A recent article in StatNews.com ( http://tinyurl.com/hhs9lnk ) describes how molecular biologist Elizabeth Blackburn, who shared a Nobel Prize for her research on telomeres — structures at the tips of chromosomes that play a key role in cellular aging, has co-authored a new book with psychologist Elissa Epel that introduces Blackburn’s findings in to a general audience.

The article indicates that Blackburn was “frustrated that important health implications of her work weren’t reaching beyond academia.” Blackburn, president of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, has said  “Telomeres listen to you, they listen to your behaviors, they listen to your state of mind.”

The article describes telomeres as “protective caps on shoelaces” at the each end of the DNA strands. Stressful events apparently  shorten those caps, which make” it more likely that cells will stop dividing and essentially die.”

So, regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy eating habits,  and managing stress all play a role in protecting our cells from damage and, hopefully, slowing the aging process. Although the research is currently inconclusive and aging likely occurs in additional processes, the telomere length appears to be associated with longevity.  If a person smokes and has a terrible diet, they likely shorten their telomeres and will accelerate inflammation, ultimately reducing the number of years of life.

Judith Campisi, an expert on cellular aging at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, suggests that the underlying research is solid, but one of the challenges is to measure not only the length of telomeres in blood cells but also in the liver since it “may be aging faster or slower than the blood — we’re not all one age throughout.”