Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Why telomeres can motivate us to exercise, meditate, and manage stress.

Last week my university (Santa Clara University) had the privilege of a several day visit by the 2009 Nobel Prize winner in medicine/physiology Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn from the University of California, San Francisco. She has conducted remarkable and ground breaking laboratory research on telomeres (the ends of our chromosomes). In listening to her talks and speaking with her over lunch and dinner I was struck by how further evidence is unfolding to support the view that biopsychosocialspiritual factors appear to be associated with quality of life as well as longevity.

When I asked her what appears to be the one thing that we can do to increase the size of our telomeres (a good thing for longevity and health according to her research and those of her colleagues) she said one word, ‘exercise." When asked what the one thing to avoid for smaller telomeres (a bad thing), she said "childhood traumas" such as ongoing stress at young ages. Additionally, she reported on very preliminary research that suggested that contemplative practices, such as meditation and prayer, may result in increase telomeres as well (again, a very good thing) as well as fish oil. Of course she was very careful to explain that her laboratory research must be viewed cautiously when considering the implications for health, disease, and expanding life span and that much of the actual real world field research has a long way to go when looking at the relationship between telomeres, health, and quality of life.

We have known for many years that we need to attend to biological, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual factors to enhance our lives in terms of quality of life and quantity of years. It is truly remarkable when Nobel Prize winning lab research dove tails with more marco levels of behavioral and population research as well, pretty much all singing the same song. That is, exercise, managing stress well, contemplative practices all may assist in our efforts to maximize our chances of a long and high quality healthy life. Of course, we can't control all of the variables when it goes to disease and death. Yet, we can control some of them. Perhaps the challenge is can we really do it? Can we do the right thing for ourselves by engaging in health promoting (rather than health damaging) behaviors? Exercise, contemplative practices, stress management all should be taken seriously...very seriously. This is perhaps the challenge for most of us. At least we might have additional motivation to do so when research, even at the molecular level, encourages us to do so.

What do you think?

SOURCE: Psychology Today