A recent study at University of California San Francisco’s Preventative Medicine Research Institute found that healthy lifestyle changes, including eating a plant-based diet, getting moderate exercise, and engaging in stress management interventions such as yoga and meditation, may actually reverse a the aging process.
The study, which was published in The Lancet Oncology was led by Dean Ornish, M.D. It was the first of its kind that showed scientific proof of the connection between lifestyle and aging.
It looked at participants’ telomeres, which are the protective caps on the end of chromosomes. As telomeres become shorter, cells die faster and the aging process is accelerated. Shorter telomeres have become associated with aging-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and many forms of cancer, according to a report by UCSF.edu.
Participants in the study were men with early stage prostate cancer. Researchers asked 10 out of the 35 men to live a healthy lifestyle for five years, which included eating a plant-based diet, walking daily, practicing yoga and meditation, and participating in group support. The control group didn’t make any lifestyle changes. By the end of the study, the men who made the changes actually lengthened their telomeres by as much as 10 percent. The telomeres of men who did not change their lifestyle got shorter.
“Until now we thought that telomeres could only get shorter, now we know that they can actually get longer,” Ornish says. This important finding suggests that people do have measurable control over their health.
Although the study participants were cancer patients, Ornish believes the same findings would be relevant to the general population, because the study looked at participants’ blood, not prostate tissue. The findings need to be confirmed by larger studies.