Episode 91 |

How Everyday Habits Affect Telomeres and Cellular Aging: Elissa Epel

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This Week’s Guest:

If you’re concerned about aging, turn your attention to your telomeres. These protective caps of our chromosomes play a key role in aging, and can even indicate how your body might react when faced with the common cold. While we don’t yet fully understand every aspect of telomeres, it’s clear that our everyday choices can affect their length, and that making good choices can help you keep them as long as possible.
Elissa Epel, today’s guest, is an expert in the field. She co-wrote the The Telomere Effect with Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, who won a Nobel Prize for discovering telomerase. Elissa, an associate professor at UCSF, explains in this conversation how certain behaviors and experiences can impact telomere length. She talks about stress, for example, which affects telomeres differently depending on the kind of stress. She also offers insight into how to protect yourself from premature cellular aging through mindset and lifestyle choices.


Find Out More About Elissa Here:

Elissa Epel at UCSF
@Dr_Epel on Twitter


In This Episode:


  • [01:51] – Elissa speaks about why we should care about telomeres, and what we need to know about them. She reveals that much of our aging is about our lifestyle.
  • [03:35] – Stephan recaps what telomeres are. Elissa then expands on what he has been saying and offers some insight into how short, worn-out telomeres lead to aging issues. Short telomeres can actually impact young people as well, she reveals.
  • [05;40] – There’s a commercially available test you can take to find out the length of your telomeres (if that’s something you want to know). Elissa explains that in certain cases, people are unhappy to discover their results.
  • [08:42] – How can we get tested? Elissa lists some testing companies (including Life Length, Telomere Diagnostics, and Repeat Diagnostics). She then offers advice on how often to test your telomere length.
  • [10:15] – Elissa clarifies what she meant by a “residential retreat” a moment ago. She then discusses how valuable these can be.
  • [14:29] – We hear about the effects of these residential retreats on telomere length and telomerase.
  • [16:13] – In response to Stephan’s request for things for people who aren’t really into meditating can do instead, Elissa talks about tai chi and qigong. She also talks about the importance of being able to change your perspective and the way you’re thinking when facing stress.
  • [19:52] – Stephan mentions Elissa’s book as it relates to stress. Elissa talks about different types of stress and their different impacts on telomere length. She then emphasizes the possibility of maintaining telomere length even if they’re currently shorter than you might like.
  • [23:17] – Stephan and Elissa talk about positive addictions. Stephan recommends Way of Life, an iPhone app.
  • [25:17] – Elissa talks more about forming habits and what she calls the “golden rules of behavior change.” She recommends asking yourself how confident you are that you’ll maintain your behavior, as the answer reveals a great deal about the likelihood that you’ll follow through.
  • [28:01] – We learn that habits have three components: the cue, the habit itself, and the reward. To break a bad habit, you can change the cue.
  • [29:52] – Where does sleep fit into the equation for Elissa? She reveals that shorter telomeres are associated with various sleep issues.
  • [32:41] – Elissa discusses the weak relationship between BMI and shorter telomeres.
  • [34:52] – Stephan and Elissa discuss abdominal fat.
  • [35:52] – We learn that Elissa’s co-author, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, discovered telomerase with her student Carol Greider. Elissa then talks about the slow growth of science, specifically in its response to this discovery.
  • [40:16] – We shift to the topic of nutrition and dieting. Elissa talks in particular about a study by Janet Tomiyama regarding caloric restriction, and reveals that nutrition is more important for telomere length.
  • [44:12] – What would Elissa recommend for supplements when it comes to telomeres?
  • [45:25] – Elissa talks about what a pregnant woman can do to give her baby the best shot at having long telomeres.
  • [47:19] – Stephan brings up the topic of banking stem cells. Elissa explains that stem cells are the cells with the highest levels of telomerase.
  • [49:08] – How can people find Elissa’s book? And does she have any other resources to recommend to listeners?
  • [50:43] – Is there a strong correlation between your sense of purpose in life and the length of your telomeres? Elissa speaks to the perhaps surprisingly deep importance of feeling a sense of purpose.


Links and Resources:



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