Every day that passes, your body gets a day older, right?
This week, I want to help you look at aging from a different perspective – going to go all the way down to the cellular level. Your body is composed of trillions of cells, and each cell has a unique function, as well as it’s own lifespan. Cells grow, reproduce, and die in a cycle that takes place billions of times a day.
Cells At The Center Of Health
One way to look at disease is that, as cells reproduce, weak or damaged cells make poorer-quality copies of themselves. Those copies then make weaker and weaker copies until the cells are basically zombie versions of the originals. Think of oxidation, which we have talked about here before. Cells begin to lose their electrons and their structure begins to break down. That’s basically how cancer starts.
Your cells are made up of chains of chromosomes. Medical science is just now beginning to understand some of how this works. At the end of each strand of chromosomes are telomeres, which are repeating segments of DNA. Each time your cells divide (which is a normal part of the cell reproduction process), the telomeres get shorter. As they wear down, the cells age and die more quickly. As your cells age and die, the effects can be seen in the outward manifestations of aging – wrinkling skin, stooped posture, diminishing eyesight, and deteriorating organ function.
That’s how most people typically experience aging, but it doesn’t have to be the case. The more we know about telomeres, the more we are finding that you can slow – and even reverse – aspects of the aging process. Aging doesn’t have to be a slippery slope of your body breaking down.
Yes, your body will get older, but it doesn’t have to get old.
What Can We Do About This?
I recently read a fantastic book that I want to recommend to you: “The Longevity Paradox,” by Dr. Steven R. Gundry, MD. This book aligns closely with my view of health and aging, which is based largely on the longevity research done by the Blue Zones. If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know that Blue Zones is an important part of my practice, so this book is really confirming a lot of what I teach. Get a copy and let’s talk about it next time you’re in the area.
The thing I love about this book is that, it doesn’t just confirm what I have already known or suspected, it enhances my understanding with a deeper view, especially some of the strategies he recommends. He does a great job of balancing the key aspects of wellness that we focus on here: “Think Right, Eat Right, Move Right, and Live Right.”
What was probably most interesting to me was the linkages he draws between the way we think and our wellness. In a way, you can think yourself in wellness, or your can think your way out of wellness. Now, that’s a little bit of an overstatement, but I think you’ll see what I mean in a moment
Your Cells Are Listening To Your Thoughts
We’ve talked here at length about stress and its effect on your physical well-being. Stress is critical for healthy life, but like anything else, if you leave the faucet on too long, it eventually begins to wear out your organs and break down your cells. What we think about and how we think about it are key to good health.
How we handle stress has a major effect on how our bodies age because stress affects the health of telomeres.
Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD and Elissa Epel, PhD wrote, “…our life experiences, and the way we respond to those events, can change the lengths of our telomeres. In other words, we can change the way that we age, at the most elemental, cellular level.”
Dr. Gundry states:
“Feeling threatened is not the only way to respond to stress. It’s also possible to feel a sense of challenge. People with a challenge response may feel anxious and nervous during a lab stressor test, but they also feel excited and energized. They have a ‘bring it on!’ mentality. … Athletes who have a challenge response win more often, and a study of Olympic athletes has shown that these highly successful folks have a history of seeing their life problems as challenges to be surmounted. The challenge response creates the psychological and physiological conditions for you to engage fully, perform at your best, and win. The threat response is characterized by withdrawal and defeat, as you slump in your seat or freeze, your body preparing for wounding and shame as you anticipate a bad outcome. A predominant habitual threat response can, over time, work itself into your cells and grind down your telomeres. A predominant challenge response, though, may help shield your telomeres from some of the worst effects of chronic stress.”
So, how you think about your circumstances has more effect on you than the circumstances themselves.
Perceptions Rule Us
I like what Eric Greitens wrote about our perceptions of stress: “The naive mind imagines effortless success. The cowardly mind imagines hardship and freezes. The resilient mind imagines hardship and prepares.” Three different ways to look at the same event, all directed by attitude.
When I started public speaking a few years ago, I had to retrain my mind in this area. I still had the feeling of “butterflies” in my stomach when I prepared to get up in front of a group, but I retrained my brain to understand the sensation of butterflies as “excitement” instead of “fear.” That’s just one small example of what we’re talking about here.
Learning To Live Through The Pain
He said something else that has really impacted me, “Don’t expect a time in your life when you’ll be free from change, free from struggle, free from worry. To be resilient, you must understand that your objective is not to come to rest, because there is no rest. Your objective is to use what hits you to change your trajectory in a positive direction.”
So, rather than longing for rest, why not use the knowledge we have to optimize our lives to the best of our ability and use stress feelings to prompt us to action instead of fear. The truth is, making the most of our lives is rarely about IGNORANCE, per se, and more about INEPTITUDE. If we simply more consistently applied even a fraction of the stuff we already know, we’d be doing pretty well, wouldn’t we?
My point with all this, is that we can control the thoughts we think, and in doing so, we not only manage our stress, but we can, as the quote above indicates, manage our aging by protecting and growing our telomeres.
Isn’t that inspiring? You have power over your health by the thoughts, attitudes, and actions you choose. And giving you the keys to your own wellness has been the foundation of my practice.
What Is Resilience?
I’ve been doing a lot of study this year on attitude, reading after some of the great thinkers, like Marcus Aurelius, the Stoics of ancient Greece, and of course, the Proverbs of Solomon. I want to know what makes people tick, because our “Think Right” has to be settled before we make the choices to eat right, move right, and live right. What motivates us? What allows us to push through pain?
If “bouncing back” from setbacks is all we think of when we hear the word, “resilience,” then we miss most of the benefit we could gain from our setbacks. Hardship, pain, and suffering have something to teach us, if we are willing to learn, and our bodies last longer if we internalize the experiences the right way through our thoughts.
In reality, we never bounce back from anything. We move ahead, no matter what, but our attitude determines whether we move forward having gained something from the experience, or if we are damaged by it.
Resilience Really Means Bouncing Forward
If I go to a conference, I am different person when I return. How different depends on my attitude about the value of the content. How will I let it shape me? I have had some business transactions and partnerships that went bad. I’ve had two failed marriages. How I came out of those experiences – and ultimately, how they affected my longevity – depends on how I allow those experiences to change my thinking.
Someone once said, “The nineteen-year-old marine who sails for war is gone forever, even if he returns.” What has been to us done cannot be undone, and some of what life does to us is harsh.. You have been through trials, and you know that there is no bouncing back; there is only moving through.
Fortunately, to be resilient, we don’t need to go back and undo anything; we simply allow what happened to us to become a part of who we are. We integrate the experiences into our lives. In time, people find that great trials met with a great attitude can forge great strength.
Minding your Telomeres With Negative Or Resilient Thinking
It’s important to take inventory of our thoughts; most of us live unaware of the commotion in our minds and how it affects us. If we don’t stop and evaluate our thoughts and attitudes, we can create an unhealthy environment for our telomeres through suppressing thoughts and dwelling on negative thoughts (like hostility and pessimism).
Humans tend to naturally avoid and even fear discomfort. But discomfort is how we grow. In fact, the dread and fear can damage our telomeres at the same time they are sheltering us from the very lessons and refinement the discomfort can teach us. It’s better in the long run to embrace the idea that you will fail. The greatest risk to our actualization is the fear-driven, fixed mindset that prevents us from playing at the edges of our abilities.
As Eric advises, without resilience, our first failure is our last—because it’s final. I’d go even further and say that, without the courage to risk failing and the confidence in our ability to respond with resilience, we’ll be so tightly locked into our comfort zones that even the thought of failure is enough to stop us from taking a risk.
In the end, it’s how we approach everything that determines the strength and longevity of our telomeres, and by extension, our bodies.
Think Right, Then Everything Else
The longer I practice, the more clear it is to me that how we think is interwoven with our physical wellness. So, you’ll see me veer off into the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of wellness alongside everything I teach about movement, nutrition, sleep, hydration, and all the rest. That seems strange to some people until they begin to recognize the connections for themselves.
If you’re ready to go deeper in your understanding of how all the elements of wellness work together, you’ve come to the right place. Take some time to go back through our archive of articles and allow me the privilege of teaching you what I’ve learned about living your best life. This upcoming new years can be your best ever, and I can show you how. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly emails, so I can bring you fresh insights each Wednesday.
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Until next week, God bless.
“At the end of your FEELINGS is NOTHING (except your telomeres). At the end of your PRINCIPLES is a PROMISE.” — Eric Thomas