PUMPING IRONY: When Time Stands Still

A new study tells us that our cells can age faster than the rest of us, but I’m not sure I want to know.

We dialed our clocks back Saturday night, which left me happily ahead of the game all day on Sunday. Every time I looked up from whatever I was doing it seemed like no time had passed. It was like I had stopped aging for a day. Felt like I had unlimited free time, so much so that after raking leaves and caulking around the windows I climbed up on the garage and patched some holes in the roof. All before lunch time.

Einstein taught us that time is relative, and that sure seems to be the case sometimes. When I rolled out of bed this morning, for instance, yesterday’s extra hour had shrunk to something barely perceptible. I was once again aging at a normal rate — or as normal as a geezer like myself can expect.

This, of course, is all about perception.

But it turns out that time is also relative inside your body, according to a recent UCLA study. Researchers there have found that some cells age at a different rate than others. As Melissa Healy notes in the Los Angeles Times, their new body clock “measures DNA methylation — the process by which genes are altered as the body’s cells differentiate and their genetic programs change to meet new demands.” And certain tissues routinely grow old more quickly than the body as a whole, leaving them vulnerable to cancer and other diseases.

A woman’s breast tissue, for example, typically is two or three years older than the chronological age of its owner, according to the UCLA study. And cells that have been invaded by cancer tumors were 12 years older, on average. On the other hand, cardiac muscle tends to look much younger than a person’s real age. That’s probably because the stem cells that help to ward off injury and disease tend to remain rather plentiful throughout one’s life.

This all makes some sense to me. Cells that are under attack are going to show their age. But I’m not at all sure I want to know how old my prostate is, or even the gray matter inside my skull. Those UCLA researchers believe that information could eventually help them determine whether “anti-aging measures” were working, but to my way of thinking, the only anti-aging measures that are worth the effort is a good morning workout — and maybe dialing back that clock every fall to enjoy the brief pleasures of a day that never ends.

, an Experience Life deputy editor, explores the joys and challenges of aging well.

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