If you sit around and do nothing about it, you are destined for decay, even as you live! The good news is that you can do better than this. The same simple interventions that enhance health also drive longevity. Please take the time to LIVE in WHealth! Scientists debate the precise cause of aging. It is likely that no single factor is responsible. We know that there are both genetic and environmental factors at work. While scientists are interested in each theory, we just want to know what to do to live long and healthy lives. Here is my viewpoint based on the current science. Fortunately, the advice on living a long life is very similar to the recommendations for living a healthy life.
It is widely accepted that an age-related increase in inflammation is intricately linked with many of the diseases we fear, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer. Independent of these diseases, excessive inflammation is thought to be responsible for the underlying aging process. How does this inflammation affect our longevity?
A great deal of work has recently focused on the role of our genes in aging, essentially confirming the presence of the “biological clock”. It turns out that we have critical DNA elements known as telomeres that determine our longevity. Telomeres are DNA stubs that punctuate the end of our chromosomes (the DNA strands that house our genes). They play a critical role in keeping us young.
Cells are the building blocks of healthy tissue. Wear and tear damages our cells. To stay young, we build new cells to replace the old and defective ones. Each time we create a new cell, we must replicate our DNA, giving the new cell its own little package of genetic material. The problem is that each time we replicate our DNA, we use up a minute fraction of the telomere. When we use up the telomere completely, DNA replication cannot happen. We are then unable to create new cells, and our body decays faster than it is being rebuilt. It’s not hard to see how this accelerates aging; telomeres acting like the burning fuse of the time bomb!
The length of our telomeres affects our longevity. The longer the strand, the more we can replicate DNA to build new cells, and the longer we postpone the inevitable decay of aging. We inherit telomere length from our parents, so there is a good correlation between our parents’ longevity and our own. Inflammation has been shown to accelerate telomere dysfunction. If we can minimize the inflammatory changes associated with aging, we stand a good chance of prolonging our lives. Happily, reducing this inflammation also reduces the chance of developing the nasty diseases we all fear such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
One of the other major theories of aging involves the accumulation of oxidative free radicals. I’ve always liked this term. Although it primarily describes their chemical impact, it creates an image of roving bad guys! Free radicals are the end products of normal biological processes. They are harmful chemicals that damage our genes and tissues. Our genes are the biological blueprints that drive our health, so it’s clearly not a good idea to damage these. Free-radical-induced damage to our structural tissue results in many of the physical attributes we associate with aging such as stiffness, skin and bone weakening, and “hardening” of our arteries. One of the biggest problems with free radicals is that they damage our mitochondria, the tiny intra-cellular organelles that are responsible for energy metabolism. Disruption of mitochondrial function has far-reaching impact on other biological processes that all depend on good energy supply. Left unchecked, free radicals go about their destructive business, accelerating the decay of aging.
Fortunately, Mother Nature has designed a system that protects us against free radicals. Healthy cells contain antioxidants that round up and neutralize free radicals. When we are young, we have good antioxidant supplies that protected us against these nasty toxins. Our intrinsic antioxidant capacity declines with age, possibly related to inflammation. The accumulation of free radicals also initiates and/or amplifies inflammation, by turning on pro-inflammatory genes, resulting in a vicious degenerative cycle.
We can limit the excessive inflammation associated with both aging and disease. Exercise reduces the long-term build-up of harmful inflammation, and stimulates healthy anti-inflammatory chemicals. Fat cells encourage pro-inflammatory metabolism, so controlling weight is critical to countering the inflammation of aging. BodyWHealth’s Golden Rules #1 and #2 mandate these healthy steps. Golden Rule #1 calls for 10,000 steps on at least 5 days of every week. Golden Rule #2 recommends that you monitor your calorie balance and, if necessary, lose weight.
Recently, scientists have become excited by animal research that suggests that significant calorie restriction prolongs life. There is evidence that this reduces systemic inflammation and may have a direct effect on preserving telomere length. There isn’t sufficient evidence yet for us to recommend severe calorie restriction in humans, but the prudent diet and weight reduction we recommend is more convincing in the face of this data.
In summary, the prevailing direction of the body is decay. Inflammation plays a critical role in this process, affecting our biological clock at the genetic level and damaging important tissues and metabolic systems. We can expect fantastic advances from ongoing research, but the current evidence is compelling: We must exercise and control our weight if we want to live long and, more importantly, healthy lives!