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Can you remember who you were and how you felt a couple of decades ago? And, if so, can that information help you to reverse aging?

We often hear the phrase ‘act your age’ and interpret it to mean to stop acting like a child. Yet, research by distinguished Harvard Social Psychologist Ellen Langer has turned that notion on its head. Professor Langer is convinced that our thoughts have a lot to do with the ageing process. This has led her to focus her research efforts on unifying the mind and the body in order to reverse the aging process. This is in contrast to the conventional medical process of treating the mind and body separately.

Turning Back the Aging Clock

Professor Langer is the author of eleven books, the most famous of which is entitled CounterClockwise. In that book, she relates an experiment that she conducted in 1979. In the experiment, 16 men aged in their late 70s or early 80s, were taken to a retreat that was made to look exactly as it would have in 1959. Every detail, down to clothing and TV shows replicated that era. (1)

The men were also treated as if they were twenty years younger. They had to make their own beds, assist with dinner prep and carry their own bags. The men were divided into two groups, with the first being told to act as if they were actually living in 1959. The second group were told to reminisce about their past life.

The results of the study were very interesting. All of the men showed improvements in hearing, memory and vision. Yet, the men in the first group, who acted as if it were 1959, also improved their gait, manual dexterity, flexibility and even posture. Two thirds of them also improved their intelligence score.

It was also noticed that, even though most of the men had been largely reliant on others prior to arrival, they all managed to act independently when expected to do so. 

Professor Langer has conducted a number of follow up studies over the last few decades that have confirmed her findings that the way we think radically affects how we age. One of these has come to be known as the Chambermaid Study. In that study, hotel maids were taught to view their work as healthy exercise. This change in mindset led to the women reducing their Body Mass Index (BMI), lost weight and reduced their blood pressure. (2)

Ellen J Langer
Ellen J. Langer, Ph.D.
Professor of psychology, Harvard university and founder of langer mindfulness institute
Photo taken from www.familyactionnetwork.net

In another study, it was found that a person’s level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction with aging was a determining factor in how long they lived. Study participants who had a positive view of aging lived an average of seven and a half years longer than those who did not.

Here is Professor Langer on the implications of her research . . .

Our attitudes, ideas, and beliefs are at least as important to health as our diets and our doctors. Our mindless decisions—our deference to doctors’ opinions, our willingness to accept diagnoses, even the way we talk about our illnesses—can have drastic effects on our physical well-being.

Ellan Langer

5 Key Healthspan Hacks

As a result of her life’s work, Professor Langer has some great heath hacks that we can all apply in order to improve our longevity and live more healthy, fruitful lives. Here are a five healthspan hacks that we should all put into practice:

  • Be aware of what is going on around us. Notice new things and be inquisitive about them.
  • Refuse to conform to an aging stereotype. Take inspiration from our superagers  [link to superagers articles] and break out of the box that society would love to confine you to.
  • Do not accept that getting older means getting weaker and sicker. Expect to be better each day. Commit yourself to healthy nutrition and regular exercise every day.
  • Do not allow yourself to be over helped by others. If you can carry your own bag, make your own bed and help out with the dinner, do so. Mollycoddling will make you older, whereas doing things for yourself will keep you young.
  • View yourself as a valued individual rather than a statistic or a number.

Summary

The way you think has a clear and direct impact upon the way you age, both physically and mentally. By thinking and acting younger, not accepting that you are over the hill and doing things for yourself, you will enhance your longevity and turn back the hands of time.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6615788/
  2. https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17792517

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

From the beginnings of human existence, we’ve been desperately seeking a way to stave off the inevitability of death. In recent years, the research into longevity has proceeded at pace. What has been discovered has threatened to overturn long held ideas. 

Take longevity itself. We’ve long though that our lives are like an egg timer with a set number of grains of sand constantly being depleted. By the time we get to ninety or a hundred, we run out of grains of sand and we die. Yet, recent research challenges that notion. 

The ‘Mortality Plateau’ Study; Can You Live Forever?

A study of almost 4,000 ‘super elderly’ people in Italy suggests that there is no natural limit to aging. Each of the study subjects were aged 105 or older. The researchers found that the risk of mortality increases as we age but then tapers off after age 105. They referred to this phenomenon as a ‘mortality plateau.’ After the age of 105, the odds of dying over the next 12 months level to 50:50. (1)

According to Jean-Marie Robine, a demographer at the French Institute of Health and Medical Research in Montpellier, the study suggests that humans could actually live forever . . .

If there is a mortality plateau, then there is no limit to human longevity.

– Jean-Marie Robine

The research, which was published in a 2018 issue of the journal Science, comes on the top of years of debate among researchers as to what is the limit of human existence. The conventionally held view has been that the risk of mortality increases until the age of around 80. After that, there has been much debate about whether the risk increases or not. Scientists looking at the same data have come to opposing conclusions, with some concluding that mortality risk keeps increasing as we get into our ‘super golden’ years, with others being convinced that the risk of dying tapers off when we close in and go beyond being a centurion. 

Prior to the 2018 study, the largest study on mortality limits was conducted by a team of geneticists out of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. They analyzed the ages of death of the world’s oldest people over the previous 50 years. Their conclusion was that human longevity peaked at between 115-125 years. They also found that there had been no significant increases in max life span since the 1990s. The overall conclusion of this study was that human aging had already peaked with the oldest record human. That was the French woman Jean Calment who died at the age of 122 in 1997. (2)

The Ongoing Debate: Upper Limit On Age or Not?

The results of this study were immediately challenged, with complaints being laid about the statistical methods which were used. One of the authors of the 2018 study, Ken Wachter, states that they went to great lengths to ensure that the records they collected were unimpeachable . . .

We have the advantage of better data. If we can get data of this quality for other countries, I expect we’re going to see much the same pattern.

– Ken Wachter

However, Robine is not so sure that the study is globally representative. He points to the fact that all of the participants were from Italy. He says that unpublished data from Japan, France and Canada does not support the idea of a mortality plateau. 

A global study of centurions is needed to provide a truly representative picture of what happens to our risk of dying in the super advanced years. 

 Jay Olshansky, a bio-demographer at the University of Illinois at Chicago, is another researcher who doubts the conclusions of the 2018 study . . .

You run into basic limitations imposed by body design.

– Jay Olshansky

Oshansky points to the fact that there are cells that do not replicate. These cells, such as neurons, will wither and die as we age and not be replaced. This in itself, he contends, places an upper limit on life span. 

There are around half a million people in the glocal centurion club. Researchers predict that that figure will double every decade to come. It has also been estimated that the age of the oldest person alive will increase by one year every decade going forward. 

Researchers are speculating as to the cause for the levelling off of the mortality rate in the super aged. A theory put forward by Siegfried Hekimi, a geneticist at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, is that the cells of the body reach a state where their ability to repair themselves offsets cellular damage. 

The 2018 study has  led to much debate among scholars with the inevitable result that more research will be forthcoming. Those of us who have a keen interest in longevity eagerly look forward to it. 

References

  1. Barbi, E., Lagona, F., Marsili, M., Vaupel, J. W. & Wachter, K. W. Science 360, 1459–1461 (2018)
  2.  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27706136/