The Long and The Short of it is, that if you don’t do what you have to, to lengthen these little critters, you’re f******.
We’re talking Telomeres, naturally. The little caps on the end of your DNA. Basically the longer they are, the stronger your immune system and the easier it is for your body to fight off incoming missiles. If you tend to err on the side of nerdiness you can get the full gamut of a telomere’s raison d’etre in “The Telomere Effect” by Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD and Elissa Epel, PhD. If on the other hand you are a dad short on time and long on the need for short, sharp shock treatment to get the message and run with it, please let me reduce the lengthy tome to a few snappy sound bites.
If running after the Little Terrors all day every day gets your puff up, then you’re onto a winner. Exercise lengthens your telomeres! Weight lifting’s sorted when you’ve got twins; one under each arm. Lifting kids, pushchairs, toys, shopping in and out of the car gets optimum results for the abs. Pushing the steady stream of kiddly-dinks on the swings is terrific for arms and chest; push-ups par excellence.
Chasing a tot running for freedom as it hurtles towards the dual carriageway does wonders for the glutes, hamstrings and calf muscles and is great as a heart-pounding workout.
You can also double up on playing, whilst doing ‘the plank’, if you allow the full cohort of mutineering Pirates at the children’s birthday party to climb on your back and walk the plank. When you’re hum dunk knackered, battered and bruised, and aching from a day’s physical exertion with the pint-sized members of your gang, you’ll rest assured that you’ve stretched those telomeres to the max.
Are you frazzled and psyched out by spinning plates, balancing kiddy schedules, squeezing in work, and sucking up complaints, requests, sulking, shrieking, tantrumming, wheedling, badgering and bargaining from your batch of micro-manipulators? It’s doing your head in, yet, nevertheless you pile guilt onto that lot because everyone tells you it all passes in a flash and before you know it you’ll be in bits as they pack up their rucksacks to go conquer the world.
‘You should be enjoying this’ is the message you have on loop as you charge through the battleground of the day. But let’s put you on pause right there. This is my big bug bear. Mind-Stress turns toxic in your body and is the equivalent of eating Big Macs all day. Conversely making little moments of mindfulness lengthens your telomeres!
Set your phone to remind you to breathe at regular intervals. Take five breaths: quick in, smile, slow out. Mindfully notice the weather and describe it in all its splendid detail as if you were explaining it to an alien, or small child. Write out three things before bedtime that you achieved: eg. a) chiseled breakfast out of child number one’s hair without ripping off half their scalp, b) listened to my fav tunes (not nursery f****** rhymes) whilst putting them in the bath c) survived another day.
The spiritually sound amongst you have got it sorted because, yes you’ve guessed it, sense of purpose and meaning in your life lengthens your telomeres! OK so it might be that simply getting through the day is the main thrust in your engine, so lets call it higher purpose instead.
Something lofty like raising your little mites and turning them into great grown-ups will certainly help as you drag your limbs through the muddy mire of minimising homework hazards and frog-marching your rebel rousers through their piano practice drills.
You’re Top Dad, leading the troops through the ups and downs of family life towards the great goal of catapulting brave new adults into ‘infinity & beyond.’
And yet here you are, hunkered down in the trenches, trying to get from A to B on teatime plates of Alphabetti Spaghetti without losing your rag. That’s about as spiritual and purposeful as you’re feeling. So put the big vision aside for now and look to your small people. They have the secret. Watch them when they’re scribbling or finger-painting; tongue poking out in concentration, lost to the world around them. They’re in the flow, in the moment, transported to their own faraway lands of the imagination. They’re in the spiritual zone. Pick up those crayons and get to it, because that’s where you get to lengthen your telomeres!
Lou Hamilton str/j/uggles being a writer, artist, coach, filmmaker, raiser of two young people who keep flying the nest, and author of Brave New Girl (How to Be Fearless. Published by Orion Spring). She now turns her attention to the men with Brave New Guy.