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Eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, stress management, and having a good social life have long been known to promote healthy aging. However, for the first time researchers have found that making positive lifestyle changes can actually lengthen telomeres—the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that affect how quickly cells age.

Dean Ornish, MD, UCSF clinical professor of medicine, and colleagues studied 35 men with localized, early-stage prostate cancer to determine if lifestyle changes had any impact upon telomere length.

Ten of the patients were asked to make lifestyle changes that included: a plant-based diet, moderate exercise (walking 30-minutes a day, 6-days a week); stress reduction (yoga-based stretching, breathing, and meditation). The other 25 study participants were not asked to make any major lifestyle changes. Results showed the group that made the lifestyle changes experienced a significant increase in telomere length of approximately 10 percent. Furthermore, the more participants changed their behavior by adhering to the recommended lifestyle program, the more dramatic were their improvements in telomere length. On the other hand, the men in the control group had shorter telomeres (approximately 3 percent shorter) by the end of the 5-year-long study. "Our genes, and our telomeres, are not necessarily our fate," said Professor Ornish. "These findings indicate that telomeres may lengthen to the degree that people change how they live. Research indicates that longer telomeres are associated with fewer illnesses and longer life." Shortened telomeres have been linked with a variety of age-related diseases, including cancer, stroke, vascular dementia, cardiovascular disease, obesity, osteoporosis and diabetes.


  1. D Ornish, J Lin, JM Chan, E Epel, C Kemp, G Weidner, et al. "Effect of comprehensive lifestyle changes on telomerase activity and telomere length in men with biopsy-proven low-risk prostate cancer: 5-year follow-up of a descriptive pilot study." Lancet Oncol. 2013 Sep 16