We all want to maximize our feeling of well being and the length of our lives. In most cases our genes have a lot to say regarding both the quality and length of our lives. However, there are things we can do to optimize both.
Until the 1990's, there was not a great amount of research on aging. Getting old was looked on as a natural process. Today there are many centers devoted to why cells age and what can be done to alter the process. Now researchers can extend the life of worms by 1000%, fruit flys by 400%, and mice by 50%.
Aging involves not only getting older, but also succumbing to chronic diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. The chances of dying from these diseases doubles about every decade. As we get older and our cells have aged, we are less able to cope with these illnesses.
Studies of centenarians reveal one common trait, their relatives were centenarians. They will commonly say, “my father lived to 103 and my mother 105.” Many have siblings who live to over 100. Researchers specializing in aging will state, “if you want to live to be a healthy 80-year-old, you have to eat right and exercise. If you want to live to be a healthy 100-year-old, you have to have the right parents.” Since we cannot change our genetics, even though genetic alteration techniques are being worked on, we can exercise and eat the optimal foods for good health and longevity.
Diet has long been recognized to influence health and aging. Starvation diets have been shown to extend life and delay aging in protozoa, insects and rodents. It is not clear the extend that limiting food intake will influence the aging of large mammals much less humans. There are strains of mice that starvation diets do not extend their lives.
Some researchers believe that foods produce free radicals which can oxidize biologic molecules and contribute to aging. Limiting food intake and increasing our antioxidants may limit our cell degradation. However, feeding rodents antioxidants does not decrease their rate of aging. So far trials on human populations consuming antioxidant rich foods, such as green tea, chocolate, onions, garlic, etc., have not shown any decrease in the aging of cells.
A chemical found in red wines, resveratrol, is known to alter the sirtuin genes, which are though to affect cellular aging. Initial studies of resveratrol were promising but recent investigations by large pharmaceutical companies have shown no benefit of resveratrol in delaying cell aging.
Limiting refined sugars and simple carbohydrates may extend cellular life by keeping the hormones insulin and insulin-like growth factor low. When these hormone levels are low over extended periods of time, some strains of mice live significantly longer.
Omega-3 fish oil has been shown to benefit lipid levels and improve cardiac health. An incidental finding has been that it also limits age related fraying or shortening of the telomere length, the protective caps on the ends of chromosomes that carry DNA.
So what should you eat to delay aging? Well, food alone will probably not allow you to reach 100, you will need the right genes. However, many foods can help you avoid age related diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiac disease. Eat vegetables and fruits. Avoid refined sugars and saturated fats. With the exception of omega-3 fish oil, supplements probably will not help to slow down your aging.
Exercise can moderate age related diseases by enhancing circulation and improving cardiovascular tone as well as improve insulin sensitivity. Strength training has been shown to alter gene expression. Researchers have looked at a group of 600 genes and found that after 6 months of strength training in people over 65 years of age, gene expression changed from that of a typical 65 year old to one more like that of a 20 year old. Regular exercise has also been shown to help maintain DNA telomere length.