Positive lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet and moderate exercise, may reverse the aging process, according to a study published in The Lancet Oncology.

Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco have discovered that certain lifestyle changes may increase the length of telomeres.

Telomeres are DNA-protein complexes found at the end of chromosomes that control the aging process. They protect the end of the chromosomes from becoming damaged. If the telomeres are shortened or damaged, the cells age and die quicker, triggering the aging process.

Biological age can be predicted by the length of our telomeres, the researchers say. Shorter telomeres are linked to higher risk of premature death and age-related diseases, including many cancers (breast, prostate, colorectal and lung), heart disease, vascular dementia and obesity.

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By making changes, such as adopting a whole foods plant-based diet, participants increased telomere length by 10%.

For the study, the researchers analyzed two groups of men who had been diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer. Both groups had no conventional treatments, such as surgery or radiation, for the cancer.

The first group was required to make comprehensive lifestyle changes. These included:

  • Adopting a whole foods plant-based diet
  • Carrying out moderate exercise
  • Adopting stress management techniques, such as meditation and yoga, and
  • Adopting greater intimacy and social support.

The second group was not asked to make any lifestyle changes.

The researchers measured the length of the men’s telomeres at the beginning of the study and again at the end, 5 years later.

Findings of the study revealed that the group who made lifestyle changes showed an increased telomere length of 10%, while the men who did not make any lifestyle changes showed a decreased telomere length of 3%.

Additionally, the more the participants enrolled in positive changes to their lifestyle, the higher the increase in their telomere length.

The study authors say:

After 5 years, relative telomere length had increased in the lifestyle intervention group and decreased in the control group; the difference between the two groups was significant.

We also found a correlation between the degree of adherence to the lifestyle changes and the extent of change in relative telomere length.”

The researchers say that although the study was not conducted to determine how lifestyle changes would affect participants’ prostate cancer, a previous study revealed that positive lifestyle changes may delay the progression of the cancer in its early stages.

“The implications of this relatively small pilot study may go beyond men with prostate cancer,” says Professor Dean Ornish of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco.

“If validated by large-scale randomized controlled trials, these comprehensive lifestyle changes may significantly reduce the risk of a wide variety of diseases and premature mortality. Our genes, and our telomeres, are a predisposition, but they are not necessarily our fate.”

The researchers say that further trials involving larger and varied populations would be useful in further determining how lifestyle affects telomere length.

Medical News Today recently reported on a study revealing that the use of statins may slow down the human aging process.