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SPA SCIENCE


Repeating the tests gives the best view of whether your current lifestyle is working for or against you


instrumental in demonstrating that this is a cause for cellular ageing and that telomerase can prevent this action. In 2004, Elissa Epel, a leader in health psychology and behavioural medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, pioneered research linking stress to immune cell ageing. She showed that the perception of


Elissa Epel presented to delegates at the GSWS 2012 in Aspen, Colorado, US


But how do we know all this? And what lifestyle aspects (bad or good) have been proven to have an impact on telomeres?


LANDMARK RESEARCH Elizabeth Blackburn, an American biological researcher, first observed telomeres in the 1930s and in 1985 Blackburn, with graduate Carol Greider, discovered the telomerase enzyme. Blackburn and two colleagues received the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for “the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”. In 1990, reknown biochemist Calvin Harley showed that telomeres shorten progressively in human cells. He was


196 LEISURE HANDBOOK 2014


stress as well as actual stressful events or thoughts are related to telomere shortness and reduced telomerase activity. In plain words she proved that stress ages you at a cellular level. And in a 2008 study, published in scientific journal The Lancet Oncology, Epel, Blackbrun and physician Dr Dean Ornish showed “lifestyle changes can significantly increase telomerase activity” with positive changes taking place in just 90 days. In November 2010, a group of Harvard University researchers published results from a study in Nature. The experiment involved mice that were genetically engineered to lack telomerase so they aged prematurely and died. In a second group of mice, they turned on the telomerase gene with shocking results. For the first time ever, the aged state of an animal was reversed and the mice became young again, growing darker hair in the process. In the same year, Blackburn, Harley, Epel and molecular biologist Jue Lin co- founded Telome Health in an attempt to widen the reach of telomere testing. Fast-forward to today’s breaking news.


In a large clinical study, the average telomere length was measured in 100,000 patients from Kaiser Permanente, one


of America’s biggest care organisations. Using the saliva-based TeloTest, it was found that individuals who had short telomeres had increased risk of death in a three-year follow up period, and that smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, lower levels of education and poor environments were associated with short telomeres, while moderate exercise was associated with longer telomeres.


The size of the Kaiser study goes a long way towards validating previous findings. Currently, there are more than 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific publications in existence which show that exercise, more and better sleep, healthy food choices, meditation and more are linked to preventing telomere shortening. So what does all of this mean for the spa industry?


TURNING BACK THE CLOCK? Scientific research has revealed that stress is high on the list of factors that can prematurely shorten telomere length. In this aspect, the relaxing nature of spas and the therapeutic value of many of their treatments make the ‘spa intervention’ an important option to improve ageing status, and even reverse the negative effects of premature ageing. Clearly we can point to telomere molecular measurement as a potential validation for the restorative and stress reducing treatments offered by spas. Although there are no large, controlled clinical trials published yet, given the multitude of existing studies, researchers say it’s possible and likely that the following may help with maintaining or even lengthening telomeres:


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