Healthy aging: Science has some answers

The science of healthy aging

In recent years, we have seen more and more scientists trying to address healthy aging and even find a way to reverse the aging process. Their main motivation is the increasing life expectancy. David Sinclair, a Harvard professor, is one of them.

In 1988, he started studying the effect that the compound rapamycin has on aging. In 1990, he discovered that rapamycin slows down the progression of age-related diseases and extends life expectancy in various animal models.

David Sinclair, Longevity expert
NEW YORK-APR 29: Dr. David Sinclair (L) and guest attend the Time 100 Gala for the Most Influential People in the World at Frederick P. Rose Hall at Lincoln Center on April 29, 2014 in New York City.

David Sinclair was awarded for this work by being named one of TIME magazine’s “People Who Mattered” in 2008. In 2014, Sinclair was able to show that a drug called metformin can slow down the process of aging in mouse studies. He co-founded Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which sold its drug SRT2104 to GlaxoSmithKline for more than half a billion dollars.

Sinclair’s work revolves around sirtuins that are proteins that regulate the aging process. He discovered that sirtuins help activate genetic pathways for longevity and cell protection. These pathways are what he calls “the survival circuit”.

Activating the longevity pathways

In his 2019 book “ Lifespan: Why We Age―and Why We Don’t Have To” , Sinclair explains how aging is not an inevitable phenomenon, but rather a definite factor that can be controlled. The book explains the three main processes in which our cells age and how we could find treatments for aging in our lifetime. 

However, Sinclair is conscious that we will have to wait a few more years, so he also touches on ways we can slow down the aging process now, which is something we all want.

He describes five things that anyone can do now and that activate the same healthy aging pathway that he targets with his drugs. Best of all they are all natural and don’t require spending any money, or taking any pill.

Healthy aging tip 1: Go fast

Autophagy is a process associated with longevity and anti-aging. By “eating” or breaking down their own cellular structures, cells are able to recycle materials and live longer. Recent studies suggest that periods of calorie restriction activate autophagy to help the body adapt to the lower energy state. It has been long believed that fasting increases the level of autophagy in the body and it can be beneficial for improving brain function.

Fasting or eating less is a sure way to activate your protective survival circuit

The process of autophagy is one of the most important biological mechanisms involved in cellular recycling and renewal. Autophagy helps to maintain a healthy metabolism and other bodily functions.

Fasting causes autophagic activity by inducing low blood sugar, low insulin levels, reduction in nutrients, reduction in growth factors, an increase in stress hormones like cortisol, etc. These are all triggers for cells to start cleaning up their act.

Sinclair recommends to eat less in general, and fast if you can, at least once a week. He himself rarely eat lunch, which is equivalent to intermittent fasting, and fast at least once a week.

Healthy aging tip 2: Go green

We talked about veggies in our post about the 39 most popular diets. There is little debate that a plant-based diet is the healthiest diet for humans. A plant-based diet has many benefits to our health and can also lower risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, type 2 diabetes and even cancer.

Veggies are good for you, mom told you so.

Sinclair’s perspective is that longevity is based on engaging survival circuits in our bodies that protect and conserve our cells. And to do so, we have make our body believe that the times are bad. Meat-based diets bring too much proteins at once, and with this abundance of raw materials, our bodies get complacent. The mTOR pathway specifically is activated too much, which is bad, if you eat too much meat.

Healthy aging tip 3: Go sweat

Gaining fitness is not just about looking and feeling better, it can improve your health and lengthen your life. One of the benefits of exercising is an increased length of telomeres which make cells in the body last longer. A study found that after a six-month period of HIIT training, older adults had an increase in telomerase activity and longer telomeres. The team also hypothesizes that HIIT could be used as a therapy for degenerative diseases such as osteoporosis because it increases NAD levels, which help to combat oxidative stress that can cause these diseases.

From Sinclair’s point of view, exercise is another type of gentle stress that will activate your survival circuits. He recommends to be out of breath a little, like running or HIIT, but it does not need to be hours, just 10 mn a day are enough.

Healthy aging tip 4: Go cold

Brown fat is a type of adipose tissue found in our bodies that is healthier than white fat, and has been found to both burn calories and produce high levels of the hormone noradrenaline. It converts energy from glucose into heat and releases calories, thus burning excess calories. Exposure to cold temperatures activates brown fat. It also can lead to greater calorie-burning and reduced appetite.

Good news: a bath is good for your health. Bad news: it better be cold – ice cold.

People have been using the tactic of iced baths to their advantage in order to activate their brown fat. Brown fat is healthier than white fat, and has been found to both burn calories and produce high levels of the hormone noradrenaline.

Sinclair goes beyond the fat burning benefit of cold. He highlights that cold exposure also triggers our survival pathways and generates the same benefit as the other gentle stressors. You can expect the same benefits from alternative exposure to cold and hot, as it is the practice in northern countries with the traditional sauna bath.

Healthy aging tip 5: Go pure

The presence of DNA damage accelerates the aging of a cell. As cells grow older and divide, they accumulate more and more damage and the aging process will proceed much quicker than it would if there were no DNA damage present.

There are many substances that directly or indirectly damage our DNA, leading to a mutation. For example: tobacco, alcohol, dioxins, heavy metals, pesticides and other chemicals can lead to genetic mutations. In addition, UV light and Xray are strong DNA offenders.

It is not possible to live a complete pristine life in our days and age, and even hunter-gatherers are exposed to toxic substances like poisons and natural pesticides, and get sunburned. Wherever you live, you can’t avoid radon, a natural radioactive gas, or cosmic gamma rays that come from the sun. However what you can do is minimize your exposure.

Sinclair’s view is that DNA damage is inevitable, until we have a cure, but you can be cautious and reduce it by taking simple steps. For example, do not smoke, do not get sunburned, do not eat predator fishes as they are known to concentrate mercury. Don’t get too many X-ray exams, and avoid living in basements or in stone houses, where radon accumulates. 

Go on now, start applying Sinclair’s tips

We want to live a long and healthy life. For this, we need to take care of our bodies and make the right choices. David Sinclair provides 5 tips that we can apply now, that will result in a healthier lifestyle and increase our lifespan.

If you are reading this blog, you are health-conscious, and certainly already apply some of them. Then it is not that big an effort. Check the ones that are not yet part of your routine, and give them a try. It may be uncomfortable at first, like the first time you fast or the first time you walk in the cold, but soon it will become a habit. 

You will feel strong and rejuvenated, and you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you do everything to extend your lifespan, according to the latest science. 

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