I recently published a book called Harnessing the Nine Hallmarks of Aging which gives you strategies to age healthier at any age. In the book I translate the complicated insights from the Hallmarks of Aging paper published in the Cell Journal in June 2013 with the goal of making these insights available to anyone, regardless of medical training.
The Hallmarks of Aging describe 9 changes our cells go through over time that determine how well, and how fast, we age. It turns out, armed with the right knowledge, that we all can influence the aging process and that many of the things we know to make us healthier like a good diet, regular exercise and stress management all have a direct impact on the speed at which our cells age. But more excitingly, by understanding the 9 Hallmarks of Aging we can now adopt further strategies that will enable us to age consciously so that, rather than depending on good genes and a bunch of luck to get to old age with good health, we can take small steps everyday to massively increase our chances to arrive at old age with ease, grace and in good health.
What we have learnt about how our diet influences how we age.
We know following the Mediterranean diet is linked to longevity and health. Further insights from the Blue Zones, five places around the world where people live well into old age with good health, suggest that we should have a majority plant-based diet, have our largest meal in the morning and never eat until we are full can be added into the mix to further optimize our food intake for health. Recent research into diets that support longevity suggest that adding legumes to our diet could add as much as a decade to lifespan if started early enough. Further, it appears that there are benefits form occasional fasting. This could be as simple as missing the occasional meal to as radical as a full 5 day fast once every three months. What happens when we fast is that we turn on ancient longevity circuits in our cells that trigger something called autophagy. Autophagy is essentially a housekeeping process where the body identifies cells and cell components that are functioning sub-optimally and uses them for energy whilst the body waits for its next feast. Once we feed again the body rebuilds the cells and cell components it needs all shiny and new. This process, if we make it a life long practice, means that we are creating space for the body to run optimally and remove that which is not.
What we have learnt about how exercise influences how we age.
Alongside our diet, how much we exercise and how we exercise is important. Exercise is probably the single best intervention you can make to support a healthy and long life. Taking time to consciously build regular exercise into your life is incredibly simple and small changes all compound over your lifetime to your benefit. A stand up desk, getting out walking or running, finding a hobby that gets you moving, taking the stairs, have walking meetings, park at the far end of the carpark at the mall. All simple things that add just a little bit more exercise to your daily habits. Have a think on what you can do today to start building new habits. And of course, if you can, then add some resistance and cardio training into the mix. Resistance training adds muscle and the more muscle you have means you have more strength and more metabolic capacity. Getting breathless a couple of times a week with cardio exercise also is proven to be extremely good for you. Exercise that mildly stresses you creates an adaptive response that turns on many of the longevity circuits in your cells and will help you with better brain function, better mood, and better all round fitness.
Its not the stress that gets you, its how you manage your stress.
We all have to deal with stress. Our ancestors had stress around finding food and not being eaten in the process. Modern humans have stress in many forms that typically manifest as mental stress. Its well documented that mental stress has a physical effect on the body and this happens at a cellular level with changes seen with ongoing stress that are similar to diseases that cause accelerated aging syndromes. Interestingly, how we deal with stress is the difference on whether it will cause long term harm or not. If you have developed stress management strategies, then you can mitigate the effects of it on your cells. Stress management can be a simple as finding a way to relax, like exercise, meditation, recreation, or mindfulness. Make it a priority to identify areas of your life that are causing stress and then proactively find an activity that helps you keep chronic stress to a minimum.
Taking the steps outlined above will all have a positive impact on your long term health and I encourage you to get a copy of my book to get more into the detail of what to do in each decade of your life that will support a long life and better than that, a long healthspan – the amount of time you are on the planet free of disease. Extending your healthspan is achievable for everyone regardless of age but the earlier you start the better.
In my next article we will cover some of the new insights that we have around aging at a cellular level and what strategies you can adopt that are based on new understandings of what happens to your cells as they age. Its relatively new science but will enable you to age better than any previous generation of humans