Death is coming for all of us. But recent research points to interventions in diet, exercise, and mental outlook that could slow aging and age-related diseases – without risky biohacks such as unproven gene therapies. A multidisciplinary approach involving these evidence-based strategies “could do everything right,” said Valter Longo, a biochemist who heads the Longevity Institute at the Leonard Davis School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California.
There is some debate, however, over how much we can increase our longevity. All humans share 99.9% of their genes. This explains why even “super-ages,” born with tiny genetic differences that promote longevity, almost never exceed 110. (Jeanne Louise Calment from France was an outlier, living to age 122, the current record.) Some animals do. well beyond that mark, according to Jan Vijg, molecular geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Scientists know only one way for humans to live 170 years like a giant tortoise: to become a giant tortoise.
Some experts believe it is likely that someone will set a record for our species by the end of this century. Statisticians have observed a “mortality plateau” for the very old; although the chance of dying in any given year increases with age, the odds seem to stop increasing after 105. Beyond that plateau, it’s basically a draw every year: face you will see your next birthday, face you will not see it.
But the mortality plateau is often debated. While it’s true that the risk of death is leveling off, that won’t necessarily lead to super-ages alive longer than before. Susan Alberts, a primatologist at Duke University, published an article comparing the rate of human aging to that of other primates. Maximum human life expectancy has increased by about three months per year since the mid-1800s, but this can be explained by fewer early and mid-life deaths. Alberts found that the rate of decline in old age remained the same, reflecting other species. She believes maximum human lifespan could be extended by continuing to “avoid early and mid-life deaths” which simply increases the number of people who could live very long lives.
Time will tell who is right about the lifespan of our species. What is clear is that certain lifestyles help individuals live longer than they otherwise would, including genetically blessed people. Harvard researchers have found that healthy habits extend life expectancy by almost 15 years. “That’s over $ 100,000 billion in savings on health care,” said Harvard biologist David Sinclair.
However, too few Americans can access healthy lifestyles, and we get sick and die earlier on all economic levels compared to other countries. Those under 65 in the wealthiest parts of the United States have a higher mortality than those in the poorest parts of Europe, according to a study released in September. “We’re going to pay if we don’t do something about this rising tide of people with disabilities,” said Judith Campisi, a biochemist at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
Longevity research findings may promote better health in older people, with fewer age-related illnesses and disabilities. And it’s interesting that many scientists believe that a certain amount and type of stress can help, through evolution. As Sinclair wrote in his 2019 book, “Lifespan”: “Our genes haven’t evolved for a life of pampered comfort. A little stress to induce hormesis every now and then probably goes a long way.
“Hormesis” is a process in which various stressors, such as those related to diet and exercise, appear to activate genes that slow cell growth and aging.
Using food to be wrong
Stress that is good for longevity can be caused by nutrition. Ideally, our ancestors enjoyed high protein red meat for optimal energy and performance. But when hunting expeditions failed, people resorted to resistant plants. Today our body still induces a state of scarcity if we consume a lot of vegetables, activating the longevity genes. Indeed, such a diet is associated with a longer lifespan, according to the Harvard study. Becoming a full-fledged vegetarian is probably not necessary, but, to maximize what longevity experts call “shelf life,” at least 50% of protein should come from plant sources, Longo said.
He advises getting other proteins primarily from oily fish while moderating your intake of starchy carbohydrates, such as pasta and potatoes. Research has shown that older people who regularly eat these carbohydrates may be more likely to suffer from dementia. Try replacing them sometimes with foods such as lentils or extra vegetables, which contain more fiber and minerals than refined carbohydrates, said Kris Verburgh, nutrigerontologist and author of “The Longevity Code.”
Another sign of scarcity that seems to activate longevity genes is the restriction of all foods, which has been shown by decades of animal studies to lengthen lifespan. Although fasting with water alone for several days can be dangerous, “mimic fasting” diets – very low calorie five-day diets that trick the body into thinking it is fasting while allowing certain foods. and nutrients – have been found to be safer. Longo believes that such diets “will play a major role in maximizing longevity”.
Research continues on various fasting diets. In a preprint review, Matt Kaeberlein, a biogerontologist at the University of Washington, found limited evidence that avoiding eating during specific windows of the day, without reducing overall calorie intake, increases the lifespan of mice. . When the calories are reduced, some genetic strains of mice seem to benefit, but others actually die faster. Calorie restriction “could improve longevity in some people while shortening lifespan in others,” Kaeberlein wrote.
“We are starting to find flaws with some extreme diets,” Campisi said. The best approach, she said, “is dietary restriction without malnutrition”. The real benefit of fasting, she added, might just come from weight loss. “Obesity is a risk factor for inflammation,” and low-grade chronic inflammation can accelerate aging in a process called inflammation.
Sinclair only eats once a day, at dinner time. “When you eat maybe more important than what you eat,” he said, referring to animal studies. “It’s easy to say that mice aren’t humans, but there are some big lessons to be learned. “
Exercise, but in moderation
Exercise can further simulate the stressful environments of our ancestors, some experts say, which can trick your genes into extending your lifespan. Do not overdo it.
In August, the Mayo Clinic published research suggesting an optimal amount of exercise: People who exercised 2.6 to 4.5 hours per week since the 1990s were about 40% less likely to die than those who exercised less. Cardio training can prolong longevity by increasing the number of mitochondria, the “powerhouses” within cells. When scientists damage mitochondria in mice, animals die faster and mitochondrial dysfunction leads to inflammation in humans, Campisi said.
High intensity interval training, or HIIT, can be particularly effective in increasing longevity. K. Sreekumaran Nair, an endocrinologist from Mayo, found that 12 weeks of HIIT reversed many age-related differences in how older people synthesize protein, buffering their mitochondria. Strength training can also partially reverse aspects of aging.
As with fasting, don’t go overboard. “Some kids want to do too much of everything,” Nair said. “There is no data that working above a certain level gives you better mitochondria.” Being in very good aerobic shape can reduce the risk of mortality, but the August article suggests a sweet spot for Goldilocks; exercising more than 10 hours per week was linked to a shorter lifespan. Previous research has shown an association between extreme exercise and health problems, such as premature aging of the heart.
Nair suggests doing 35 minutes of HIIT three days a week; do two non-consecutive weight training days, focusing on the abdominal muscles, arms and legs, with three sets for each muscle group; and take walks of 7,000 to 10,000 steps the other two days. He also recommends trying to get at least three minutes of movement after every hour of sitting.
But keep in mind that these diets and exercise programs cannot magically undo a life of mistakes. A young person’s lifestyle will “resonate for decades,” Sinclair warned.
Beyond diet and exercise
Sinclair noted another factor in longevity: long-term romantic relationships. In a study of nearly 80 years, researchers found that the most important factor for a long, healthy life is having a close partner. Lynne Charnay, a 96-year-old actress who still performs on stage, attributes her longevity to marital bliss – a double dose. “I didn’t have a fabulous husband, but two! Boxing regularly with your personal trainer in New York City doesn’t hurt either.
Another protective factor: optimism. In 2019, Boston University psychologist Lewina Lee discovered that optimism was associated with exceptional longevity. Take heart, Debbie Downers: optimism can be cultivated through intervention. “While optimism is about 25% inherited,” Lee told me, “the rest is due to environmental influences.” This may partly explain why people rooted in poverty, with little reason to be optimistic, die much younger.
But residents of low-income areas also have limited access to healthy foods and the opportunities listed above. That’s why aging experts have called for policies that improve access to healthy lifestyles, especially as discoveries about exercise, nutrition and other anti-aging interventions continue to emerge. evolve, promising more years of health to those who can afford it.
“We are still in the days of the Wright Brothers’ flight when it comes to longevity,” Sinclair said. “We still have a 747 and a Concorde to come, I hope, in our lifetime.”