You may have heard that 60 is the new 40. I’ve generally interpreted that as Unlike previous generations, we didn’t save enough for retirement and now we have to work until we die.
Okay, that may be overstating it. I know the idea is that today’s 60-year-olds want to live and feel more like 40-year-olds. Trouble is, plenty of recent studies suggest that the baby-boomers are sicker than their parents were at the same age, largely because of the rise in type 2 diabetes and other features of metabolic syndrome.
I’ll turn 60 in just under 14 months. I don’t know what 60 is supposed to feel like, but I know I feel better at 58 than I did at 38. I’ve also had more than a few people express surprise when they learn my age and tell me they had me pegged at 40-something.
Well, heck, it turns out my DNA thinks it’s only 39. That’s some wildly optimistic DNA … or perhaps I’ve got a Jack Benny thing going on, turning 39 yet again.
Anyway, those are the results of my TeloYears test. If they’re legit, then I guess 60 will be the new 40 for me. Chareva will turn 45 in a few weeks, so now I feel like I’m hanging around with a hot older chick … although as she reminded me, we don’t know her TeloYears age. My daughter Alana also wondered if there’s a separate test for my maturity level.
To be honest, I paid no attention to telomeres until someone at TeloYears got in touch to ask if I’d like to try the test. It’s a simple matter of filling out a form and sending in a blood sample, so I said sure, why not? But I still didn’t read up on exactly what telomeres are.
Here are some quotes from the literature they sent along with my results:
TeloYears is a simple genetic test that reveals the cellular age encoded in your DNA, allowing you to assess how well you are aging at the cellular level.
The TeloYears test measures one thing: the length of your telomeres, which are the protective caps on the ends of your DNA that tend to shorten with age. To calculate your age in TeloYears, we use proprietary scientific methods to measure your telomere length, and statistical methods to determine your age in TeloYears, based on the average length of other people of the same age and gender.
Hmmm … my concern was that this might be like those online IQ tests that declare everyone a genius. So I did some poking around online and found an interview with the woman who won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of and research into telomeres. Here are some quotes:
If you think of your chromosomes – which carry your genetic material – as shoelaces, telomeres are the little protective tips at the end. They are made of repeating short sequences of DNA sheathed in special proteins.
During our lives they tend to wear down and when telomeres can’t protect chromosomes properly, cells can’t replenish and they malfunction. This sets up physiological changes in the body which increase risks of the major conditions and diseases of ageing: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, a weakened immune system and more. But the process is somewhat malleable. It is happening in all of us at some rate, but the rate can change. An enzyme called telomerase can add DNA to the ends of chromosomes to slow, prevent and partially reverse the shortening.
We all have health spans – the number of years we remain healthy, active and disease-free – and the shortening of our telomeres contributes to ageing and our entry from health span into disease span. But we can [do things that] affect our telomerase and telomeres, that can [delay] entry from health span to disease span. So we are talking more about keeping people healthier for longer and staving off some diseases of ageing. This is not about extreme life span extension – though of course staying healthier longer does have a reflection in mortality rates.
Yeah, okay. So according to my results, I have the telomere length of the average 39-year-old male, and that means I’m aging slowly – assuming the science is all legit.
If it is, I’m going to be honest and blame a big part of my results on lucky genes, much as I’d like to credit my diet and lifestyle. A lot of people in my family lived to a ripe old age – in fact, other than the ones who shortened their lifespans with smoking and/or heavy drinking, they all seemed to live to a ripe old age.
My great-grandfather, to name one shining example, lived to age 101 and was mentally sharp until the last couple of years. Chareva and I got to know his daughter (my great-aunt) when we lived in Los Angeles. She was 96 and still sharp as a tack when we first met her. I remember her complaining that people in her family live too long; all her friends in Los Angeles had passed away years earlier.
Apparently, some wing of my dad’s side of the family took the normal 80-year aging program and stretched it out to 100 years. From what I’ve read online, most guys reach their full adult height by 17 or 18. I was only 5’8” when I was 17. I didn’t stop getting taller until age 23, when I finally hit exactly 6’0”. (I’ve since shrunk to 5’11” despite having DNA that thinks it’s only 39.)
Of course, I believe diet also plays a part. Although I didn’t start seriously cutting back on carbs until my 40s, I’d pretty much given up sugary sodas, candies, pies, cookies, cakes, donuts, etc. by the time I was 20. Sugary stuff just didn’t appeal to me anymore, and given that I tended to feel like crap when I did indulge, I was convinced it couldn’t be good for me.
The TeloYears literature lists dietary tips for slowing the aging process, and avoiding sugar is one of them. Unfortunately, other tips appear to be straight from the USDA/American Heart Association playbook. Here are some examples:
- Eat five servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit most days of the week. (I don’t.)
- Don’t eat processed meats (salami, sausage, bacon, ham) more than twice per week. (I do.)
- Follow a mostly plant-based diet that’s low in fat. (Not a chance in hell.)
- Replace butter with healthy fats, such as olive oil and canola oil. (I’m fine with olive oil, but not as a replacement for butter.)
The literature mentions several studies in which plant-based and Mediterranean diets were correlated with longer telomere length. I don’t doubt that, but these were observational studies, and what we’re actually seeing (once again) is the “healthy person” effect: those diets attract people who care about their health, and are thus different in many, many ways.
I also care about my health, so I avoid what I consider the Big Three of disease-inducing foodstuffs: sugar, refined grains, and industrial seed oils. I also eat mostly whole foods. If the TeloYears test is accurate and my DNA really does think it’s only 39 years old, then some portion of that happy result is because of factors I inherited, and the rest is because of what I eat and what I do.
So I’ll ignore the advice to switch to a plant-based, low-fat diet and keep doing what I’ve been doing. And of course, I expect to enjoy my sixtieth-new-fortieth birthday next year.
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