Hannah Frye

mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

By Hannah Frye

mbg Assistant Beauty Editor

Hannah Frye is the Assistant Beauty Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a B.S. in journalism and a minor in women’s, gender, and queer studies from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Hannah has written across lifestyle sections including health, wellness, sustainability, personal development, and more.

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January 31, 2023

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In the health and longevity space, new research emerges every single day, with new and exciting findings breaking the internet (and going viral on social media) all the time. However, some topics aren’t always easy to understand at first glance. Case in point: telomeres. 

If reading that term just made you raise a brow, you’re not alone—we’ll explain more below, but just know that they’re critical for longevity. In fact, the longer your telomeres are, the longer you live. Here’s how to keep them as long as possible.


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First, what are telomeres?

Think of telomeres like that little clear plastic wrap on the end of a shoelace (technically called an aglet, if you were curious). Without aglets, your shoelace can begin to fray, and the quality would be compromised.

Telomeres are the aglets of your DNA. They serve as a protective cap on the end of your chromosomes to protect them from damage and decay over time. The longer the telomeres, the more protection your cells have. 

What’s more, telomeres represent a marker for how the body will age: After studying telomere length across multiple species, a research team out of Spain found that the rate of telomere decay over time could accurately predict the life span of that species. And abnormally short telomeres seem to make humans more susceptible to conditions such as bone marrow failure, pulmonary fibrosis, liver disease, and gastrointestinal disease over time.

How to lengthen them.

Lengthen your telomeres, and you’ll increase your life span—the goal is easier to achieve than you think. Here’s how: 


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Eat a nutritious diet. 

The first step is to eat a nutritious diet, especially one packed with omega-3s. On a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast, internationally renowned health psychologist Elissa Epel, Ph.D, actually studied the effects of omega-3s on telomeres specifically. “The participants who had the omegas: The more they absorbed it in their red blood cells, the longer their telomeres became1,” she says. 

She also loves the Mediterranean diet (which prioritizes omega-3s as well). “It’s the pattern that always shows up as related to lower levels of inflammation, [oxidative] stress, and telomere length2,” she explains. 

This diet mainly comprises the following foods: 

  • Seafood: sardines, anchovies, salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel, halibut, sea bass, shrimp, oysters, mussels, clams, crab, etc.
  • Vegetables: spinach, arugula, broccoli rabe, kale, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, cucumber, cauliflower, bell peppers, artichokes, zucchini, eggplant, squash, mushrooms, celery, fennel, cabbage, leeks, beets, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, etc.
  • Fruits: grapes, lemons, oranges, berries, figs, melons, peaches, plums, apples, pears, grapefruit, pomegranate, apricots, avocados, olives, etc.
  • Nuts & seeds: walnuts, almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc.
  • Dairy: yogurt, cottage cheese, feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese, mozzarella, etc.


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Steven Gundry, M.D., heart surgeon and bestselling author of The Longevity Paradox: How To Die Young at a Ripe Old Age, reveals another way to support your telomere length on the mindbodygreen podcast: Make sure you’re getting enough vitamin D.

“Human beings with the highest vitamin D levels have the longest telomeres, and people with the lowest vitamin D levels have the [shortest] telomeres,” Gundry says, referring to research in the Archives of Medical Science3 and the Journal of Nutrition4 on the association between telomere length and vitamin D levels.

It seems that vitamin D, a hormone that’s essential for a number of processes in the body, works by increasing the activity of telomerase5, the building blocks of telomeres that protect cellular DNA from aging. Gundry goes so far as to say that he thinks it’s “the greatest hormone that exists.”

See here for a list of our favorite vitamin D supplements, in case you need help reaching sufficient levels (spoiler: You probably do).


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Another crucial factor: how well you sleep. In one study, “Men reporting shorter sleep duration had shorter telomeres6, independently of age, body mass index, smoking, educational attainment, current employment, cynical hostility scores and depressive symptoms,” researchers report. 

So what’s the cutoff for quality sleep? That study points to right around seven hours, “with five hours being the real risky category,” Epel adds. There’s plenty of evidence that getting enough high-quality sleep is essential for optimizing overall physical and mental well-being, and it’s proving downright crucial for longevity.

Not sure how to start sleeping better? Here are 15 tips from sleep experts to help you out, plus a list of our favorite natural sleep aids.

We know that stress can negatively affect your health, from skin health to mental health and more. However, stress can even impact your health on a much deeper level—like DNA level. One study shows that “Psychological stress—both perceived stress and chronicity of stress—is significantly associated with higher oxidative stress, lower telomerase activity, and shorter telomere length.”

Further, “Women with the highest levels of perceived stress have telomeres shorter on average by the equivalent of at least one decade of additional aging compared to low-stress women,” researchers note. Yes, you read that right: High levels of stress may make your DNA appear 10 years older.

Many activities can help you relieve stress, like exercise, breathwork, and meditation. The latter has even been shown to help lengthen and protect telomeres, according to researchers at the University of California: Specifically, they found that meditators have significantly higher telomerase activity than non-meditators. Their findings have even since been replicated

Ready to start a mediation practice? Here’s a list of different ways to incorporate this activity into your life and how to get started. 


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Finally, do your best to exercise when you can—even if you have time for just a quick walk. In one 2022 study of more than 400,000 adults in the UK, researchers found that as little as 10 minutes of brisk walking per day was associated with longer telomeres—enough that their biological age appeared 16 years younger by midlife7.

“Those bursts of the stress response and the recovery that is so phenomenal for cell aging is so restorative and rejuvenating in terms of turning on cleanup crews in the cell,” Epel says. Not to mention, exercise can make you feel happier and relieve stress—which further enhances telomere length and contributes to your mental well-being, too. 

The takeaway. 

Telomeres may seem complicated, but optimizing them entails the basic principles of health: eating whole and natural foods, getting exercise when you can, managing stress, and getting enough sleep. Simple as that.