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The Hallmarks of Aging – What They Are & How to Healthspan Hack Them

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Did you know that there are 9 things (maybe 10) that are slowly killing you? For a long time, it was thought that there was nothing we could do about them, but healthspan hacking offers a way to fight back.

We’ve known since the dawn of mankind, that, as we get older, we also begin to slow down. But it wasn’t until 2013, that the specific mechanisms by which this takes place was quantified. In that year, a paper was published in the journal Cell under the title The Hallmarks of Aging. In that article, the 9 categories of molecular and cellular damage that occurs as we age were described. (1) 

Each of the nine hallmarks of aging come under the domain of the metabolism, which is the name we give to the conglomeration of biochemical reactions that keep us alive. The nine hallmarks can be divided into three categories:

  • Primary
  • Antagonistic
  • Integrative

It is believed that the three primary hallmarks are the triggers of biological aging. These hallmarks always have a negative impact. The antagonistic hallmarks are good for us so long as they are not excessive. The integrative hallmarks are the result of the damage caused by the previous two categories.

The 9 Hallmarks of Aging Defined

Genomic Instability

You can think of your genome as the blueprint of all the cells in your body. In each cell are all the instructions to make the protein that it requires. As we age, this vital information becomes unstable, which results in DNA damage, particularly in the cell’s mitochondria.

Telomere Attrition

Telomeres are a bit like the aglets on shoelaces. Their job is to protect our chromosomes from damage. When these telomeres disintegrate, the cell will stop functioning. Each time, cells divide, the telomeres get shorter. Telomere shortening has also been related to aging. 

Epigenetic Alterations

Your epigenome consists of a number of chemical changes to our DNA that act like switches. When the switch is on, the gene is expressed and a protein will be produced. When it is off, the protein will not be produced. Our epigenome changes over the course of our life. These changes can negatively affect our immunity and increase inflammation. 

Loss of Proteostasis

Proteostasis results from a series of cellular mechanisms to prevent damage from dysfunctional proteins. As we grow older, the ability to maintain proteostasis declines, which results in a buildup of broken proteins. This is believed to contribute to such age-related diseases Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

The mitochondria in your cells produce ATP, which is the body’s main energy source. Mitochondria can be damaged in a number of ways, including mutation and oxidative damage. Damaged mitochondria will produce less ATP, resulting in reduced energy supplies. Mitochondrial damage is believed to accelerate with aging.

Cellular Senescence

When a cell becomes senescent it is no longer able to divide. These cells can be useful in wound healing but a build up of too many senescent cells is damaging to the body. Senescent cells also produce what are known as Senescence Associated Secretory Phenotype (SASP), which is thought to encourage other cells to become senescent. As we get older, the mechanisms that clear out senescent cells begin to falter.

Deregulated Nutrient Sensing

Our cells have the ability to sense when nutrients are close by in order for it to consume those nutrients. The insulin pathway, for example, tells our cells that there is an accumulation of glucose in the bloodstream. As we age, this nutrient sensing becomes less efficient, which could lead to deregulation. 

Stem Cell Exhaustion

Stem cells are the originators of all other other cells. Stem cells can become any type of cell, from a heart cell to a blood cell. As we age, stem cells are vital in replacing cells as needed. However, there is also an age related stem cell decline. 

Altered Intercellular Communication

There is evidence that aging affects the way that various systems in the body interact with one another. Aging interferes with intercellular communication in a number of ways. These include age related chronic inflammation. 

A Potential 10th Hallmark of Aging

Extracellular Matrix Stiffening

When protein molecules become fused together, crosslinking occurs. As these crosslinks become more abundant, the extracellular matrix that results stiffens. This has a negative impact on the functioning of the cells. This stiffening of the matrix is believed to increase as we age. (2)

How to Reverse the Hallmarks of Aging

From the above it may appear that the hallmarks of aging are inevitable and unstoppable. While it may be true that we cannot stop these hallmarks completely, a 2018 paper in the journal Frontiers in Endocrinology details how exercise can positively impact all nine of the established hallmarks of aging. The paper showed that exercise makes significant improvements to our cells, and emphasizes the  . . .

positive anti aging impact of physical exercise at the cellular level, highlighting its specific role in attenuating the aging effects of each hallmark. Exercise should be seen as a polypill, which improves the health-related quality of life and functional capabilities while mitigating physiological changes and comorbidities associated with aging. (3)

The researchers recommend performing a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training and flexibility movements with the following regularity:

  • Aerobic exercise – 5 days per week for 30-60 minutes daily
  • Strength training – 2 days per week; 8-10 exercises for 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions
  • Flexibility training – 2 days per week – static and dynamic stretches

References:

  1. https://www.cell.com/fulltext/S0092-8674(13)00645-4
  2. https://www.longevity.technology/evidence-for-tenth-hallmark-of-aging-increases-with-new-paper/
  3. https://estudogeral.sib.uc.pt/bitstream/10316/80903/1/Aging_Hallmarks_The_Benefits_of_Physical_Exercise.pdf
maya avatar

Longevity.Science Founder and Editor, is a healthspan hacker and entrepreneur. Following applying longevity science insights to her own life, and healing from a debilitating health condition, it has become her passion to make this knowledge accessible. Maya writes about longevity science, technology and the behavioral interventions that can help you maintain bodily and mental function for as close as possible to the end of life.

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