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Can we measure life span?

Numerous investigations have determined that telomere length is directly linked to ageing. So, for example, a dog lives for approximately 12 years, a flamenco 40, a person 90 and a horse 25, but what determines the longevity of each species? The answer lies with telomeres and the speed at which they shorten.

Telomeres are the ends of our chromosomes and telomere shortening speed predicts the longevity of different species. As our cells divide to multiply and regenerate our body’s tissues and organs, the telomeres reduce in length, and this causes ageing.

The good news is that we can intervene directly in the length of telomeres. One of the best ways to look after them is the Mediterranean diet. Eating fresh vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, fish, legumes and cheese could delay our ageing. Various studies show the impact of the Mediterranean diet on our cardiovascular health.

Likewise seaweed, a big part of the Japanese diet, also has a very positive effect on our telomeres.

It has been shown that in people live the longest in areas of the world where they eat a Mediterranean diet and seaweed. Centenarians have a slower telomere shortening speed.

On the other hand, exercise and meditation are going to help us live longer and keep our telomeres in good health. After all, genetics are important, but it is our lifestyle that will largely determine our telomere length.

But what causes telomere shortening?

Sleep deprivation is one of the factors. Sleeping less than seven or eight hours a day causes telomere shortening, as well as tobacco, alcohol, a sedentary lifestyle and regular consumption of sugary drinks.

Our mood also influences the length of our telomeres: chronic stress and negative thinking are the enemies of longevity.

[Row not needed] Telomerase

Telomeres can be lengthened with therapies that activate telomerase. [See above comment] Telomerase is an enzyme whose sole function is to confer additional life to cells, and it has been associated with anti-ageing and even anti-cancer therapies.

In Spain, the National Oncology Research Centre (CNIO) managed to extend the life of mice treated with telomerase by up to 40% in 2008.

The question is whether, in the future, we will be able to use telomerase to extend the life of our cells indefinitely. What we do know is thatmedicine has an increasingly comprehensive and personalised future, which will aim to prevent and delay all diseases and in doing so, extend our lives so we can live longer.