessimism: “When pessimists develop an aging-related illness, like cancer or heart disease, the illness tends to progress faster…They tend to die earlier.”
  • Hostility: “People who score high on measures of cynical hostility tend to get more cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease and often die at younger ages. They also have shorter telomeres.”
  • Rumination Over a Negative Situation: “Rumination never leads to a solution, only to more ruminating…When you ruminate, stress sticks around in the body long after the reason for the stress is over.”
  • Lack of Focus: “When people are not thinking about what they’re doing, they’re not as happy as when they’re engaged.”

This Finding Explains Why People Age at Different Rates

Blackburn and Epel discuss how one person can appear so much younger than another person who is approximately the same age. One individual may look vibrant, while the other appears worn and haggard. If it were possible to look under their skin, the differences in their internal physiology would be even more striking.

Why is this the case? The authors say slow aging can’t be attributed strictly to better genes or a life that has been relatively free of hard knocks. Both genetics and environment are important, but our aging rate can be influenced greatly by factors such as our response to challenges, the food we eat and the amount of exercise we get. Therefore, maintaining a positive attitude and engaging in stress management techniques like qigong, as well as consuming a nutritious diet and working out regularly can lengthen telomeres, thus reducing the rate at which our health deteriorates as we age.

So are you currently aging rapidly or slowly? Blackburn and Epel say if you are in the fast lane, barreling toward premature aging, you need only to switch lanes. The healthful lifestyle practices above will “optimize your chances of living a life that is not just longer but better.”


Mary West is a natural health enthusiast, as she believes this area can profoundly enhance wellness. She is the creator of a natural healing website where she focuses on solutions to health problems that work without side effects. You can visit her site and learn more at Ms. West is also the author of Fight Cancer Through Powerful Natural Strategies.

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