Who doesn’t want to live a longer, healthier life? There is a difference between “lifespan” and “health span” though, and you want both. No one wants to live a long time without the ability to take care of themselves and enjoy the things that they love.
What We Know
We know aging is inevitable, but some things can slow down the common signs of aging that begin to show up.
You lose 3-5% of your muscle mass with each decade that you age after you turn 30 years old. It’s a process called sarcopenia, or age-related muscle mass loss, that happens as you age; between the ages of 20 and 80, research has found you can lose 40% of your muscle mass.
If you want to avoid being in a walker or ending up in a long-term care facility, you want to maintain as much muscle mass as you can. So, time to get out those weights! During the lockdown, we bought a weight bench and a set of dumbbells. We also did bodyweight training such as planks, push-ups on the kitchen counter, tricep pushups on the bench, yoga, and some physical therapy strength work we learned from a physical therapist. The key is, do something to maintain muscle mass.
Protein Intake Needs to Go Up
As we age we tend to eat less. Another common challenge as we age is proper digestion. 15 million Americans take a prescribed antacid and more than that take an over-the-counter antacid. These antacids interfere with protein digestion. We need stomach acid to break apart the protein into useable pieces called amino acids. If you are one of those on an antacid, read my article Why You Want to Stop Your Antacids.
We need protein to make muscle, but how much? At a minimum, the average person needs to consume 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. For a person who weighs 150 pounds, that would be about 55 grams of protein per day. It’s always interesting to do a food diary for three to four days and see how much you are consuming.
It’s also important that you consume quality protein. Meat protein that has been deep fat fried, and processed meats are some of the poor quality choices. If your budget can handle it, buy grass-fed beef, organic chicken wild fish, and free-range eggs. Yes, we can get protein from plants, nuts, seeds, and legumes, but you have to track your intake to make sure you are consuming enough.
You’ve heard this a lot with the pandemic, get your vitamin D levels up. Of course, we can get some from food and supplements, but the sun is amazing for this and something else.
As it turns out, research shows that getting sunlight increases the activity of Telomerase—or the building blocks of telomeres that protect cellular DNA from aging. The difference in morbidity and mortality of people who get adequate sun versus inadequate sun is as significant as a smoker versus a nonsmoker.
My husband and I will lay in the sun for thirty minutes without sunscreen (except our faces) then if we are going to be in the sun longer, we put on a non-toxic sunscreen. Of course, having a diet rich in antioxidants to protect your skin is super important as well.
Switching on Your Longevity Genes
As a Certified Nutrigenomics practitioner, I’ve looked at many, many genetic test results of my clients and it’s fascinating. We now know that based on your genetics, you may have risk factors that accelerate aging and increase the chance of getting a disease as you age. One of those is methylation.
A groundbreaking study just showed that you can make yourself biologically younger, by supporting your methylation pathways. This study took a group of men, ages 50-72 years old, and recommended specific dietary and lifestyle changes. Included in that was a high nutrient diet that included, quality animal proteins such as organ meats and eggs, large quantities of fresh vegetables, along with focused probiotics and polyphenols (natural plant chemicals.) They were also told to walk a minimum of 30 minutes five days a week and incorporate breathing and relaxation exercises for 20 minutes twice a day. Along with that was a focus on getting at least seven hours of sleep a night. All of this was focused on the methylation pathways.
Very simply, methylation is a process by which our body turns on and off genes. In other words, it’s phenomenally important for health and aging and is also well studied. This is why it’s important to know if your genes make you an efficient methylator, or a poor methylator. Markers that allow scientists to gauge someone’s biological age are based on patterns of methylation. This well-established chemical step forms the thesis for one of the theories of aging, which was the catalyst of the study discussed here.
What happened? After 8 weeks the control group (who changed nothing) left the study a couple of months older and the intervention group left the study 3.23 years younger, after just 8 weeks!
Leading epigeneticist and co-author, Moshe Szyf Ph.D., told a reporter:
‘The uniqueness of Dr. Fitzgerald’s approach is that her trial devised a natural but mechanistic driven strategy to target the methylation system of our body. This study provides the first insight into the possibility of using natural alterations to target epigenetic processes and improve our well-being and perhaps even longevity and lifespan.’
Where to start?
The wonderful thing about everything suggested here, weight training, protein intake, sun exposure, methylation support with foods, sleep, and relaxation can be easily done. Start with one thing. Is there an area of your life, when looking at this list that you know could use some attention?
Think of these as “switches” you can turn on for health and longevity. Decide which switch you are going to flip and stick with it until it’s a habit. This is not a fancy, new, anti-aging technique or product, but we know it works from looking at the longest living people on our planet who incorporate most of these foods and lifestyle every day.
Three Surprising Tips for Longevity From a Biochemist, Jason Wachob, June 2, 2021, mindbodygreen.com
Are You Getting Enough Protein?, Basch, Lea, M.S., R.D., March 30, 2020, mindbodygreen.com
Start Switching On Your Longevity Genes, Rees, Tim, May 2021, https://timrees.medium.com/start-switching-on-your-longevity-genes-its-easier-than-you-think-c6f52f51e7f7
DNA methylation-based biomarkers and the epigenetic clock theory of aging, Horvath, S. Raj, Nat Rev Genet 19, 371–384 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41576-018-0004-3
The Risks and Benefits of Sun Exposure, October 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5129901/