Each strand of DNA is protected by endcaps called telomeres, and when they shorten, our cells age faster. “People who live to 100 have unusually long telomeres,” says William Li, M.D. Here are a few simple ways to keep yours in top condition.
Pour another cuppa joe.
“Drinking coffee has been shown to increase the length of telomeres, which translates into lower risk of dying from any cause,” explains Dr. Li, author of Eat to Beat Disease. In fact, a large-scale study found that two to three cups a day slashed women’s risk of death from a heart attack by 31 percent. “Coffee beans contain many natural chemicals that activate our body’s health defense systems,” reports Dr. Li. “Some of these compounds, like chlorogenic acid and polyphenols, also shield DNA from damage. So there’s a double-barreled benefit protecting our genetic code.”
Snack on kiwis and almonds.
“Kiwi is what I call a ‘grand slammer,’ because it’s a single food that activates all of your body’s health defense systems, and it contains many bioactives that protect telomere length and DNA,” explains Dr. Li. He also suggests reframing how you think about the foods you eat: “We have to literally think about food doses, just like a medicine.” For example, just one kiwi a day is shown to protect DNA from new damage by 60 percent, according to Scottish research. And you can supercharge the effect by teaming the fruit with six almonds. This tiny daily dose of the nuts lengthened telomeres so significantly, the benefit was equivalent to slowing cellular aging by a year and a half!
Gab on the phone.
An American study suggests that women who take a little time to dish on the phone with friends have longer telomere length than those who don’t. “Supportive friendships lower stress, which reduces inflammation and protects telomeres,” explains Dr. Li. “Spending time with friends also causes the brain to release oxytocin, the ‘social hormone,’ which has been shown to slow telomere shrinking.”
This article originally appeared in our print magazine.