Is age really only a number?
That’s the old cliche, but it turns out it really is the truth. Recent research has shown that there is a vast difference between chronological age, how old you are in calendar years, and biological age, how old your body appears to be at the cellular level. In short, biological age is a measure of how quickly your body systems are declining.
This study found that while most people age at approximately one biological year for every chronological year, that isn’t always the case. Some of the subjects were aging as quickly as 3 biological years to every calendar year, clocking in at a biological 60 years old at 38 years old chronologically. Others appeared not to be aging biologically at all, with a few who were 8 years younger (38 chronologically but only 30 years old biologically).
Don’t mistake this as some fad science of the minute. Biological age matters. As you’re aging, you’re declining, and that decline will affect every aspect of your health, wellness, and appearance starting as early as your mid-twenties to early thirties.
“Already, before midlife, individuals who were aging more rapidly were less physically able, showed cognitive decline and brain aging, self-reported worse health, and looked older.”- Belsky, Caspi, Houts et al.
Think it’s all dumb luck and chance? There is nothing you can do about aging? Some people are just destined to decline quickly and grown old at a young age?
Not at all. Only about 20% of your rate of biological aging can be blamed on your genetic code.The remaining 80% is based on environmental and lifestyle factors, many of which you have control over. With just a few simple actions you too can slow the aging process.
1. Drop and Give Me 20
Resistance training has been shown time and again to be among the most potent anti-aging strategies available. Muscle mass peaks around the mid 20’s and slowly begins declining from there. This age related loss of muscle mass has been termed sarcopenia which has been associated with declining strength, endurance, power, vigor, resilience, bone strength with increased body fat, lethargy and even cognitive decline.
Like compound interest, the loss of muscle each year is small at only 1-3% however, after a decade or two your body composition could look very different. Noticeably fatter and weaker. The great thing is that recent research has started to question if sarcopenia really is a natural fact of life or is merely the result of a lowered activity level. Several studies have shown that strength training programs can not only halt age related muscle loss, but even result in muscle gain in someone as old as 70.
“This study contradicts the common observation that muscle mass and strength decline as a function of aging alone. Instead, these declines may signal the effect of chronic disuse rather than muscle aging.” – Wroblewski et al.
The most effective strength training programs tend to be those that focus on large, multi-joint, compound lifts that stress many muscle groups. Exercises like squats, lunges, deadlifts, pushups, pull ups, and bench presses. So you’re never too old and it’s never too late to start weight training and experiencing the fountain of youth that it is.
2. Order the Fish and Drizzle Your Vegetables with Olive Oil
The Mediterranean diet has consistently been linked to living longer and better. One of the most consistent findings associated with a Mediterranean diet is that it is protective of the brain and helps slow or even stop the cognitive decline that comes with aging.
“In an older population, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with olive oil or nuts is associated with improved cognitive function.” – Vallis-Pedret, Sala-Vaila et. al
3. Drink a Glass of Red with Dinner
While any alcohol, in moderation, has been shown to help slow aging, red wine is especially powerful due to the presence of resveratrol, an anti-oxidant-like compound. Resveratrol has shown great promise as an anti-aging agent. It’s found in grapes, peanuts and mulberries but is especially concentrated in red wine. Remember, you only get the anti-aging benefits of alcohol with light to moderate consumption, no matter what type of alcohol. So limit your intake to no more than a glass or so a day.
4. Train for a 5K
Aerobic exercise helps maintain your heart, vascular system and even brain. One of the foremost theories in the field of anti-aging is the mitochondrial decay theory. This theory essentially says that we age partly because the mitochondria in our cells don’t produce energy efficiently as we age. Aerobic exercise stimulates the production and repair of the mitochondria and may help to offset this cause of aging. As one study put it:
“…endurance training increases mitochondrial function, stimulates spontaneous physical activity, and is a viable approach to interrupt the vicious cycle of aging.” – Eluamai, Brooks
Lace up the shoes and start training right now, you can find a race when you get back.
5. Buy a Nice Mattress
Sleep is your greatest recovery tool. Research has consistently shown that poor or restricted sleep increases as we age and is linked to many diseases. Cognitive ability, testosterone levels, even your skin is ravaged by a lack of sleep.
“Poor sleep quality can accelerate signs of skin aging and weaken the skin’s ability to repair itself at night.” – Dr. Daniel Yarosh
You must do whatever you can to get a solid 6 to 8 hours every night. We’re not talking about 6 to 8 hours in bed with 2 of them spent watching Seinfeld reruns, checking emails, and liking Grumpy Cat memes. We’re talking 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep. The deep, restful, uninterrupted, sleep that allows you to wake up, preferably without the help of an alarm, feeling rested and rejuvenated.
6. Put that Mattress to the Test
Go have sex.
Dr. David Weeks has done research on what keeps some young and found that it boiled down to two primary factors.
“The key ingredients for looking younger are staying active … and maintaining a good sex life.” – Dr. Weeks
His research found that regular sex, with a committed partner, up to three times a week, lead to someone looking between four and seven years younger than their chronological age. Researchers are not quite sure how or why regular sex has such a powerful effect. It could be that sex increases intimacy with your partner and your sense of connection. It could be that sex releases certain hormones that are known to decrease as we age. It might even be that sex can be somewhat vigorous and the anti-aging boost is from the physical activity.
But really, does it matter?
7. Take the Stairs
While consistent, structured, exercise is important, simply living a physical life and taking walks, doing yard work, swimming, playing sports or anything else that gets you up and moving, on a daily basis is as important as anything else on this list. Simply keeping your body moving is the greatest protector against aging that we know of.
“Regular physical activity is perhaps the lifestyle-behavioral strategy for which there is the strongest overall evidence of function-preserving effects with aging.” – Sears, Justice, Larocca
Staying biologically young isn’t easy, but it’s totally worth it. Why grow old and become frail when you probably don’t have too? The benefits of remaining biologically young are just too many to ignore. By taking these steps you’ll be smart, strong, vigorous, and literally remain biologically young at heart.
Featured photo credit: Philippe Leone via unsplash.com