There are many factors that determine your lifespan, some of which you can’t control (genetics) and others of which you can (lifestyle). A combination of these two forces determines your body’s “biological age,” which, in some cases, can be far different from a person’s chronological age. We all know a lifestyle that promotes healthy aging includes factors like diet and exercise, but could there be another secret to healthy aging — one that actually reverses the aging process?
The “invariant rate of aging” theory
Over the past several centuries, the life expectancy of both men and women in America has generally been trending upward. At the turn of the 20th century, the average life span was 46.3 years for a man and 48.3 years for a woman. Just 20 years later, in 1919, the average American man’s life expectancy had ticked up to 53.5 and women’s to 56.0.
According to the most recent data from the CDC (2021), the current life expectancy for a man is now 73.5 years, and for women, it is 79.3. The pandemic did lead to a slight dip in those figures, but as you can see, in just over 120 years, the average lifespan has increased dramatically.
You might think this is all a result of medical advancements, but a 2021 study led by researchers at the University of Southern Denmark and Duke University found that our lifespans are largely determined by the biological makeup of our species. Across all primates, the risk of death in infancy is high, then the odds of dying decline dramatically during adolescence and into early adulthood. As middle-aged adult primates grow older, their risk of dying steadily rises with time.
The study’s key finding was that, even with the many advancements we’ve made in the modern era, human’s “trajectory towards death” beginning in middle adulthood has remained roughly the same over the years —referred to as the “invariant rate of aging.”
But research being conducted by scientists at Harvard University might actually refute the “invariant rate of aging” hypothesis. In fact, researchers have discovered that they may be able to not only slow the aging process but actually reverse it.
Reversing the aging process at the cellular level
If you’ve read the F. Scott Fitzgerald story “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which was made into a movie in 2008, you know it is the tale of a man who is aging in reverse. Turning fiction into reality, Dr. David Sinclair, a molecular biologist at Harvard, has discovered a technique to actually make mice grow young.
Sinclair and his team of researchers have found a way to harness proteins that can turn an adult cell into a stem cell, in essence, turning back the clock on those cells and turning them into younger versions of themselves. In their research, these scientists were able to take old mice with poor eyesight and damaged retinas — a common age-related condition in both mice and humans — and by manipulating their damaged eye cells’ DNA, dramatically improve the mice’s vision.
And it wasn’t just a temporary improvement. “It’s a permanent reset, as far as we can tell,” noted Sinclair, “and we think it may be a universal process that could be applied across the body to reset our age.” In fact, studies are already being conducted to see if the processes used in Sinclair’s research can be applied to humans.
Four healthy aging tips to improve your cells’ health
Sinclair also is applying what he’s learned about aging — and reversing aging — to his own life. He notes that biological age is measured by cell health, not simply on chronological age (how long you’ve been alive). To maximize his cells’ health, Sinclair began a routine with four healthy habits when he was in his 30s.
“My calculated biological age has been going down for the past decade or more to a point where I’m predicted to live at least a decade longer than I would have if I hadn’t done anything,” says Sinclair, “so it’s never too late.”
If you are interested in living a longer, healthier life, and potentially even reducing your cells’ biological age, here are the four healthy aging habits that Dr. Sinclair says to follow:
Aerobic exercise three times per week
Whether it is running, swimming, power walking, or cycling, some activity that gets your heart rate up is crucial to nearly all anti-aging routines. Why? Because this type of exercise helps reduce cells’ aging by maintaining muscle mass, improving heart health, preventing obesity, and helping reduce inflammation in the body.
Intermittent fasting is when you consume all of your daily calories during a window of a few hours each day. Dr. Sinclair says this can help slow the aging process by increasing your insulin sensitivity, which in turn reduces your odds of developing diabetes. It also helps your cells eliminate waste products from your body, which can help you live longer.
Green matcha tea twice per day
Packed with antioxidants that can help prevent cell damage, green matcha tea is renowned for its anti-inflammatory ingredients, and some research suggests it might even help prevent the development of cancer. Dr. Sinclair drinks two cups of green matcha tea daily, and he also takes two resveratrol tablets, which is an anti-inflammatory compound also found in red wine and cocoa.
Coping with some stress is of course a part of life, but Dr. Sinclair explains that chronic stress and annoyance can result in increased inflammation. This inflammation can shorten your lifespan since it increases your odds of developing conditions like heart disease, obesity, and sleep issues, all of which also age your body’s cells.
The secret to healthy aging: healthy habits
The research being conducted by Dr. Sinclair and his colleagues is fascinating and could help people live longer, healthier lives. But the broader implication is that age is primarily based on cell health and not necessarily your chronological age. So, here’s the secret to healthy aging: By adhering to a healthy lifestyle, such as the one proposed by Dr. Sinclair, you can help improve your health and potentially even slow or reverse your cells’ aging process.
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