Theories of anti-aging and life extension abound. Genes no doubt have a major role to play, and aging seems to be a programmed genetic decline that is inevitable. Yet the fundamental theory that interests us here is the idea of accumulative environmental damage to DNA, chromosomes, cells and cell reproduction over time, mostly caused by lifestyle. That is, how you live your life, day to day, and how you might arrest that process to some extent.
Much of this idea revolves around the role of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and their role in inflammation and the disease process. These ROS (free radicals) are reactive molecules created by certain life processes such as human digestion and metabolism, environmental pollution and toxic exposures including radiation, smoking, alcohol, even sunlight, and other excesses, including obesity. Antioxidant defences in the form of nutrients and antioxidant enzymes work hard to keep excessive ROS and the resulting oxidative stress under control. Although this process is fundamental to life, various excesses over time lead to damage to the mitochondria of the cell and perhaps to shortening of entities at the end of chromosomes called telomeres. This results in faulty cell division and reproduction, and thus aging.
That’s the theory of it, and there is a variety of experimental evidence in support, although the picture is not complete. Without genetic code modification, which may be possible in the near future, lifestyle change is likely to influence longevity, and certainly robustness, but only up to certain age limits.
The role of inflammation
Inflammation is the body’s attempt to suppress and heal infection and tissue injury, caused by any agent. In these circumstances, inflammation is usually self-limiting and subsides after the infection or tissue damage is adequately repaired. If tissue damage is constant, then one might expect a chronic inflammation to exist. An excess of reactive oxygen species might cause that ongoing tissue damage and thus chronic inflammation.
That seems to be predictably what occurs for many chronic disease states. Even though there are several measurable markers of inflammation, high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) is the blood test that practitioners mostly turn to for a measure of inflammation. hs-CRP is often elevated in conditions like obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. CRP levels less than 1 mg/L seem to be protective of heart disease and stroke. Greater than 3 mg/L increases risk of cardiovascular disease significantly. Vigorous exercise and low body fat lower CRP. Dietary factors are still being explored, but excess weight and insufficient exercise (sorry to say it again) will almost certainly be the prime causes, and there will be a range of dietary habits within the healthy eating paradigm that provide support, or at least do not contribute substantially to inflammation.
I should say, at this point, that the idea that dietary carbohydrates, in general, are a primary cause of inflammation, as promoted on some low-carb web sites, is nothing more than quackery and can be proven so.
The calorie restriction or intermittent fasting idea always gets good press when a new study is released. These studies are in rodents and primates and they tend to show increased longevity with reduced energy (food) intake with adequate nutrition. This means a diet high in nutrient density and somewhat low in calories/kilojoules. This is not certain to work in humans as a general recommendation, especially considering the trouble we have with essential overeating in society. However, this process could be simulated to some extent with a regular, vigorous exercise program that would burn off that excess glucose and fat and perhaps provide a metabolic profile similar to calorie restriction. That could be one reason why physical activity, but not necessarily formal exercise, often shows up in studies of the long lived.
What you need to know about lifestyle and longevity
- You can enhance your prospects for a long, healthy and strong life with a few fundamental lifestyle changes.
- It’s not complicated, although for many people, perhaps most, it’s not easy.
- Eat well, exercise, don’t get fat, don’t do drugs, relax, live and work in a clean environment, and stimulate your brain.
- You can’t change your genes but to a degree you can change the way they’re expressed by optimising lifestyle choices.
- From a motivational perspective, many people seem sacrifice want they want long term for what they desire right now. It’s worth being aware of that simple psychological function of the brain in relation to your health over time. Best not to wait until you’ve had a life-altering experience of illness or accident or loss before being motivated to change behaviours.