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Senior Health and Wellness

Karen Alexander, Licensed Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

May 21, 2021

Ackerman Cancer Center Celebrates Senior Health and Wellness

May 26, 2021, is National Senior Health and Fitness Day. Ackerman Cancer Center celebrates senior health and wellness every day. Currently, there are more than 46 million adults, aged 65 and older, living in the United States. It is estimated by 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will fall into this age category and the adult population is projected to reach 18 million. 1 There are many factors that influence the aging process. This bulletin will discuss the impact of lifestyle choices on genetics, their influence on person’s lifespan and the onset of age-associated diseases including cancer.

Telomeres are the DNA protein structures found at both ends of each chromosome. They are responsible with protecting the individual’s genetic material. Throughout a person’s life, his or her cells will divide multiple times. Each time a person’s cells divide, the telomeres continue to shorten until they reach a critical point where the cells either die or become cancerous cells. It is similar to having a biological clock to determine the lifespan of cells and organisms. 2

Recent studies have shown that our lifestyle choices can affect the speed of telomere shortening, which impacts an individual’s health, rate of aging and lifespan. Short telomeres are associated with an increased risk of loss of life due to coronary heart disease, heart failure, diabetes and osteoporosis. Additionally, there is an increased risk of lung, bladder, gastrointestinal, renal cell and head and neck cancers. 3

10 Things Associated with Longer Telomeres
  • Fiber: Boost fiber intake through fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans and nuts. 4
  • Avoiding overconsumption of protein: Such proteins include: meats, poultry, seafood, and beans.
  • Choosing plants: Attempt to adopt a plant-based diet rich in antioxidants and omega. 5
  • Protein from soy: Try tofu, tempeh and soy milk. 6
  • Healthy fats: Incorporate good fats such as olive oil, avocados, fish and nuts. 7
  • Eat less: Calorie restriction reduces the excessive production of free radicals and potentially reduces DNA damage. 8
  • Stay lean: Obesity increases the production of free radicals and DNA damage. 9
  • Daily exercise: Physical activity boosts the body’s antioxidant mechanisms and reduces DNA damage due to free radicals. Exercise elevates the expression of telomere stabilizing proteins, and therefore reduces the pace of aging and age-associated diseases. Visit the CDC website for more information about physical activity for adults. 10
  • Manage your stress: Acute and chronic stress are associated with shorter telomeres. To reduce stress levels, one should try yoga, meditation or exercise. 11
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep duration, rather than sleep quality, is associated with preserving telomere length. Getting at least 7 hours of sleep at night may either protect telomeres from damage or promote restoration on a nightly basis. 12
10 Things That Accelerate Telomere Shortening
  • Smoking: Increases oxidative stress (free radical production), DNA damage and telomere shortening. 13
  • Heavy drinking: Binge drinking may reduce telomere length. 14
  • Obesity & Waist circumference: Increases oxidative stress (free radical production), DNA damage, and telomere shortening. 15
  • Exposure to harmful agents: Workers exposed to certain chemicals (benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, among others) have shorter telomeres based on the number of years they were exposed to those harmful agents, not with their biological age. 16
  • Stress: Chronic stress and cortisol exposure shorten telomere length. 17
  • Unhealthy diet and certain fats: Consumption of certain fats, especially linoleic acid found in sunflower, safflower, soybean, corn and canola oils, may shorten telomeres. 18
  • Processed meats: Consumption of processed meat, but not unprocessed red meat, is associated with shorter telomere length. 19
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: Sugar-sweetened drinks increase oxidative stress and systemic inflammation, both of which shorten telomere length. 20
  • Loneliness: Lonelier people have shorter telomeres. 21
  • Metabolic syndrome: Metabolic syndrome is associated with oxidative stress and decreased antioxidant protection mechanisms, which predisposes one to telomere length shortening. 22

The recipe of the week comes from Five Heart Home.

Brain Healthy Salad

Ingredients for the Red Wine Vinaigrette:

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened red grape juice
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 to 3 teaspoons honey, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Ingredients for the salad:

  • Dark leafy salad greens (such as baby spinach, baby kale, or other super-food greens)
  • Blueberries
  • Walnut pieces (toasted or raw)


  1. To prepare the red wine vinaigrette, measure oil, red wine vinegar, grape juice, lemon juice, honey, salt and pepper into a mason jar. Tightly screw on the lid and shake vigorously until everything is thoroughly combined. Alternatively, you may briskly whisk the ingredients together in a medium bowl or blend them in a blender or mini food processor.
  2. Fill a bowl or salad plate with a big pile of leafy greens. Sprinkle blueberries and walnuts over the top. Drizzle with the red wine vinaigrette and toss to combine.

Notes from the author

  • To toast the walnuts, adjust oven rack to the center position and preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the walnut pieces on a sheet pan and bake for 4 to 6 minutes, or until fragrant and lightly toasted, watching carefully to prevent burning. Set aside and allow to cool.
  • You can substitute other berries and nuts for the blueberries and walnuts.
  • You can add a sprinkle of feta cheese or goat cheese to your salad, if you would like.
  • If you think the dressing is sweet enough from the grape juice, you can omit the honey.
  • Store the leftover vinaigrette in the refrigerator, and shake well before use.
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