Demographers, epidemiologists, gerontologists, and other researchers on aging have long puzzled over the theoretical question of the maximum human life span, along with the host of proposed practices that could help us achieve that potential. In the past decade alone, we have seen a veritable laundry list of tactics we can use to make ourselves more age-resistant, from nutrients, vitamins, and pills – including vitamin D, aspirin, metformin, magnesium, pterostilbene, resveratrol, blueberry extract, nicotinamide riboside, and Rhodiola – to lifestyle practices such as shivering our asses off; self-imposed starvation; fecal transplants; strict veganism; injections of growth hormones, testosterone, stem cells, exosomes, and the blood of younger healthy humans; and speaking of younger humans, simply having more children.
How We Age
There does not appear to be one single cause of aging. When I interviewed anti-aging pioneer and impressively bearded Aubrey de Grey on my podcast, he outlined seven separate aging mechanisms his SENS Research Foundation (the acronym stands for “Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence”) has identified and researched: mutations in chromosomes, mutations in mitochondria, junk inside cells, junk outside cells, cell death, protein cross-linking, and cell senescence (a phenomenon in which a cell can no longer divide but does not die, which would let other cells divide).
These mechanisms are important to understand because in order to truly enhance longevity, we should ideally address each and every element that might be causing us to grow old too soon. As you’ll see, most are related to a simple accumulation of damage: breakages in the molecular machinery of cells, an accumulation of metabolic waste product that your body cannot break down, and the failure of biological systems that are increasingly unable to cope with the damage. Over time, this damage can affect every cell in every organ, structure, and tissue.
Underlying Causes of Aging
So what are the underlying causes of this type of full-body, systemic damage that occurs with age? There are a variety of factors that can aggravate or accelerate age-related deterioration, but the following processes are the major culprit.
Inflammation can often go on for years without your noticing until accelerated aging and disease suddenly set in. As a matter of fact, of the ten leading causes of mortality in the US, chronic inflammation contributes to at least 7. Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, chronic lower respiratory disease (asthma), cancer, diabetes, heart disease, influenza, and pneumonia.
Glycation occurs when sugars in the bloodstream attach to proteins to form harmful molecules called advanced glycation end products (AGEs). The more sugar in your diet or the more chronically elevated your blood sugar levels, the more likely it is that AGEs will develop, which can cause inflammation and cell membrane damage that can result in the development of degenerative diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, chronic kidney disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Methylation, the process of transferring a methyl group from one molecule to another, is a critical biological process that’s involved in removing toxins, growing and repairing cells, and metabolic functioning. Methylation deficits are linked to a number of health conditions, including diabetes and cancer, and are caused by a variety of factors including stress, nutrient deficiencies, and genetics.
A growing number of cell biologists have proposed that the number and functionality of mitochondria can determine your potential for longevity, and the one major theory of aging – free radical theory – posits that the oxidation of cells by reactive oxygen species (ROS) plays a leading role in the weakening of vital functions in aging organisms.
Fatty Acid Imbalances
Fat is a vital nutrient, and the human body needs an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids to support normal cell membrane function in aging cells.
Autoimmune diseases develop when your immune system turns on itself, resulting in inflammation and organ and cell damage. Autoimmune diseases are becoming increasingly common, especially in an era of chemical exposure, antibiotic overuse, and unhealthy guts.
Telomeres are the segments of DNA at the end of our chromosomes, often compared to the plastic tips of shoelaces that keep the laces from fraying. Telomeres prevent chromosomes from becoming damaged or tangling with one another. When chromosomes do become damaged, this can cause the destruction of genetic information, leading to cellular malfunction, which increases your risk of disease and overall mortality.
Geneticists and oncologists have long recognized that overexposure to environmental assailants such as chemicals and radiation can cause DNA damage and affect the way genes are expressed. Nutrient depletion and other environmental factors, such as electrical pollution and poor air, light, and water, can also alter gene expression.
12 Essential Habits to Enhance Longevity
1. Don’t Smoke
The negative effects of smoking are well known, and it is therefore not surprising that one feature of Blue Zones is a lack of smoking. Downsides to smoking include:
- Habit formation from the effects of nicotine on the central nervous system
- Withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, irritability, depression, headaches, and sleep problems when you try to quit
- Emphysema is the irreversible destruction of the air sacs in your lungs
- Chronic bronchitis is the permanent inflammation in the lining of the breathing tubes of the lungs
- Lung cancer
- The constriction and damage of blood vessels can lead to peripheral artery disease
- Hypertension is a condition of chronically elevated blood pressure
- Increased risk of stroke
The good news is that if you have been a smoker, much of the damage can be reversed. You’ll want to stock up on supportive nutrients and supplements as soon as you quit such as:
- Adaptogenic herbs or St. Johns Wart to support your adrenals
- Taurine to minimize damage to arteries
- Proanthocyanidins, a phytochemical found in red wine, grapes, apples, blueberries, black currants, hazelnuts, pecans, and pistachios to repair damage to your skin
- Polyphenols found in kale and sprouts to repair your lung’s alveoli and bronchioles
- Antioxidant-rich foods like black raspberries, extra virgin olive oil, and fermented forms of soy such as miso, natto, and tempeh to reduce the risk of smoking-related cancers or cardiovascular disease
- Green tea increases stem cells and repair blood vessel damage
- Foods high in vitamin E like eggs, nuts, and dark leafy greens
- Foods high in CoQ10 like salmon, beef, broccoli, and avocado
- Vitamin C-rich foods like grapefruit, spinach, and citrus fruits
- Foods rich in vitamin B complexes, like dark leafy greens, eggs, fish, and liver
- A full-spectrum multivitamin rich in antioxidants
2. Eat Plants
3. Avoid Processed and Packages Foods
The third thing that we see in Blue Zones is the avoidance of processed and packaged foods. You don’t eat Twinkies and Snickers and drink your coffee out of a can. But it goes beyond that! If you walk into the health foods section of let’s say Hudson’s bookstore, any airport food store, and you pick up the sugar snap peas or the dried apples or the trail mix, and you turn it over and you look at the label, what are typically the top two ingredients that you see in that supposedly healthy processed and packaged food? You typically see some form of vegetable oil, like cottonseed oil, canola oil, safflower oil, and sunflower oil. And typically, you see some form of sugar.
4. Eat Legumes
5. Incorporate Low-Level Physical Activity Throughout the Day
6. Prioritize Social Engagement
Number six is social engagement. There is a growing epidemic of loneliness right now because people are primarily engaging digitally; through Facebook friends, Instagram posts, and Twitter. There really is not a lot of face-to-face human interaction. When you’re with a person, you’re getting exposed to their pheromones, the electrical signal that their brain produces and that their heart produces, you’re getting exposed to the oxytocin hormone that you release when you touch them or hug them or shake their hand, and you simply cannot simulate that in a digital format.
7. Drink Low-to-Moderate Amounts of Alcohol, Especially Wine
In all of the Blue Zones, women are drinking an average of about one drink a day, men drinking an average of about two drinks a day, and they’re drinking very healthy forms of alcohol.
I get a shot of gin or vodka, the two cleanest burning alcohols that you can get, on top of the rocks with a wedge of lemon and a selection of house bitters. Why that selection? Because it has none of the sugar or fructose in it. And when you have a bitter meal very similar to the wild plants that I was telling you about earlier, it enhances something called your first phase insulin response to the meal that you eat afterward. What that means is that your pancreas releases a little bit of insulin when you have an alcoholic drink that’s rich in bitters and digestives. And when that occurs, your blood glucose response to the meal is lower. So, you can see how a lot of these strategies start to weave themselves together.
There are some countries, however, that primarily drink wine. So, if I’m out at a restaurant and I’m ordering a glass of wine, typically, I’ll choose France, Italy, or New Zealand. Those three countries do a pretty good job using these old-world, non-pesticide, non-herbicide biodynamic forms of wine preparation. Also, companies like FitVine Wine or Dry Farm Wine will ship wine to your home that’s prepared using these same methods.
So don’t feel guilty about drinking. Just choose your alcohol wisely, mitigate consumption, and very rarely, if you’re a woman have more than one or, if you’re a guy have more than two, and you can actually get a lot of the longevity-enhancing benefits of alcohol. Alcohol is toxic. But as you’ve already learned, things that are bad for you in large amounts are actually good for you in small amounts because they make you more stress-resilient.
8. Restrict Calories and Fast
The next one is calorie restriction or fasting. There’s a lot of talk about fasting these days and all sorts of books, “The Longevity Diet,” the fasting bible, the AMD fast, the IF fast, and the FHPT fast. And people are getting very into this concept of fasting. You don’t need to be cold and hungry and driveless and ready to chew your arm off to get the benefits of fasting. You don’t have to skip breakfast and lunch and only eat dinner to get the benefits of fasting.
And then the final thing that I do is one to four times a month, do a dinner-time-to-dinner-time fast. What that means is you push yourself away from the dinner table on Saturday night and you don’t eat again until Sunday night’s dinner. Very simple 24-hour fast! Just doing that once a month gives you an even additional cellular autophagy benefit. Even though there are tons of different fasting protocols and fasting methods out there, I find that for most people, what’s doable and sustainable for longevity is a daily 12 to 16-hour fast, and then a weekly to monthly 24-hour fast. And then finally, every season you do a quick cleanup by reducing your calories for five days. Very beautiful, clean, and simple scenario.
9. Possess a Strong Life Purpose
10. Have Low Amounts of Stress
Number 10 is low amounts of stress. This is another thing like “don’t smoke” and “don’t eat processed and packaged food”. Most of you are already aware of this. Here’s the problem. Everybody wants to pop their phosphatidylserine, their adaptogenic herbs, and their ashwagandha. And they want to put on their Muse, Headspace, Calm app, binaural beats, sleep masks, take their psychedelics and go do their 48th ayahuasca journey in Costa Rica.
And the problem there is that they are all exogenous ways to control stress and cortisol. These are all dependent on some external mechanism. However, we all have built into us a very powerful endogenous mechanism for controlling our own stress. It’s your breath, yes, your prana. I think everybody should learn how to breathe to control stress. When you strip everything away; your supplements and your vagus nerve stimulators and your app on your phone with the headphones that lull you into relaxation. if I were to take all that away from you and tell you to go out in the forest and camp for five days and not be stressed out and fall asleep when you’re supposed to fall asleep, the number one way you’re going to be able to do that is to learn how to direct your breath. And almost every single indigenous hunter-gatherer or ancestral society has some form of a breath-work practice.
11. Engage in a Spiritual Discipline or Religion, or Believe in a Higher Power
12. Remain Reproductively Useful
We see from yeast models to fungus to fruit flies to rodents all the way up to humans; the more times that you are making babies or being fertile or at least sending your body the message that you’re trying to make babies (aka sex) on a regular basis, starting at an earlier age in life and engaging in that as far into life as possible, the longer you live. And this is based on the idea that from an ancestral standpoint, nature doesn’t want to keep living organisms around for a very long time that aren’t actually useful to the propagation of that living organism species.
So, I’m not saying you have to go out and have 19 kids. But what I am saying is that the more that you can engage in regular and frequent sex, the more that you can even just take care of your fertility.
These are the type of strategies that actually allow you to stay robust and fertile late into life, and that also allow you to remain what nature considers to be reproductively useful. And we see 95-year-old men in Acciaroli, Italy. who are basically consuming bitters and wild plants, tons of rosemary, and having sex like four times a week. And these cats are just these incredibly virile active old men.
Some Key Takeaways
- The world’s longevity all-stars live longer, but they live better too, with strong connections to family and friends; active lifestyles; clean air, light, and water; a distinct life purpose; and avoidance of smoking; an overwhelmingly plant-based diet that includes fasting; moderate, daily physical activity; and a sprinkling of other natural practices.
- When asked, centenarians also attribute their long lives to mild amounts of good stress – meaning spartan conditions combined with a life of manual labor, along with a strong sense of community.
- Modern biohackers, longevity gurus, and scientists are increasingly turning to a host of better-living-through-science tools technologies, and tactics, with a strong focus on mitochondrial and stem cell support, caloric restriction and fasting strategies, supplements, IVs, and injections.
This week’s call info
Tuesday, February 28th at 10:30 am CST
Speaker: Coach Sarah
Zoom Link: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/4636180446