Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Part 2)

The Cosmos on the Table. How did the Earth’s crust acquire the materials? The answer is astronomical. Only 3 elements were natural in the big bang process. The table is a cultural icon for humanity. The periodic table is very interesting indeed as each element has different characteristics. Hydrogen has only one proton in its nucleus, and is the lightest and simplest element. It also forms the core of Jupiter. In the sun, hydrogen collide to form helium. It is not so combustible in nature as hydrogen. It is the second most common element in our Universe. On average, it is about 10% of all atoms. It has 92% of hydrogen’s buoyancy, but without its explosive characteristics. Lithium has 3 protons in its nucleus, and was made in the big bang. Carbon is found in all kinds of molecules and is very abundant. This is the basis of chemistry and all diversity of life. Is it possible to have life forms based on silicon? Sodium is a common glowing gas in street lamps. Aluminium occupies 10% of the Earth’s crust. Titanium is twice as strong as aluminium. It is mostly used for military aircraft etc. The number of oxygen atoms exceed that of carbon. Excess oxygen might bond with titanium to form titanium oxide etc. Iron is one of the most important elements in our universe. It has 26 protons. Gallium is a soft metal that has a low melting point. Technetium is radioactive in nature and is artificial. The book features other interesting metals, like osmium and iridium. It is very dense indeed. Most atoms actually come from Greek names, like Phosphorus, Selenium etc. Ceres and Pallas are asteroids found in the asteroid belt. Uranium is a radioactive element named after Uranus. Neptunium is named after Neptune in 1940. Pluto was eventually dismissed a planet. Plutonium is named after Pluto and was used by the US to bomb Japan in WWII.

On Being Round. Most objects are spherical in nature. It is affected by surface tension. Due to gravity pulling at every area, the Earth is largely spherical in shape as the mountains are very low compared to how big the Earth is. Olympus Mons on Mars is 65,000 feet tall and 300 miles wide at its base. The weaker the gravity on an object, the taller the mountains can form. Non-spherical shapes on Phobos and Deimos form because of the low surface gravity. Stars are near perfect gaseous spheres. However, if it is too close to a massive star, some material can be stripped away. Our Milky Way galaxy is more flat, than spherical. It used to be a spherical, but collapsed at its poles as it spun faster and faster. The Milky Way is neither collapsing nor expanding. It is a gravitationally mature system. Saturn looks like a hamburger and is flattened because of its fast rotating speed. A pulsar is like squeezing the mass of a Sun into a ball the size of Manhattan. The pulsars are the most perfect spheres due to their huge mass and small space. Different galaxy clusters have different shapes and there are no fixed shapes. The entire observable Universe seems like a massive sphere as it is receding in every direction we look. However, as the Universe is expanding faster than the speed of light, there will be some galaxies whose light will not reach us and we will know nothing about them.

Invisible Light. Not all light is visible. There are 7 different colours to the visible spectrum. Different colours have different temperatures. Herschel was the first man to discover infra-red light. UV light was also discovered soon after. Low energy and low frequency to high energy and high frequency is radio waves, microwaves, infrared, ROYGBIV, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays. There are countless applications for such different spectra of light. Eventually, we built telescopes to detect parts of the EM spectrum. The Universe is actually sending light that our eyes cannot see and we would be dumb not to see it. Even long after supernovas explode, infrared red and radio waves get emitted. There needs to be different mirrors and detectors to detect all light bands. Radio telescopes are extremely large. China has built the world’s largest radio telescope, ranging over 30 football fields large. Humans also developed interferometers. We have 66 large antennas of ALMA to detect microwaves. There are high frequency, high-energy gamma rays with wavelengths measured in picometres. They are measured using a scintillator and we can pump out electrically charged particles that collide with gamma rays and produce light. There were frequent flashes of gamma rays near the Earth which could not be explained. Radio telescopes can detect gas among stars in the galaxies. The different types of light can tell us so much about star formations etc.

Between the Planets. There are plenty of chunky rocks, pebbles, charged particles in between planets. A lot of the small meteors burn up in our Earth’s atmosphere. This helps to protect Earth from such impact. Long ago, a lot of debris hit the Earth, causing our hot and molten core. A lot of junk led to the formation of the moon. Many of the other planets like Mercury, Mars received bombardments, as per the craters in the ground. When a meteor strikes, the impact can cause rocks to emerge up as well. Some of the Moon’s rocks also hit our surface. The asteroid belt is between Mars and Jupiter. Some of them are really large and might destabilize the Earth if it hits the Earth. The Kuiper belt is located after Neptune. Halley’s comet is from this belt. There are some comets between our solar system and the nearest star. These are known as the Oort cloud. The magnetic force on Jupiter is simply tremendous. Some of the planets’ moons are really interesting to study. Io is tidally locked and interacts with other moons. It is the most volcanically active place in our solar system. Pluto and Charon have tidally locked each other. Moons are named after Greek personalities. The sun releases solar wind, which is a release of material from its surface at a rate of a million tons per second. These causes the beautiful aurora on Earth. Jupiter is our big gravitational shield from comets as it helps to defect them away. We also exploit their gravitational field when we launch probes to space.

Exoplanet Earth. There are plenty of beautiful things on Earth. You could probably observe many structures from up in space. Natural scenery and hurricanes, volcanic eruptions should be visible. Earth is just a pale blue dot from Neptune, 3 billion miles away. Earth appears blue due to two-third being covered by water. Once there is liquid water, there will be a stable pressure and temperature. Aliens can notice our weather patterns and even see our polar ice caps. The nearest star is Alpha Centauri, nearly 4 light years away and often visible at night. As Earth is not bright, it will be hard to detect via visible light. However, if you notice a star jiggle, it could mean that an object/planet has just orbited around it. The Kepler telescope is meant to detect other Earth like planets. It detects stars whose total brightness drops slightly and at regular intervals. From this, it can detect multi-planet star systems. Aliens might be able to detect the multiple radio waves that we emit. Light, throughout the Universe, behaves in the same way. Hence, it can be detected through a spectrometer. Methane is a molecule which indicates life stock. The alien’s best bet would be to detect oxygen in our atmosphere. Oxygen bonds readily with other atoms. We have discovered more than 3000 exoplanets.

Latest estimates, extrapolating from the current catalogs, suggest as many as 40 billion Earth-like planets in the Milky Way alone. Those are the planets our descendants might want to visit someday, by choice, if not by necessity. – Neil Degrasse Tyson

Reflections on the Cosmic Perspective. Learn to enjoy the pleasure of intellectual pursuits. Despite all the cosmic wonder, there are still horrible things happening on Earth. Some people are also selfish and do not help others. The world is big, but so should our hearts and minds be. Some adults feel that the world revolves around them and are very self-centered. People hold an expanded view of the cosmos. Humans experience a sense of smallness and insignificance after watching a show where they see Earth in the grand scheme of the Universe. However, I feel large and important. Human beings are not the most important thing in the Universe. Powerful forces make us susceptible. We are all part of this stream of human consciousness. The air and water you consume might have come from ages ago. We are largely made from the same atoms as when the Universe was formed. They are hydrogen, oxygen, carbon and nitrogen. We have to remain open to the concept of multiverses. The cosmos are humble, spiritual etc. They allow us to be more open to knowledge and to accept new ideas. There is no air in space, but yet we can admire its beauty from afar. Astronomy is good because it makes us more curious, and hungrier for knowledge.

Of all the sciences cultivated by mankind, Astronomy is acknowledged to be, and undoubtedly is, the most sublime, the most interesting, and the most useful. For, by knowledge derived from this science, not only the bulk of the Earth is discovered…; but our very faculties are enlarged with the grandeur of the ideas it conveys, our minds exalted above low contracted prejudices. – James Ferguson

Time to get cosmic. There are more stars in the Universe than grains of sand on any beach, more stars than seconds have passed since Earth formed, more stars than words and sounds ever uttered by all the humans who ever lived. – Neil Degrasse Tyson

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The End!

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Part 1)

Preface. The public has become more interested in science. In addition, science fiction films help to generate even more interest. Astrophysics has always been on people’s minds. This book summarizes the major ideas and discoveries.

‘The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you.’ Neil Degrasse Tyson

The Greatest Story Ever Told. Almost 14 billion years ago, the Big Bang occurred and matter and energy expanded. Scientists have worked to try to combine the understanding of the general theory of relativity with quantum gravity. Max Planck is the father of quantum mechanics. Currently, we have no known laws of physics to predict the behavior of the universe over time. The Universe split into the electroweak and the strong nuclear forces. The electroweak forces split into the EM and weak nuclear forces. All this happened in less than a trillionth of a second. Photos can convert their energy into matter-antimatter particle pairs under intense energy. After the interaction of electroweak forces, the universe was a soup of quarks, leptons, antimatter siblings etc. The photon belongs to the boson family. The electron and neutrinos belong to leptons. There are 6 different types of quarks (up and down, strange and charmed, top and bottom). Quarks have fractional charges that come in thirds. Now, a millionth of a second has passed. New heavy particles called hadrons started to form. Now, protons and neutrons started to form. The LHC attempts to collide hadrons to create larger particles. Matter and anti-matter will annihilate one another, but there will one single hadron will survive. Electrons annihilate with positrons, and only 1 electron out of a billion survive. Eventually, elements like helium, deuterium and tritium are formed. Below 3000K, electrons stop combining with nuclei. For the first billion years, our universe expands and cools, while galaxies are formed. More than a hundred billion of them are formed, each containing billions of stars. Some stars explode. Our Sun is simply an undistinguished star. Wayward debris would orbit and form large bodies. These formed planets and the matter would start to cool. Earth is in a Goldilocks zone where oceans are in liquid forms. The early organisms on Earth were simple anaerobic bacteria, which excretes oxygen as its by-product. Ozone was also formed and these protected us from the Sun’s UV photons. We are thankful for the existence of carbon and the various simple/complex molecules. However, often, there are asteroids that hit Earth and cause havoc to our ecosystem. There was one which made dinosaurs extinct. Did our Universe just pop into existence from nothing? The Universe will continue to evolve.

We are stardust brought to life, then empowered by the Universe to figure itself out – and we have only just begun. – Neil Degrasse Tyson

On Earth as in the Heavens. Some of the religious people criticized Newton when he discovered gravity. The 19th century was a time of invention. The Sun contained a lot of similar elements as Earth. Helium was discovered too. Do the law of physics apply to the whole Universe? We sent out the Pioneer 10 and 11 and the Voyager 1 and 2 in the 1970s to look for outside life. All these spacecraft used gravity assists to escape the solar systems. It is not clear whether aliens would understand them. The Big G is the constant of gravitation. Our Universe is indeed very uniform. The speed of the light is one of the most famous constants. It is simply a law of physics. It is not time or location dependent. The conservations laws of mass and energy, linear and angular momentum and electric charge are all very important. Most of the gravity in the Universe is the form of dark matter, which is difficult to detect. Should Newton’s law of gravity be adjusted to account for dark matter? Einstein’s theory of relativity builds on Newton’s law of gravity as it applies to objects of extremely high mass like black holes. The Universality of physical laws make the cosmos very appealing.

Let There Be Light. The cosmos expanded rapidly after the Big Bang. Cosmic background radiation can still be detected. Photons can lose energy and form infrared photons, sliding down the spectrum. When something glows, it emits light in the full spectrum, but there will be a noticeable peak. Cosmic background radiation (CMR) was already predicted into the 1940s. In 1948, scientists predicted what the temperature of the cosmic background should be. Their answer was unerringly accurate. The first cosmic microwave background (CMB) was observed in 1964. They developed an antenna to detect microwaves. There was a constant leftover signal in their measurements. The signal came from every direction in the sky. When we out into space, we are looking back in time as light takes time to travel. Depending on the time that the photons that scattered off electrons, a different colour profile would be registered. The CMB will have spots that are slightly hotter or cooler. Analyzing the CMB will enable you to determine how quickly matter accumulated etc. Dark matter has gravity but does not interact with light. It forces the Universe to expand faster.

Between the Galaxies. There are over a hundred billion of them. How much void is there in space? Our galaxy is the Milky Way. The nearest one to us is over 180,000 light years away. The nearest one which is larger than ours is the Great Nebula in Andromeda, over 2 million light years away. Our detectors have enabled us to detect many more objects. Dwarf galaxies contain only up to a million stars, and they are hard to detect. They are also dim. Often, these dwarf galaxies may get eaten up by the main galaxy. Galaxies can collide and clusters will be formed. There is also the possibility of homeless stars, which are not in any galaxy. Supernovas have been found exploding away from their host galaxies. Supernovas are stars which have increased their luminosity over a billion fold. There are also intra-cluster gas that is so hot and can form stars. Quasars are super-luminous galaxy cores and are extremely distant. These are fascinating due to their huge mass. There are hydrogen clouds everywhere in the Universe. These light also passes through huge sources of gravity. Light that appears to us might have experienced curvature due to gravity etc. There are plenty of cosmic rays in the Universe, which are horrible, and move almost at the speed of light. There are plenty of particle collisions in intergalactic space.

Dark Matter. Gravity is difficult to understand. It has the ability to warp space-time at a distance. For example, light rays bend as they pass by a massive object. The bulk of the gravity in the Universe cannot be explained. Fritz Zwicky analysed this problem in 1937. He noticed some galaxies had a very high average velocity. However, it does not account for the speeds measured. Newton’s laws show that it is possible to achieve an orbital speed to escape the clutches of gravity. Other galaxy clusters also reveal this same problem. This supports the existence of ‘dark matter’ in the Universe. Cosmic dark matter seems to have at least 6 times the gravity of visible matter. It is not matter that happens to be under-luminous or non-luminous. It turns out that dark matter and nuclear fusion do not mix. Dark matter does not seem to do very much. Dark matter only comes into play for large bodies, like the motion of stars around the centre of the galaxy. It seems to be well spread across the Universe. The Universe is expanding, but gravity wants to make things coagulate. We do not know what dark matter is, just that we know that it is real. Skeptics tend to slam dark matter’s existence. Dark matter is real, as it has been deduced from its effects on visible matter. We are trying our best to detect the presence of dark matter. Right now, we just have to be happy with our understanding of dark matter.

Either dark matter particles must wait for us to discover and to control a new force or class of forces through which their particles interact, or else dark matter particles interact via normal forces, but with staggering weakness. – Neil Degrasse Tyson

What we know is that the matter we have come to love in the Universe – the stuff of stars, planets, and life – is only a light frosting on the cosmic cake, modest buoys afloat in a vast cosmic ocean of something that looks like nothing. – Neil Degrasse Tyson

Dark Energy. Einstein perfected the thought experiments in his head and was very successful. His theories withstood the test of time. The general theory of relativity (GR) was published in 1916. Everything in the Universe moves under the influence of gravity. In 2016, gravitational waves were discovered, as were predicted by Einstein 100 years ago. These are created from major events, like the collision of 2 black holes. They first arose almost 1.3 billion years ago, during a collision of 2 black holes. In the 16th century, it was a heliocentric model. However, in truth, the planets revolve the star in ellipses. There was a cosmological constant in his equations of gravity. In his equations, the universe neither expands nor contracts. The masses move along straight-line geodesics. The Universe is never static. The cosmological constant was a big blunder as it was proven that the Universe was still expanding. There are ways to measure the distance from a supernova, for example, from its decreasing luminosity over time. Hubble telescope shows that distant objects race away from us further than nearby ones. Dark energy was present, but scientists could not explain it. Dark energy comprises of 68% of all mass-energy, dark matter only 27% and regular matter only 5%. The predicted shape for the Universe would be a one-way saddle. There is simply not enough mass to explain the Universe’s expansion. This was when dark matter came about. Dark energy helped to raise the mass of ordinary energy and dark matter to the mass-energy density. Dark energy helped to reconcile the differences. These could be simply virtual particles in a vacuum, which can’t be measured. It turns out that there was a place for lambda in Einstein’s equations. Do we need an alternative to GR? The repulsive forces are present in the vacuum, and will grow ever more with increasing vacuum. The fabric of the Universe can carry material faster than the speed of light. In a trillion years, you might not know other galaxies existed. As a result of dark energy, future generations will not understand our Universe. What else should we be looking for?

GR regards gravity as the response of a mass to the local curvature of space and time caused by some other mass or field of energy. – Neil Degrasse Tyson

Matter tells space how to curve; space tells matter how to move. – John Archibald Wheeler

Keep a lookout for Part 2! 🙂

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The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel (Part 3)

Food and Telomeres: Eating for Optimal Cell Health. You can have a whole-foods diet that has fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts etc. Consider what you eat before you consume it. Often, we struggle over what sort of food is good for us. It is definitely better to eat fresh as compared to processed foods. The first cellular enemy is inflammation. Glucose and sugary foods are bad because they hit your bloodstream fast and hard. Alcohol also is a carbohydrate and is bad for health. Chronic alcohol use is associated with shorter telomeres. However, light drinking is fine. Foods that are good are like berries, grapes, apples etc. Other inflammatory foods include fish oils, nuts, flax oils and leafy vegetables. These foods are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help to keep cell structure fluid and stable. They also help to lower cardiovascular risk. Are fish oil supplements or capsules good? The results are mixed. How well you absorb the nutrients, how well your cells use it are all important factors. Instead of eating omega-3, one can also eat algae. There should be a good balance between the consumption of omega 3 and 6. Vitamin B12 can help to reduce homocysteine. The second enemy is oxidative stress. This is when there are too many free radicals, and they might destroy your DNA. Vitamin C helps protect and gobble up free radicals. One can get vitamins and minerals from a daily intake of fruits and vegetables. Good food items include citrus, berries, apples, plums, carrots etc. Babies who are breast-fed can have longer telomeres. Americans like to drink a lot of soda and they have to watch it. Your pancreas has to work harder to produce more insulin. Liver turns sugar into fat and you want to achieve that sugar high again. People tend to die younger if they consume too much sugar. Avoid sweetened drinks from Starbucks or desserts in general. Instead, focus on foods that are higher in fibre like wholemeal bread, pasta, brown rice, barley, vegetables etc. Higher levels of vitamin D are good too, and is linked to telomere health. The best sources of vitamin D are salmon, tuna, milk, cereal, eggs. You can also consider vitamin D supplements. Fish in general is good for health. The Mediterranean diet is generally known to be more healthy. The Korean diet in good as well. Red meat is a probable cause of cancer, and processed red meat is even worse. It is never too late to start and improve your health. Is coffee good for health? There is not much research in this area but in general, it seems okay to consume. Recent research on telomere has shown that coffee is indeed beneficial. Remember the 3 enemies: inflammation, insulin resistance, and oxidative stress. Healthy snacks which are high in protein are desirable. Make your own homemade trail mix or chia pudding, which can be very healthy indeed. Seaweed is also telomere friendly. If you have a family history of diabetes, focus on your weight gain. Visualize how you want to be like when you grow old, for example: fit and healthy.

In general, antioxidants from food are typically better absorbed by the body and may have more powerful effects than supplements. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Master Tips for Renewal: Science-Based Suggestions for Making Changes that Last. Learning about telomeres is a potent motivator. For a change to be long lasting, it would be good to know why you’re making the change. Study your motivation to make the change. Find one small behaviour that you want to change now. Understand why is this change meaningful to you. Be confident that you can make the change. Get into the self-efficacy positive loop. There are tips for creating new habits. One is to make small incremental changes. Tack a small change onto an activity that’s already a routine part of your day. Schedule the change early in the morning if possible. Don’t decide- just do, as making decisions is exhausting. Celebrate if you managed to practise your new habit. Increase your brain’s ability to execute your plans. Don’t try the change when you are feeling depleted, like when feeling sleepy etc. Shape your surroundings to reduce the number of times you’re tempted by hiding them till there are out of sight. Ask your family and friends to support your new goal. We can all strive to have more days of renewal. The path to permanent change takes time.

Part 4 – Outside In: The Social World Shapes Your Telomeres

Chapter 11: The Places and Faces that Support Our Telomeres. The environment does affect our telomeres. A safe environment certainly helps. Where we live does matter. It would be helpful if you were close to your neighbors as well. Those who live in fear of crime have greater cellular aging. Those who live in an unsafe neighbourhood tend to have shorter telomeres. This is also because they are in a heightened state and may get less sleep at night. Parks and the availability of parks for exercise is also important. The fact that there is a lot of litter in San Francisco is also bad. The people in the city had shorter telomeres in general. Exposure to nature can help in telomere growth. Exposure to green spaces helps to lower stress indeed. Can money buy longer telomeres? Poverty was associated with shorter telomeres as you can’t meet your basic needs. The more educated you are, the longer your telomeres. Carbon monoxide is a bad chemical which should be avoided. Pesticides are bad as well as they increase oxidative stress. Cadmium is detrimental to health and can be found in cigarette smoke and dust, dirt etc. Lead is usually bad as well. Lead in water is extremely bad for health. Avoid polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons too. Other chemicals to avoid are dioxins, furans, arsenic and benzene. Such chemicals are now also being associated with cancer. Avoid microwaving plastics. Human beings crave for social connection. Rats suffer when they are alone. Good friends are like your nightwatchmen and will watch over you. Having mixed relationships result in shorter telomeres. Happily married people have a lower risk of early mortality. Married people generally have longer telomeres. Physical intimacy also leads to longer telomeres. Racial discrimination is bad for length of telomeres. Discrimination is bad as it is a form of social stress. Policemen can get assaulted etc and all these are very detrimental. Blacks are discriminated more than whites. African Americans tend to develop more chronic disease of aging than other ethic populations. We can learn to create supportive environments and in our neighborhoods. Learn to eat less animal and dairy fat. Think about the air when you turn up the eat with meat. Avoid pesticides in your produce. Find personal-care products. Go green and support urban forestry. Smile and acknowledge those around you. Strengthen your close relationships and do not take things for granted. Show gratitude and appreciation. Be present and give your fullest and sincere attention.

It feels so good to belong to a cohesive group. It feels good to be in connection with others – to give or receive advice, borrow or lend something, work together, or share tears and feel understood. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Pregnancy: Cellular Aging Begins in the Womb. The baby’s telomeres get affect if her mother smokes. Parents have the ability to shape a kid’s telomeres before they are even born. Parents can pass shortened telomeres to their children. The education levels of the parents do matter. Telomeres are trans-generational. Hence, babies can inherit the short telomeres from their mum. Hence, social advantage can actually be passed down through the generations. However, understand that biology is not destiny and we can do things to maintain our telomeres in our lifetime. There is never really a level playing field out there. Protein deprivation is apparently bad for the baby. Folate is an important nutrient during pregnancy. Baby’s telomeres are listening to mom’s stress. A mum must take good steps to care for her baby. Avoid chemical exposure at home at all costs.

Conclusion

Entwined: Our Cellular Legacy. We all hope for a long and good life, with a strong wellbeing. We cannot change our genes. To some extent, we can change our telomeres. They are objective and unbiased. When we protect our telomeres, we also spread the good around for others. Stress and adversity are bad for our telomeres. Policymakers should strive for societal stress reduction. In general, the higher the income inequality, the worst the mental health. We can all share knowledge with one another and try to be better. We are all connected with other organisms and have a natural connection with other creatures. We carry a shared part of the outside world. We are all more connected, more so than ever before. The first step is definitely to take care of yourself.

The End!

the-telomere-effect

The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel (Part 2)

Renewal Lab. Learn to reduce ‘ego threat’ stress. Tell yourself that your identity runs wide and deep. Write down the goals and values that matter most to you and stick to that. This has been proven to help reduce stress responses. When you understand that no one big event can hurt you, you become less stressed over the negative occurrence of any one event. Learn to distance your thoughts from your emotions. Use the third party pronoun and not ‘I’ too frequently. One can also apply time distancing, this means you imagine whether an event will affect you in 10 years’ time. One can also apply visual self-distancing. Imagine that you are viewing an event from afar. Pretend to be a third party witnessing yourself act. This technique of mentally stepping outside of your body can work well.

Mind Your Telomeres: Negative Thinking, Resilient Thinking. Thought suppression isn’t healthy and good for our telomeres. Negative thinking isn’t good too. Try to learn about your style of thinking. Cynical hostility isn’t good at all. A lot of these thoughts are actually automatic. One strategy is to learn to laugh at your negative thoughts. Hostility is associated with anger and thoughts that people cannot be trusted. Pessimists typically predict that a bad outcome is going to emerge. Pessimists are also associated with shorter telomeres. Pessimists tend to hate stressful situations and worry that they are not up to the mark. The human mind tends to wander and not focus on the task at hand. However, activities like sex, engaging in conversation and exercising produce less mind-wandering. If you are not fully engaged in an activity, you tend not to be happy. Multi-tasking actually is a source of noxious stress. To do something effectively, it is better to only do one thing at a time. It would be wise for you to try to eliminate distractions and to focus on the task at hand. Rumination is about rehashing your problems over and over again. Instead of finding a solution, people feel worse in this process. People who ruminate experience more depression and anxiety. Thought suppression is about pushing away unwanted thoughts. The more you try to push something away, the more it will call for your attention. This is also known as ironic error. Scolding yourself when negative thoughts emerge is unlikely to work. One can use resilient thinking, which is based on acceptance and mindfulness. Exercise thought awareness and loosen the grip of negative thought patterns. This is not thought stopping, but simply viewing the thoughts with more clarity. Meditation and long distance running can help with thought awareness. Stand like an observer and witness your thoughts passing by. A lot of the thoughts are repeat of thoughts that came before. Understand that thoughts will fade after a while. It is advisable not to believe everything that you think. Mindfulness is really about training the mind to focus. Now, I can focus better on whatever I do. Close your eyes and breathe once you experience negative thoughts. You do not need to go for a long course on mindfulness to be good. Meditating also increase your sense of purpose in life. A stronger life purpose can definitely give you better resilience in life. Being happy and having a purpose are often closely linked. Having a purpose is associated with eudaemonic happiness. This is associated with a strong sense of values and purpose. Volunteering to help the community can certainly be very rewarding. Volunteering can produce 2 to 3 years of reverse aging. Being conscientious is a good trait for your telomeres. These people tend to have long term goals and longer telomeres. Having good impulse control is important. Self-compassion is also another technique and it means kindness towards yourself and not beat yourself up. Be patient and be tolerant towards others. When you fail at something, do you berate yourself? It is good to be high in self-compassion. Developing self-reliance helps towards building stress resilience. Start your day with gratitude and say ‘I am alive and I will seize the day!’. Learn to understand your habits of thinking. When encountering something stressful, try to take a self-compassion break. Tell yourself that suffering is a part of life and also say ‘may I be kind to myself’. Be wary of the internal critic inside of you. Think about what do you want people who to remember you as in a few words as possible. Articulate what are the more important principles in your life and write them down. If your life is too boring, engage in cognitive exercises and do something out of the ordinary.

We push away our bad feelings, which inevitably roar back, and then we feel bad, and then we feel bad about feeling bad. – Elizabeth Blackburn

The purpose of life is not to be happy – but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all. – Leo Rosten

When Blue Turns to Gray: Depression and Anxiety. Some people suffer from a panic attack, an intense episode of fear and anxiety. Depressed people feel that there is no possibility in life. If you have depression, the onset of more serious illnesses will come faster. Anxiety is characterized by dread/worry. Some people have anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are associated with shorter telomere lengths. Women who are depressed have shorter telomeres. Sometimes, people whose cells experience telomere shortening have cells producing more telomerase. However, this attempt at producing more telomere fails. Telomere length can also increase if the anxiety goes away after a while. Mice who are subjected to a lot of stress develop an excessive number of mitochondria. Depression is a dysfunctional response to stress. Negative thoughts are not signs that you are unworthy, but are substances of depression. If you are anxious, you will need to learn to face the fear of the item and deal with it head on, in a brave manner. Depression is chronic in nature. There is a sense of contentment of focusing all your attention on a small task. Take a 3 minute breathing break. Breathe and become aware. Gather your attention by breathing and exhaling slowly. Paced breathing can help to lower blood pressure.

Instead of frantically striving to change things, you can choose to do little things that bring you pleasure, and things that help you feel masterful and in control. – Elizabeth Blackburn

When we breathe in, our heart rate goes up. When we exhale, our heart rate goes down. By having a longer exhalation than inhalation, we can slow our heart rate more, and we can also stimulate the vagus nerve. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Master tips for renewal: Stress-reducing techniques shown to boost telomere maintenance. Meditation has a lot of benefits and has been shown to be able to improve well-being. People who meditate tend to have longer telomeres. Staying at a retreat has a powerful effect as you are unplugged from tech devices. Those without meditation experience can try the mindfulness based stress reduction programme or MBSR. MBSR is good for those who want to reduce stress. There is much literature on the health benefits of yoga. It improves the quality of life and mood for many people. It can improve spine bone density if practiced long term. Qigong is part of the wellness progress for Chinese medicine. Qigong reduces depression and may improve diabetes. Qigong exercises are easy and can give you a sense of calm in minutes.

Help your Body Protect its Cells. Stressful long-term events have the potential to contribute to telomere shortening. Do you suffer from mood disorders? Try to figure out how much social support do you have? The more physical activity you do, the better it is for your body. One should engage in aerobic activity at least 150 minutes per week and engage in muscle-strengthening activities at least 2 days per week. Exercising more can increase your telomerase levels too. Do consider your nutritional needs as well. Eat food with antioxidants and vitamins and avoid sugar carbonated beverages. Choose an area to focus on where you have weak scores. Choose one area to work on at a time.

Training Your Telomeres: How Much Exercise is Enough? Try to avoid being a weekend warrior when it comes to exercise. Do not overtrain or over-exert unnecessarily. Over-training is characterized by sleep changes, fatigue, mood swings etc. Telomeres do not need extreme fitness regimes to thrive on. How does exercise work wonders for your body? There are cellular benefits of exercise. Ideally, our cells should have enough antioxidants. When free radicals build up, it is bad for our body. Exercise is very valuable in the short term, as it stimulates the body to produce more antioxidants. When you exercise more, your body produces less cortisol and you feel calmer. People who exercise regularly have a more robust immune system. Exercising regularly can help to delay the onset of immunosenescence. Exercise also helps to maintain your telomeres. Both moderate aerobic endurance exercise and HIIT are useful. Those who increased their aerobic fitness the most experienced growth in telomerase activity. Strength training helps to improve bone density and muscle mass. Fitness is one of the keys for telomere health. Even though you might be naturally fit, exercise will still help you keep your telomeres healthy. Is too much exercise bad? The benefits of extreme endurance do not seem to be useful. It is important to start exercising when you are young, and never be discouraged. Learn to read the signs of over-training and avoid them as much as possible. Even if your schedule is packed, find time to slip in some exercise. In addition to your exercise regime, it is still important to keep moving throughout the day.

People who exercise live longer and have a lowered risk of high blood pressure, stroke, cardiovascular disease, depression, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. And they avoid dementia for longer. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Exercise can improve your mood for up to 3 hours after working out and can reduce stress reactivity. Stress can shorten telomeres, but exercise shields telomeres from some of stress’s damage. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Tired Telomeres: From Exhaustion to Restoration. How can we get more sleep? Cognitive changes and mindfulness will enable you to get more sleep. If you feel sleepy during the day, it is a clear sign you need more sleep at night. Poor sleep will definitely affect your well-being in life. Insomnia is associated with shorter telomeres. Sleep is the most restorative activity that you can actually perform. REM sleep helps to regulate your appetite as well. Poor REM sleep results in higher level of cortisol and insulin, stimulating your appetite. Sleep helps us to refresh emotionally too. Longer sleep results in longer telomeres. 7 or more hours of sleep is the key. Sleep quality matters a lot too. Going to bed at regular hours help in your cell’s ability to regulate telomerase. When you suffer from insomnia, you tend to worry as you are afraid that you will not be able to function after a poor night’s sleep. When such thoughts come to mind, learn to challenge them instead. How can someone suffering from chronic insomnia get better sleep? Avoid engaging in mind-sapping activities just before bed-time. Avoid light sources like phones/laptops. One can consider some light reading/ some classical music. Blue light can supresses melatonin. Minimize light from windows and digital clocks, if possible. Tune out your environment from light and noise distractions. Always try to eat and sleep at regular times. Sleep procrastination is a big problem in modern society. If you suspect that you have sleep apnea, go for a check-up. Learn to adopt the following 5 bedtime rituals. The first is to spend 5 minutes in transition. The next is to listen to soothing music. Set a mood for relaxation Brew warm herbal tea. Perform bedtime stretches (gentle rolling of the head and neck, forward bend, child’s pose).

When you are well slept, you are better at learning and remembering. Tired people just aren’t as successful at focusing their attention, so they don’t take in new information as well. – Elizabeth Blackburn

If you feel terrible without 8 or 9 hours of sleep. Don’t try to scrape by with 7. Get those extra hours. And remember that rule of thumb, which offers highly customized sleep advice: If you feel sleepy during the day, you need more sleep at night. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Telomeres Weigh in: A Healthy Metabolism. Belly fat is something that must be avoided. It is a good idea to bring a salad to work as it is healthy. Some people find it hard not to think about food. Eating too much does affect your telomeres, but not as much as depression. Weight is a not very accurate measure of metabolic health. Dieting is not the only way to get healthier. You can be of a normal weight, but if you have a belly, it doesn’t bode well for you. Belly fat, high cholesterol and high blood pressures are key risk factors for diabetes. High belly fat might indicate poor glucose control or insulin resistance. Globally, 9% of people have diabetes. People with diabetes find that it is more difficult for glucose to enter the cells. People with belly fat tend to develop shorter telomeres. There is a connection between short telomeres and diabetes. Weight cycling (increase and decrease) is very unhealthy and should be avoided. Constantly thinking about eating less also produces a cognitive strain. Instead of dieting, one could be physically active and eat nutritious foods. Reducing sugar can lead to metabolic improvements and simple carbs are bad. There is mixed research on caloric restriction. Learn to measure your insulin sensitivity by testing your fasting insulin and glucose. Cutting back on sugar will work wonders for your body. When you crave for sugar, surf the urge. Sit down and close your eyes and imagine the snack and the flavour, but do not eat it. Understand that the cravings will pass and dissipate. Stop eating when you are moderately full, at around 7 or 8 out of 10.

This idea – that improving your metabolic health is more important than losing weight – is vital, and that’s because repeated dieting takes a toll on your body. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Our body has a set point that it defends, and when we lose weight, we also slow our metabolism in an effort to regain the weight (metabolic adaptation). – Elizabeth Blackburn

Dieting can create a semi-addictive state, and it’s also just plain stressful. Monitoring calories causes cognitive load, meaning that it uses up the brain’s limited attention and increases how much stress you feel. – Elizabeth Blackburn

To Be Continued 🙂

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The Telomere Effect by Elizabeth Blackburn and Elissa Epel (Part 1)

A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer

Part 1: Telomeres – A Pathway to Living Younger

Preface. We all want a healthy life right up to the very end. We can live better than ever before. Telomere science can really help us. Our DNA can become damaged but it is important why did it become damaged. The main cause might be due to telomeres shortening. Science has revealed that it is able to reverse the attrition or slow it down. Human aging is a puzzle but we have more information now on how to combat it. We now have a better understanding of telomere maintenance. There are also ways to improve cell longevity, without risk. Almost all of the stories are drawn from real-life people and experiences.

A Tale of Two Telomeres. Kara often catches a cold in office. Also, she suffers a lot from stress at work. She also has a haggard appearance. On the other hand, Lisa looks vibrant and energetic. The fact is that both of them are of the same age. However, biologically, Kara seems older. Lisa also suffers from plenty of stress in her life. Kara’s cells are aging prematurely. We all have our own healthspan and diseasespan. Lisa’s diseasespan is much shorter than Kara’s. Why do people age differently? In the past, people thought that aging was a natural process which you could nothing about. Genes matter, however, so do environmental factors. Which is right? Nature or nurture? Genes or environment. It is possible to reverse aging. Telomeres are found at the end of our chromosomes and shorten with each cell division. Therefore, cellular health is extremely important. Elissa and Liz have studied biology and health psychology for ages. There are many factors that can influence your telomeres. Cells divide in a process called mitosis but can only do so for a finite number of times. There is a Hayflick limit and short telomeres help prevent cell division. Stem cells are not subject to this limit. Senescent cells are those which are senile and stop dividing. When your cells stop growing, you tend to age. More people are able to live more fruitfully and to an older age. Age is by far the largest determinant of chronic diseases. Our chromosomes are like shoelaces and the aglets are like telomeres. We can adopt a more positive attitude towards life. Meditation is proven to be able to help reduce stress. Exercise is also great for telomeres. Processed meat is bad for them. Although these actions are not new, if you understand the link of the connection and their actions, the change is more lasting. It is possible to reverse the effects of premature aging. One should always try to cultivate their telomeres. If you are in good health, you will be able to achieve a lot more in life. Try to learn to focus your mind on the current. Focus on what you are currently doing.

Genes load the gun, and environment pulls the trigger. – George Bray

You’re born with a particular set of genes, but the way you live can influence how your genes express themselves. – Elizabeth Blackburn

But short telomeres are one of the primary reasons human cells grow old, and they are one mechanism that controls the Hayflick limit. – Elizabeth Blackburn

Part 1 – Telomeres: A Pathway to Living Younger

How Prematurely Aging Cells Make you Look, Feel, and Act Old. People who look older than their age tend to be sicker earlier. Prematurely aging apples is like a rotten apple among a group of normal apples. We have a lot of renewing cells, called proliferatively cells. Our healthy cells will continue to renew themselves. Stem cells can divide and produce proliferative cells. Once a cell is old and becomes senescent, it cannot divide anymore. Senescent cells are bad and can affect the good cells around it. Ask yourself, ‘How old do you look? How would you rate your physical health? How old do you feel?’ Telomeres play a big part in the aging process and your appearance. Our skin’s fibroblasts secrete less collagen and elastin as it ages. It also becomes thinner and more wrinkled. In older people, skin cells lose their ability to divide. UV rays can damage telomeres. Skin cells should be protected from the sun as much as possible. Similar concepts occur for bone loss, greying hair etc. Your appearance actually reflects inner health. People with short telomeres tend to suffer from chronic inflammation. A shortened telomere is likely to refuse help from other immune cells. Cells of the endothelium need to replenish themselves if you want a healthy heart. People with short telomere length are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease in future. Poor lung health might also be caused by short telomeres. People with early cognitive problems tend to have shorter telomeres. If you think lowly about old people, you might suffer from the stereotype embodiment in future. Try to remind yourself of the positive sides to aging as well. Typically, old people experience more positive emotions as compared to younger people. Older people have a deeper emotional experience. Try to envision what kind of life you would want to enjoy and lead when you are old. Try to keep up your social life and stay interested in your work. Be interested in learning and trying new experiences. Try to give back to the community in your golden years as well.

The Power of Long Telomeres. Melanocytes are the skin’s color cells which help to keep the skin evenly toned. Short telomeres can also lead to scarred lungs, low blood count, weak immune system etc. Inherited telomere syndromes are fortunately, very rare in people. These people might also need stem cell transplants. We have much more control over premature cellular aging. It is easy to study Tetrahyemena’s telomere structure. Telomeres help to protect our chromosomes. The first strand of human telomeres start with repeating sequences of TTAGGG and are coupled with the pair AATCCC. These are coiled in a helix shape that is our DNA. Telomeres is unlike the gene, as it sits on the edge of the chromosome that contains genes. When our cell divides, the telomeres lose base pairs from the sequence at the ends of each chromosome, hence, it tends to get shorter. According to research, short telomeres can predict early mortality. It is also linked to major diseases of aging.

Chapter 3: Telomerase, the Enzyme That Replenishes Telomeres

I continued my research in UC Berkeley in 1978. I saw the Tetrahymena’s telomeres actually growing and that came as a surprise to me. In fact, the telomeres were in fact growing. There was a sign of a new enzyme at work that was causing telomere growth. Telomerase could actually add new telomere patterns on the biochemical sequence. We confirmed this after much testing and research. Could we increase our supply of telomerase and would that lead to a better quality of life? However, inactivating telomerase made the cells more mortal. Those who have a genetic mutation that slashes telomerase levels suffer from severe inherited telomere syndrome. Can we artificially give ourselves more telomerase? However, there is a dark side to telomerase. Uncontrolled cell growth is the hallmark of cancer, where the cells don’t stop dividing. Hence, bigger may not necessarily be better. Instead of artificial means, we should use natural means instead, as they are more gentle. If we could turn off the telomerase in just the cancer cells, it help might a lot to prolong life. Our body knows the right amount of telomerase on telomeres. To help our body, we can adopt a lifestyle full of renewal strategies. We wanted to investigate whether stress could shorten telomeres. We wanted to test mothers with children with chronic illnesses. We can actually change the way we live through lifestyle changes.

Renewal Labs: A Guide. This is an area where you can try practical applications on how to change your daily life to improve your cellular health. Treat it as an experiment, but if you like the results you are seeing, make it into a long term habit.

Part 2: Your Cells are Listening to Your Thoughts

Assessment: Your Stress Response Style Revealed. Think about dealing with the situation. Try not to let a stressful situation affect the rest of your well-being. There are techniques which can be used to change habits. Rumination is also known as brooding. Is your pride damaged? Positive reappraisal is the re-thinking of stressful situations in a positive light.

Chapter 4: Unraveling: How Stress Gets into Your Cells. There are different types of stress: toxic vs typical. Stress can actually affect our immune system. Caregiving can be very stressful experience as it is both emotionally and physically demanding. Caregivers are truly unappreciated and underpaid. Chronic stress can erode telomeres. People experience stress in many different ways. People who are under stress tend to look more haggard too. Short telomeres can lead to depression and vice versa. How much stress is too much? Stress and telomere have a dose-response relationship. A manageable level of stress is good because they build up your coping skills. However, chronic stress for many years will take a toll on you. Long term caregiving can lead to burnout and another cause is job-related stress. Short term stress is fine as it has shown not to have an impact on telomere length. The tactic is to try to get out of long term psychological toxic situations, where possible. It is also possible to use stress as a shield to help protect your telomeres. We tested the mums on how they coped with stress and found out that those who could cope better had longer telomeres. The fact is that people have different stress responses to the same situation. The threat response is not good as it should only be flipped in the event of an emergency. Stress responses can be bad and you must have an understanding of how your body reacts when feeling stressed. Anticipatory threat responses are bad because you feel stressed even before the event has occurred. One can see a potentially stressful situation and frame it as a sense of challenge instead. The challenge response is actually desirable. There are basically 2 different responses to stress: feeling threatened or being challenged. You can’t control difficult events in your life but you can shift the way you view the events. If you were brought up in a poor environment, you might experience the threat response more. However, it is possible to develop the challenge response over time. The human brain is powerful and predicts things ahead of time. Our emotions happen also because of our fabricated image of the world. We can choose to be challenged. Athletes see stress as a useful way to help them perform. Therefore, if framed in this manner, stress can be useful indeed. Learn to relax once in a while. We can choose where to place our attention in the moment. Anticipating a stressful event is bad for us. Hence, worrying over the occurrence of an event is really not a good idea. Chronic stress will weaken your immune system, causing it to weaken. We have a lot of T-cells, which helps us build immunity against viruses. The old are vulnerable to illness, because their T-cells have weakened. People with short telomeres tend to fall sick more easily. Shorter telomeres lead to more inflammation.

It’s not just from experiencing a stressful event, it’s also from feeling threatened by it, even if the stressful event hasn’t happened yet. – Elizabeth Blackburn

To Be Continued

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