HEALTH & WELLNESS
The secrets to longevity you never knew: what the science says
Everyone wants to live a long life, but what exactly is a reasonable goal to shoot for? The average life expectancy in the United States in 2020 was 77 years old. Chances are that you likely know of individuals that have long surpassed 77, and there are thousands of individuals that have surpassed 100 years of age (referred to as centenarians).
So what exactly are the secrets of longevity and good health? How do some people seemingly defy the effects of time and age gracefully?
Below is an in-depth look at what the science and research say about longevity, as well as things you can do to help your body age more gracefully. The passing of time is inevitable, but there are personal steps you can take to promote healthy aging.
What causes aging?
When discussing aging, most people focus on the physical aspects of aging, such as the appearance of wrinkles, crow's feet, and not as much pep in their step.
While these are outwardly apparent characteristics of aging, the process of aging first starts at a cellular level with a decrease in cellular efficiency and resilience.
Below is a closer look at the underlying cellular causes of aging and how they contribute to your body getting older.
DNA is one of the most important molecules found within your cells, essentially holding the instruction manual for every cell within your body. Every muscle cell, skin cell, and nerve holds DNA that provides information on how the cell functions, including how to make vital proteins, molecules, and structures.
Most cells within your body have a relatively short lifespan and require continual regeneration by means of cellular division. The process of cellular division requires your cells to make a copy of everything, including your DNA. Unfortunately, there is a biological roadblock to DNA replication that makes it difficult for DNA to replicate completely.
The easiest way to think of the DNA replication pitfall is to imagine you are copying an instruction manual, but every time you replicate the instruction manual, a page from the end of the instructions is lost. With DNA, every round of replication results in the very end of the DNA sequence being left behind.
The cells within our body have a clever workaround known as telomerase. Telomerase is an enzyme that periodically lengthens DNA with some extra code known as telomeres. This means that rather than replication shortening the DNA code, it simply cuts off some of the telomeres, which are there to act almost as a buffer.
Telomerase does an important job, but as you age, its activity can decline, which results in DNA shortening and a loss of genetic information.
This aspect of aging is considered the basis behind the human biological clock. That said, there are things you can do to live a healthy life and prolong proper telomerase activity.
Another hallmark of aging is a gradual slowing down of the body. To produce daily energy, the body requires a constant intake of nutrients including oxygen, sugars, and water. Your metabolism is how your body breaks down those nutrients to support your cells, turning them into a usable form of energy for the cell called ATP.
The body’s main method of producing ATP involves taking sugars such as glucose and breaking them down in a cycle known as cellular respiration. This conversion is performed by a cellular component known as the mitochondria.
The mitochondria work tirelessly to supply the cell with ATP necessary for them to operate. Processes like muscle contraction, cellular replication, creating proteins, and the firing of neurons all require ATP.
Unfortunately, the mitochondria can fall victim to time and become less efficient as you get older. The cellular respiration process creates chemically unstable oxygen molecules (a.k.a. reactive oxygen species) that work to steal electrons off nearby structures. Due to the proximity of the mitochondrial membrane, it can be an easy target to steal elections.
Luckily, the mitochondria have an innate defense against oxidative damage: CoQ10.
CoQ10 is an antioxidant molecule that protects the mitochondrial membrane. However, its concentration in our bodies can decline over time, which opens the membrane to damage and a decline in mitochondrial efficiency.
As a result, cells in your body become less efficient, which may contribute to premature aging. This theory of aging is known as the mitochondrial free radical theory of aging.
CoQ10 supplements exist, but they have a relatively difficult time getting absorbed and implemented into the body.
That is where MitoQ comes in.
MitoQ is a modified form of CoQ10 that increases its bioavailability and allows it to effectively integrate into the mitochondrial membrane and provide antioxidant support to your mitochondria.
With your mitochondria supported against oxidative damage, they can continue operating at their optimal efficiency — and so can your body.
Lifelong habits of centenarians
When trying to figure out the best way to live longer, perhaps the easiest method is to assess the common thread amongst individuals who have defied the odds and lived over 100 years.
Researchers like Dan Buettner did just that, and the findings were quite surprising. Not only were commonalities found between centenarians, but there were also five locations, referred to as Blue Zones, that had the highest concentration of centenarians in the world. These five Blue Zones are Loma Linda, CA, USA; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; and Okinawa, Japan.
Below is a closer look at some of the healthy habits that many of these centenarians in these regions hold.
Sense of purpose
A sense of purpose is something that many of these Blue Zone centenarians hold onto even in old age. In the United States and the Western world in general, this can be difficult, as many people tie their sense of purpose with their occupation and feel adrift upon retirement.
Retaining or finding a new sense of purpose as you age may be just the thing to keep your mind spry and help you to achieve a longer life.
Another interesting trend amongst many centenarians is in their food habits. Generally speaking, most centenarians eat well-balanced and healthy diets. However, there are also a couple of trends that many people over 100 years old follow.
The first trend is that many centenarians avoid overeating. This makes sense as overeating is a quick path to gaining weight, which is associated with a number of health problems such as heart disease, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.
The second eating habit shared by many centenarians is that they follow a mostly plant-based diet. Many centenarians are not full vegetarians but tend to have diets that consist mainly of vegetables. The Mediterranean diet is a prime example, as it consists of mostly plant-based foods with occasional consumption of meats like fish.
Another commonality amongst many centenarians is that they continue to be physically active as they age. These 100-year-olds aren’t going to the gym and setting personal records, but they continue to do everyday tasks like walking, chores, and housework that require them to stay physically active.
Sitting is widely considered the new smoking in terms of its long-term effects on your health. Most trends around the world show that people tend to become more sedentary as they get older. One possible trick to longevity is to resist sitting and stay more active even as you age.
Rich social life
The last attribute of centenarians is that they tend to have a rich social life. Getting older can be an isolating experience, but getting out more and making relationships is the trick to sustaining your youthfulness for years to come.
Whether it be hanging out with family, joining a club, or reaching out to neighbors, finding a sense of community can help improve your mental wellbeing and may also prolong your life.
In summary, living a longer life is all about doing your best to live a healthy life, and the sooner you take steps to support longevity, the better chances you have at living a long life. Science backs up the fact that eating healthy, staying active, and having good mental health all contribute to your ability to live a long and fruitful life.
6 research-backed ways to support your cell health
7 ways to be more present with your family