Can you reverse aging?
Sadly, not yet. You can’t reverse aging, but you can promote healthy aging. There are simple things you can do to age gracefully.
Strategies below will allow you to do what you love for as long as possible.
The anti-aging community uses the term longevity. Longevity is a function of lifespan and healthspan.
Lifespan is the number of years you live (thanks, captain obvious). Healthspan is how well you live as you age.
If your goal is health and longevity, then you want to improve both healthspan and lifespan.
I would argue healthspan is more important. What good is being old if you can’t enjoy those years?
There is good news! The research of longevity has come a long way in the last 10 years. We are learning more about how to live longer, healthier lives.
Keep reading for my tips of healthy aging.
Why do we age?
We age because our biology necessitates it (cell aging). We also age because of lifestyle / environmental factors that cause damage to accelerate aging.
Your cells age, eventually get damaged and lose their ability to function.
Lifestyle / Environmental Aging
There are external factors associated with your lifestyle that age you faster. These include:
These factors are bad for your cell health and your graceful aging goals.
How to Promote Healthy Aging
In recent years, our healthspan has increased due to better hygiene, nutrition, access to healthcare and improvements in medicine.
That being said, we still age. No one has the fountain of youth.
Much of the longevity field asks you to do extreme things to ward off aging. Are these necessary?
The jury is out on some things. Many of the tips below are proven by science.
So, how do you age gracefully and promote longevity while enjoying your life?
8 Tips to Promote Healthy Aging
1. Eat Nutrient Rich Foods
Everyone tells you to eat a certain way. In reality no diet ‘works.’ It is best to eat a balanced and micronutrient rich that covers all of your vitamin and mineral needs.
But, you also want to enjoy the food you eat and not feel like you are restricting yourself. Restricting yourself and ‘dieting’ leads to stress and anxiety about food: two other accelerators of aging.
I like Michael Pollan’s approach to eating which he outlined in his book: The Omnivore's Dilemma. He says: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
Prioritize vegetables on your plate, with small amounts of animal protein, fruits and whole gains.
So long as you eat lots of fruits and vegetables, you certainly don’t need to worry about the occasional cookie, slice of cake or donuts.
That being said, eating for healthy aging purposes is largely about removing things before you add in things.
You can get longevity benefits by limiting these inflammatory foods:
- Vegetable oils
- Processed sugar
- Trans fats
- Deep fried foods
- Ultra processed foods
- Artificial sweeteners
2. Lift Weights (or some type of resistance training)
As we age we lose muscle mass and with that: strength and stability. Unfortunately, so many causes of mortality come from a lack of strength and stability.
For example: a fall that would barely bruise you at 30 can be lethal when you are older. This is because you don’t have the strength to support yourself during that fall.
Also, after age 50, bone mineral density takes a sharp decline. This increases your risk of osteoporosis and osteopenia (1).
Weight training improves bone mineral density by putting your bones to work. Heavy loads stimulate your bones to remodel and grow, thereby promoting healthy aging.
You don’t get the same effect from cardio based exercise like cycling or running (2).
But where do you begin if you’re new to weight training?
Rule number one with weight lifting is to not get hurt. It pays to be conservative.
If you don’t like lifting weights, you can reap some of the same rewards by doing bodyweight exercises like squats, step ups and planks.
You can also simply move around more during your day. Hobbies like gardening and dancing are shown to benefit bone mineral density and promote longevity.
3. Remove Unnecessary Stress From Your Life
But, we all experience stress, so it must have some evolutionary benefit. What is it? Stress puts us into action and protects us from death.
From an anti-aging perspective, it’s a good idea to deal with the stress you can’t avoid.
But it behooves you to remove unnecessary stress from your life.
Why? Stress causes a higher risk of heart disease (3). Particularly work stress and stress at home will accelerate aging.
Chronic stress also damages your hippocampus in your brain. This region is crucial for memory and learning.
Stress is a known contributor to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons (4).
From an aesthetic point of view, stress accelerates aging of your skin, causing wrinkles.
There is good news though! There are many ways to decrease stress, I’ll list a few below:
- Exercise like weight training or cardio.
- Forest bathing
- Breathing exercises
- Ensuring you’re getting enough sleep
- Establishing a sense of community and belonging
- Maintaining relationships with friends
4. Prioritize Your Mental Health
There’s a reason airplane staff tell you to secure your own oxygen mask before securing those of your loved ones.
Mental health directly affects aging.
If you are not mentally well, you can’t help others and be a beneficial member of any community.
For some people this means being happy and keeping stress to a minimum.
Here’s a few suggestions to stay happy as you age.
Take up a new hobby
An active brain is a healthy brain. Your brain is plastic and constantly changing. It does this by recycling and adding new neurons (neurogenesis).
Learning new skills or hobbies stimulates neurogenesis which keeps your brain active and youthful.
My girlfriend took up pottery and loves it. I started climbing and really enjoy that. You can try: baking, painting or pickleball… the opportunities are endless.
Be a part of a community
Sebastien Junger argues in his book Tribe that we need solidarity in a time where we are split and divided.
Research consistently finds that a sense of unity and belonging bring about many mental health benefits (5).
Volunteer in your community, introduce yourself to your neighbours and get involved in causes that you’re passionate about.
Nurture your relationships
Interpersonal relationships with friends and family decay if they’re not nurtured. Relationships are crucial to longevity. Lonely people die 15 years earlier than those with significant relationships and social networks (6).
Get a pet
If you feel lonely then why not get a pet? I have two dogs and the benefits are tremendous.
5. Get Quality Sleep
Proper sleep is crucial to all aspects of healthy aging and longevity. Adults must aim for at least 7-8 hours (8).
Proper sleep is shown to lower your risk for heart disease, obesity, depression and inflammatory diseases.
Here are a few basic tips to get you a restful night's sleep.
- Go to bed and wake up at approximately the same time every day.
- Sleep in a temperature controlled room at 60-64 F (16-18 C).
- Sleep in a dark room or use a sleep mask.
- Get direct sunlight first thing in the morning.
- Avoid eating within three hours of bed time.
- Avoid drinking within one hour of bedtime.
- Decease screen usage within 1 hour of bedtime.
- Monitor your caffeine intake past noon (if you are sensitive to caffeine).
6. Stay Active and Walk (in nature if possible)
The beauty of walking is that most of us can do it. You don’t need fancy equipment or to commute anywhere to do it.
There are many aging benefits to walking. Walking makes you happy by increasing serotonin production in your body. Note: you need a brisk walking pace to get your heart rate high enough to get the serotonin release (9).
Walking also protects you from neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. It does this by increasing the size of your hippocampus as you age (10).
Walking provides basic cardiovascular training, which keeps your blood pressure and heart health in healthy range (11).
Lastly, walking helps ease aging by keeping your blood sugar in check. If you have diabetes or blood sugar issues, walking can certainly help.
A 20 minute walk after a carbohydrate rich meal is shown to decrease blood sugar response (12).
The best part about walking is that you can multitask. You can do it in nature, practise mindfulness and meditate while walking (checkout forest bathing).
Alternatively, you can do what I do and listen to books while you walk.
Not sure what your great-grandparents died of? It is a good idea to find out before it’s too late.
Do some research and ask your relatives about any health issues in your family.
This gives you a plan of attack if you are interested in healthy aging.
Talk to your doctor about your family health history. They will be able to provide the necessary screening to ward off any age-related chronic diseases.
You can take healthy aging a step further and get your genome sequenced. This will tell you what chronic health issues you may be susceptible to based on your genes.
*BONUS* 8. Eat a Tiny Bit Less or Consider Fasting
I debated including this on the list as I am torn. Let me explain why.
The science is showing that different types of fasting or caloric restriction can be beneficial to longevity and healthy aging.
On the other hand, in the West, eating less or fasting dips too far into diet culture for me to feel comfortable writing about it without this caveat.
The strategies below can lead to disordered eating patterns and orthorexia. Orthorexia is being obsessed with healthy eating.
I’m not a particular fan of any diets because they are not sustainable and do not result in long-term changes. Moreover, ‘yoyo’ dieting is incredibly dangerous to your mental health and physical health.
With that out of the way, here’s why anti-aging experts are so enthused with fasting and caloric restriction
Eat until you are 80 percent full
Japan and particularly the island of Okinawa live by a phrase called ‘Hara Hachi Bu.’ This translates to ‘eat until you are 80 percent full.’
Okinawans over 65 have the highest life expectancy in the world. Men and women are expected to live until they are 84 and 90 respectively.
Not only that, they are about 5 times less likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer. And 2 times less likely to develop neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease (13).
So what is the mechanism behind eating less leading to longevity?
Fewer calories will reduce your body weight and the amount of oxidative damage your cells have.
This ensures you are not obese as you age. Obesity is associated with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic health issues that shorten lifespan (14).
I’ll note that this research, while incredibly impressive, falls prey to the ‘health user bias.’
Simply put: Okinawans do other things that contribute to longevity then just eating until they are 80 percent full. They do other activities that probably help with healthy aging like those listed above.
Fasting for healthy aging
Fasting is a popular strategy for losing weight. Those who fast claim it is easy to maintain a weekly caloric deficit because well… you are not eating anything for a period of time.
Does fasting promote healthy aging?
A recent study showed that four weeks of alternate day fasting improves biomarkers of healthy aging. This includes a decrease in fat mass and a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease (15).
I’ll list a few of the more popular fasting protocols below. See my in-depth article on fasting with bone broth for more detail.
1. Intermittent Fasting
Reducing the time you eat your meals to a specific window during the day or week.
There are a couple of popular types of intermittent fasting.
16/8: 16 hours fasting followed by 8 hours of eating in any 24 hour period.
Eat Stop Eat or 5/2: fasting for one or two full days per week.
2. Periodic Fasting
Some fasters will fast for three to five days at a time. This prompts your body to deplete all of your energy and glycogen stores to begin ketosis.
The idea here is that you need to get to at least 3 days into a fast for the autophagy and cellular cleaning effects to begin in your body. It is largely unproven.
3. Time-Restricted Feeding
Basing your daily meals around your sleep cycles. Similar to intermittent fasting, most will eat their meals within an 8-12 hour period of the day.
4. Fasting Mimicking Diets
A diet that controls your calories (~1000 calories per day) for five days. The process mimics fasting without completely depleting your nutrients.
Fasting mimicking diets are thought to be safer than long fasts without food. They are also easier to comply with for some people, but very difficult for others.
The Bottom Line on Healthy Aging
Aging is something you cannot ignore. You are best to start now if you want to live a long and healthy life.
There are simple strategies you can use today to promote longevity and healthy aging.
Did I miss anything? What is your favorite tip for healthy aging? Leave a comment and let me know.
Images via Zinkyvech Getty Images