The common narrative around aging is generally negative with everyone trying their best to work against the clock. Popular approaches that many people choose to take to combat aging are not always going to benefit our bodies the most. Cosmetic treatments, such as Botox injections, that are used to counteract the cosmetic effects of age will not help slow down the internal aging process and are often just a band aid approach.
Additionally, modern medicine is typically focused on treating one specific symptom in the body on a case-by-case basis instead of identifying the underlying root cause. As we age, our bodies will naturally need more support as our immune system begins to decline. It is not uncommon for older adults to be prescribed a handful of drugs focused on targeting different aspects of dysfunction – including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and triglycerides and obesity, instead of looking at the body as a whole. Unfortunately, these quick fixes in the form of multiple prescription drugs and anti-aging treatments and will not provide our bodies with what is really needed to optimize the aging process. We often see frequent marketing tactics promoting products that are “anti-aging” and people going to great lengths and expense in an attempt to avoid the unavoidable process of getting older.
There are many people who voice how they fear growing old and have concerns about what will come with it. There seems to be a general resistance to accept the fact that we are all aging every day, and this is an inevitable part of having the privilege to live well into our adult years. It is time that we start embracing this inescapable reality and begin reframing the narrative around getting older: If we deliberately choose to make healthier lifestyle choices, aging does not have to be so feared.
“It is time that we start embracing this inescapable reality and begin reframing the narrative around getting older.”
While the research surrounding aging is constantly evolving, we do have a basic understanding of what causes someone to live a long and happy life, and what will cause another to undergo a more difficult aging process. There is a genetic and epigenetic component to how an individual will age, but this does not mean that we do not have any control over how we will age. Genetics, environment, and simply luck can all be a factor as to how an individual will age, but these factors alone are not solely responsible for the outcome.
A major part of how we will age is dependent on our lifestyle choices. The National Institute of Health (NIH) says that the best things we can do to promote healthy aging is staying physically and mentally active, eating a healthy diet, getting proper sleep, avoiding smoking, limiting alcohol consumption, and prioritizing our mental health. Add to this list the pursuit of eudaimonia, which means purposeful activities and doing good for others, rather than focusing exclusively on our own wellbeing. Physical activity was noted to be a very important component to maintaining a healthy weight which is a key factor when it comes to optimizing the aging process. However, like most things in life, it is ideal to find a healthy balance and not be on the extreme of either end of the spectrum. One study found that those who participated in forms of extreme exercise, such as ultramarathon runners, began to have reverse effects. It is unclear as to what the perfect dose of exercise is for each individual, but it is known that moderate exercise is beneficial. Similarly to exercise, eating a nutrient rich and well balanced diet will also help to maintain a healthy weight. Many studies have shown that The Mediterranean Diet is positively associated with anti-aging due to its high levels of polyphenols and anti-inflammatory properties consisting of leafy greens, fresh fruits, moderate amounts of seafood, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
“Genetics, environment, and simply luck can all be a factor as to how an individual will age, but these factors alone are not solely responsible for the outcome.”
Scientific evidence has suggested that we could determine our longevity through the measurement of the length of our telomeres. Telomeres are found at the end of each chromosome and are important because they work to protect our DNA. The telomeres do not contain any genes and when the cells divide, the telomeres will begin to shorten. Prior to recent findings, it was believed that longer telomeres were indicative of greater longevity because the longer the telomere, the more often each cell could divide resulting in the extended life of the cell. Once the telomere becomes too short, the cell is unable to continue to divide and undergoes its death. It is known that poor lifestyle habits result in shorter than average telomeres and are associated with a shorter lifespan. However, recent research suggests that perhaps the opposite is not exactly ideal either. Telomeres that are significantly longer than average are not the best for longevity either, as individuals with longer telomeres may face a greater risk of cancer. These findings challenge the notion that telomere length is simply correlated with our biological clock. If there are cancerous cells in the body and an individual has excessively long telomeres, then the cancerous cells will live much longer in the body. These significantly longer telomeres will result in an extensive process of the cell division and make it increasingly difficult to reach the point of the death of the cell.
“These findings posed a threat to the notion that telomere length was simply correlated with our biological clock.”
It is important for us to reframe our approach to aging from relying more and more on our disease care system to focus on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The best thing we can do to optimize aging is to decrease age-related inflammation in the body (inflamm-aging) and make changes that will promote healing on a cellular level. Based on the evidence, we have a lot more control over the way we age then some may realize. The best thing we can do to enhance the aging process is to make positive choices that promote good health which is entirely in our own hands.
Amanda Johnson is a recent graduate from the University of Southern California where she received her degree in Psychology. In addition to her university studies, she earned her Integrative Nutrition Health Coach certification from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition (IIN). Amanda works as a Health Coach and strives to educate her clients more about the gut-brain axis.