Living Younger Longer Strategies for living a longer, healthier life.
Q: Getting older is a fact of life, but is there anything I can do to slow or prevent the signs of aging?
A: I hate the term “antiaging.” It’s come to mean skin creams, wrinkle treatments, and fly-by-night “Low-T” clinics. What I do like is the notion of increasing our health span, which refers to the number of years you’re healthy and disability-free, as opposed to just the number of years you’re alive. That’s the kind of “anti-aging” medicine I care about. As Dr. David Williams writes, “When it comes to our bodies, performance takes a backseat to aesthetics. We tend to place more importance on how we look than how we feel or function.”
Happily, when you do the things that increase your health span, you often wind up looking a lot younger as well. So let’s focus on how you can increase the percentage of your life that you feel great and perform well.
We have good reason to believe that these techniques, treatments, and lifestyle choices can make a huge difference in your overall health, vigor, and engagement in life. Welcome to the field of what’s now called age-management medicine.
WHAT ABOUT GENES?
I know you’re probably thinking, Don’t genes matter? Sure they do, but not nearly as much as you’d think. Take heart disease, for example, one of three diseases that account for more than 60 percent of the deaths in the United States. Genetics are a factor in 10 percent of your risk for heart disease, but lifestyle choices contribute to the other 90 percent. In the Nurses Health Study, for example — which involves more than 84,000 women — these five behaviors resulted in an astonishing 83 percent reduction in the risk for major coronary events (including those that typically result in death):
1. Not smoking 2. Consuming alcohol in moderation 3. Moderate exercise (like walking) 4. Eating healthfully 5. Maintaining a healthy weight
That takes care of the “living longer” part of the equation. But what about the “living well” part?
SUPPLEMENTS AS LIFE HACKS
Aging starts at the cellular level. There are about 37 trillion cells in the body, and these incredibly complicated structures have dozens of important roles to perform, from detoxification and energy creation to fat burning and DNA protection. Here are three categories of supplements that work on the cellular level to protect your health and add years to your life.
AMPK, an enzyme that’s produced in the cells, increases metabolism and helps burn fat. It also improves insulin sensitivity (a marker for diabetes and other metabolic disorders), benefits the heart, and helps decrease inflammation.
AMPK activation declines as we age, so keeping AMPK activated goes a long way toward promoting healthy aging. Some companies now market AMPK activators as an oral supplement.
SIRT Gene Stimulators
One of the most effective ways to extend life is to reduce calories. For years, the search was on to find something that could accomplish this feat. They found it: resveratrol.
Calorie restriction activates genes associated with longevity. These genes — known as the
SIRT (or sirtuin) genes — could also be activated by a substance found in red wine called resveratrol, which became known as an “anti-aging” supplement.
Even more exciting than AMPK activators and SIRT gene modulators is a recently discovered form of vitamin B3 called nicotinamide riboside. It’s been clinically shown to boost NAD, a substance in every cell without which we basically fall apart.
In the cell, NAD is needed for every single one of the cell’s metabolic operations, including fat burning, detoxification, energy production, and protection of DNA. We make less NAD as we age, slowing down cellular operations.
Unfortunately, NAD supplements don’t work very well, so we need to “trick” the body into making more NAD on its own. About 10 years ago, a professor of biochemistry named Charles Brenner, PhD, discovered nicotinamide riboside, which has been clinically shown to significantly boost NAD stores.
Hormones have been wrongly blamed for everything, but the idea that “it’s all about hormones” has some grounding in fact. Hormones are absolutely essential messengers that tell cells, organs, tissues, muscles, and bones what to do. They are drivers of behavior and physiology. And they influence everything from your sex drive to your ability to burn fat. They are powerful modulators of the whole aging process. And, as you might have guessed, they change a lot as you age.
You have more control over some important hormones than you might think — insulin and cortisol, for example. Want to reduce insulin? Stop eating so many foods that drive it up (like sugar, bread, potatoes, corn, rice, and processed carbs).
Want to reduce your main stress hormone, cortisol? Chill out! Cortisol is deeply affected by your mood and is raised every time you’re stressed. You can lower it with deep breathing or meditation.
But when it comes to the sex hormones — testosterone, estrogen, and progesterone — and the big metabolic regulators like thyroid, it’s a whole other ballgame.
For women, the wildly fluctuating levels of estrogen and progesterone during menopause and decreasing levels of sex hormones in general can affect everything from mood to energy to sex drive to bone mass. Women are also deeply affected by declining levels of testosterone, which is a powerful modulator of physiology and mood for women. Diminishing levels of testosterone for men affect muscle, fat, sex drive, and energy. And in men, very low levels of testosterone are associated with higher risk for cardiovascular disease.
This is why many people choose to go on hormone replacement therapy. Done correctly, it can make you feel decades younger.
Dan Buettner, an explorer and reporter for National Geographic, wanted to learn the secrets of the healthiest and longest- lived people in the world. He found five areas around the globe that had disproportionately high numbers of people who were functioning in society at the age of 100. The single factor that all these areas had in common was relationships. The fabric of social connectedness may be one of the most powerful predictors of long and happy lives that we currently have.
Doing all or some of these things won’t turn back the clock, but they will increase the chances that your later years will be healthy, vivid, exciting, and empowering.