The following is part of a 3-part blog that considers how we can live long enough to live forever. In part 1, we will discuss why we age in the first place – what happens to our bodies and what is actually causing those symptoms. Part 2 will analyze what we can take into our own hands now to prevent and even reverse those symptoms. Finally, in part 3, we’ll take a look at what scientists are actively discovering and researching that will tackle the aging process head on and prevent us from aging past a detrimental point.
In Part 1 of this series, I drilled down into the root cause of the aging process, our cells – the very building blocks of biological life. We touched on a handful of processes and behaviors that cells go through and how each of those things affect our health. Everything from why our cells stop dividing, how some cells can stop dividing but resist death, and certain processes that jam up and damage our cells and thus our bodies.
All of these circumstances are of course natural but you may find yourself wondering why natural selection and evolution hasn’t worked out these bugs yet. What is the evolutionary benefit to aging and dying? Why hasn’t some gene mutation that resists aging been passed over generations until we no longer die of old age?
The answer to that is that the world outside of our safe bubble was and is extremely dangerous. When we were forest people surviving on nuts, berries, and fresh meat, there was a good chance that something was going to kill you – whether it be a predator, infection or other illness. This is true to all organisms so instead of natural selection trying to figure out anti-aging, it was easier to just keep us as strong and healthy as possible while we were fertile. After you’re done reproducing nature has no use for you, which is why we see such a fast decline after 30-40 years of life.
All considered, we’ve done a terrific job lifting ourselves out of the food-chain and healing almost anything that gets us sick. In fact, you’re nearly twice as likely to commit suicide than be killed in conflict and you are at far more risk of obesity than starvation. Increasingly, scientists and researchers are now looking inside our own bodies to keep us alive and healthy. In the third and final part of this series, I will demonstrate examples and ideas that are happening now and on the horizon that will slow down, or potential shut off, the triggers that cause us to age. However, none of that will count for anything if we do not reverse the behaviors and actions that have lead to a nation where two-thirds of the population is overweight, one-third is pre-diabetic or diabetic, and over 40% has a chronic disease.
Just consider these two contradicting and popular thoughts on our future live span:
- “Today’s children will be the first generation that will not outlive their parents.”
- “The first person to live to 150 years old has already been born.”
These thoughts can live synchronously because I believe we are heading in the direction of a similar type of gap as the income inequality gap that we see today, something I call The Longevity Inequality Gap.
If healthcare and technological improvements continue in the same manner as they are today, we will likely see a large population that is dying at an early age while the “wealthy” (see my first blog) will live on the opposite spectrum – pushing past 120 years and taking advantage of treatments that extend their life span at a faster rate than they age.
This is the point of this blog, to not only warn you of the behaviors and actions that result in early death and a low quality of life, but to excite you to become healthy in order to take advantage of an increasingly exciting future. Below lists the four main environmental factors that affect our cells and longevity.
- What you shouldn’t eat: Let’s start here, as most American’s diets mostly damage their bodies as opposed to healing it. I like to look at the typical food American’s eat and consider it not food, but “food-like products”. We evolved to respond to and repeat rewarding things. The food industry understands this and actually hires biologists and chemists to study the effects certain foods have on your brain. This leaves you literally addicted to the type of refined carbs, sugar, salt and oil that fill their products. Study after study confirms that processed foods (basically anything that comes in a box, wrapping, or package) causes damage to our DNA and slowly destroys our bodies. Consider the new studies from the World Health Organization that rank processed meats (lunch meat, hotdogs, bacon, fast-food meat, etc.) in the same cancer-causing category as cigarettes, asbestos, and arsenic. Of course, the refined carbs and sugar we consume with this meat significantly influences these risks. Before putting something into your mouth, ask ‘will this heal my body or damage it?’ There is a black and white answer to everything edible. Stop eating food-like products (yes, even if the marketing says it is healthy).
- What you should eat: Let’s put all diet trends aside – everything from low-carb to low-fat. I’ve learned that individuals metabolize and react to foods and different diets very differently and the reactions depend on a factor of things. This is why we’re seeing a boom in at-home genetic tests. So while Dr. Oz and some nutritionist argue about the best diet, all you need to worry about for maximum health is one thing: eating real food! 117 Million Americans suffer from a preventable chronic disease. I can almost guarantee that the majority of those people would’ve prevented those diseases had they been eating a diet that consisted of real food. In fact, remember from Part 1 how I explained that cells delete damaged DNA through a process call apoptosis? A University of Wisonsin-Madison study shows a list of foods that induce apoptosis of cancer cells; some of those include green tea, legumes, berries, green vegetables, and tomatoes. I’ll have a blog that goes more in detail here, but if you’re not sure what is real, ask yourself simple questions: Did it exist two-thousand years ago? Did it grow out of the ground? Was it made in a factory? Was it raised in a factory or was it wild/free roaming? Still not sure? Check the ingredients list – are those ingredients real? If the list has over 5 ingredients it is likely a food-like product. Try to shoot for at least 90% of your diet to be real food (naturally grown and raised).
- When to eat: Another process that damages cells that we reviewed in Part 1 was autography, or the self-eating of damaged cells. This process gets jammed up and the damaged cells overwhelms your body. Researchers are finding more and more evidence to show how intermittent fasting (about 14-16 hours without food) and other forms of fasting/calorie restriction encourages autography.
When thinking of types of exercise that is best for you, it’s helpful to realize that like food, all of our bodies are very different. Not only do we have different shapes and builds, we also have very different goals in mind. My personal opinion is that it is best to be well rounded in all areas such as strength, mobility, flexibility, agility, and endurance. Someone who only strength trains is missing out on critically important body mechanisms; as is someone who only practices yoga, or another that only runs long distance. When looking at research at which type of activity encourages longevity, I’ve found two important trends of centenarians. One is that they’re avid walkers and when they do exercise it is brief but high intensity. This combination keeps your body mobile, strong and agile late into life. The walking keeps the blood and body moving, essentially keeping everything ‘lubed up’ while minimizing damage to your joints and other body parts. This makes sense, as our ancient ancestors were almost always walking and moving around. In fact, the average steps taken by our ancient ancestors is expected to be close to 20,000 steps a day – better up that FitBit goal. The high-intensity interval training (HIIT), or cardio exercises that involves alternating between short periods of intense exercise with very short breaks, not only keeps you mobile, strong, and agile, but it also increases your mitochondrial capacity, which is what helps your cells create energy, function normally, and resist age-related muscle decline.
This section on sleep actually deserves to be placed first when discussing the environmental factors that affect longevity. Clearly humans function poorly when we are sleep deprived, implicating important areas of our life such as our diet, activity level, and stress. Even more, sleep deprivation has been shown to increase your risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. Not only does a lack of hours drastically effect our health, but so does that lack of regularity. An absence of quality sleep also has detrimental effects on our brain, increasing the risk of dementia, Alheimer’s, depression, anxiety, and even suicide. This is because inferior sleep damages our cells and DNA. There’s good news, however. Healthy sleep releases hormones that repair cells and replaces hormones that damage them, such as cortisol. This results in a positive domino effect and you wake with a higher functioning brain, stronger tissues and muscle and balanced hormones.
- Tip for easier sleep: Make it a priority. In fact, make it the most important aspect of your health and well-being. All else will follow suite. Shut off your TV and devices an hour before your designated bed time, do some deep breathing and/or a form of meditation before bed, make your room pitch dark and cold.
If extending your health span is on your to do list, then managing your stress needs to be another prerequisite. Remember those telomeres that shorten as we age? Well cortisol (the stress hormone), has been shown to significantly shorten telomere length. Not only that, but the feeling of stress is not just limited to our bodies – our cells themselves are subject to stress from certain hormones and even cigarette smoke or pollution. During periods of time when we aren’t under chronic stress, our immune systems age at a much slower rate. Either learn to manage your internal stress or change your circumstances to divert the stress, your body is depending on it.
In the third and final part of this series, I’ll explain the treatments and research that scientists are performing today that intervene with the processes that damage our cells and DNA – thus stopping the aging process in it’s tracks.
I leave this blog with one of my all time favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin:
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.”