WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -Your health undoubtedly benefits from exercise, a balanced diet, and stress management techniques. But a new study published by The Lancet Oncology shows that a healthy lifestyle might also be the fountain of youth for your cells.

The data revealshow healthy habits can slow the aging process at the cellular level.

The secret lies in the bits of DNA protein at the end of every chromosome. These ends, called telomeres, directly affect how quickly or slowly cells age.

The shorter the telomeres, the faster the cells age, and the likelier a person is to suffer from cancer, obesity, strokes and other age-related diseases.

Researchers conducted the study by comparing two groups of men with prostate cancer. A group of 10 men made positive lifestyle changes. They adopted a plant-based diet, exercised, practiced stress management and upped their social lives.

A control group of 25 men made no changes at all.

The control group that made no lifestyle changes saw an average decrease of 3% in the length of their telomeres -- putting their cells at risk for faster aging.

But the men who made positive lifestyle changes saw an average increase of 10% in their telomeres. Their healthy habits helped slow the aging process of their cells.

Because the study was small-scale and specific to men with prostate cancer, larger studies will have to be done to confirm the results. But researchers are confident that other people could benefit in the same way.

"If validated by large-scale, randomized controlled trials, these comprehensive lifestyle changes may significantly reduce the risk of a wide variety of diseases and premature mortality," said Professor Dean Ornish, who led the pilot study along with colleagues from thePreventive Medicine Research Institute and the University of California.

Our telomeres are partly genetic, but the new study shows we may have more control over them than previously assumed.

"Our genes, and our telomeres, are a predisposition, but they are not necessarily our fate," Ornish said.

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