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New Research Unlocks Key to Why Women Live Longer Than Men—Telomeres

7 minute read


Women still have a slight advantage over men when it comes to the longevity department. With women living an average of 4.9 years longer than men in this country.

While the overall life expectancy in America has dropped for the second straight year, the gap between men and women has remained. Understanding where this gap comes from could help extend the lives of millions.

Fortunately, progress is being made and research has begun to pin down exactly what is the cause for the discrepancy.

Longevity Lies in the DNA

Research has found that the difference in life expectancy between the genders may lie in DNA. The telomeres of your DNA provide protection for the strands—the longer they are, the greater vitality and longevity seems to be.

Telomeres in women are longer from birth, predicting greater longevity from the start. It also seems that women maintain healthier telomeres through life, but the exact biological factors for this are unclear.

Some research has looked to the effects of sex hormones on telomere health, specifically that of estrogen. Estrogen helps to eliminate bad (LDL) cholesterol from your body, which protects against heart disease.

This hormone also boosts levels of your HDL (good) cholesterol and promotes improved circulation through relaxed blood vessels. Not only does this promote overall health, but estrogen also appears to protect telomeres, giving an additional boost to longevity.

Estrogen, however, is not a perfect solution because there are cases in which telomeres cannot be protected. As you get older, telomeres naturally shorten and become unable to protect chromosomes as effectively.

While estrogen offers some protective qualities, it cannot slow the aging process or chronic stress, both of which will negatively impact telomere length and longevity.

Since there are inevitable factors that will damage DNA and shorten telomeres and longevity, it is beneficial to know that damage can be reversed.

Telomerase is an enzyme that can add length back to damaged telomeres. The best way to boost this is to make lifestyle changes that promote better health.

| Related: High-Intensity Workouts Can Slow the Aging Process |

Managing stress, getting regular exercise, following a balanced and healthy diet, and getting adequate sleep are all ways to promote health and boost telomerase levels.

Estrogen not only protects your telomeres, but it protects your body from oxidative stress, which is linked to the most serious diseases the human population faces.

Oxidative damage occurs more often in women than men, so there may be an evolutionary benefit to why women have more estrogen too. If women are more negatively affected by oxidative damage, it helps to have some backup in the form of estrogen.

Live Better, Live Longer

Whatever role estrogen plays in protecting your chromosomes and improving longevity, there are also things you can do to improve your chances of living longer. There are four options you can choose to make to improve overall health, well-being, and longevity and the sooner you get started, the better.

Stop Smoking

Quitting is the best way to increase longevity. Smoking harms your lungs as well as circulatory system and decreases your expected life expectancy with each cigarette.

Smoking also increases your risk for cancer and stroke, so look into support for quitting. Unfortunately, trying e-cigarettes instead may not be any healthier.

Keep Moving

The more active you are, the healthier you are. Getting regular exercise doesn’t mean you have to run marathons or hit the gym hard every day. Getting aerobic activity for as few as 30 minutes a day is all you need to promote cardiovascular and circulatory health.

Exercise also helps to keep weight off, which can negatively impact your health too. Take breaks through the day to take a 10-minute walk or start swimming or cycling in the evenings.

Exercise also boosts your mental health and keeps you sharp, so you can fight aging on both the cognitive and physical fronts. If you are just starting out, the 21-day walking challenge is a great gateway for exercise beginners.

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Obesity is a top contributor to diabetes as well as cardiovascular disease. Excess fat triggers widespread inflammation body, which is linked to most serious diseases, including cancer and heart disease. With exercise and the right diet, you can lose excess fat and maintain a healthy weight to keep diseases away.

Maintaining a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index) is a great way to promote longevity, regardless of what gender you are. Losing weight becomes more beneficial as you get older, because your metabolism slows and fat accumulates easier.

It is never too late to start a healthy weight loss program and you will feel better and live longer because of it.

Eat a Balanced Diet

You are what you eat, so if you follow the typical Western diet of high-fat, high-sugar, and processed foods, your longevity is under serious threat. The best diets are those that are balanced and full of nutrition.

| Related: Does the Cabbage Soup Diet Actually Work? |

Cutting out sugar and saturated fats as well as processed foods is also recommended. The Mediterranean diet is one such plan that incorporates fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats to promote health and longevity.

You don’t have to follow that plan to get healthy, as any balanced diet will do the trick. It is also important to not skip meals and to incorporate healthy snacks to avoid overeating of unhealthy and tempting foods.

The Bottom Line

Women have a slight advantage when it comes to living longer and this is in part due to the protective efforts of estrogen and promoting telomere longevity.

The good news is that anybody can promote health and increase longevity at a chromosomal level and beyond, with regular exercise, healthy living, and a balanced diet. Women may be born with longer telomeres and an advantage for living longer, but we can all turn the longevity tables in our favor with a little effort.  

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