Published on Eat This, Not That, June 7, 2022
What determines how fast we age? Why do some people live to be over 100, while for others, their life is much shorter? More and more we are learning that for the most part, the answers are not in our genes. It has been estimated that our genetics account for only 7% of our longevity— and our lifestyle habits, for better or worse are the key factor for how fast we age. I am a physician, board-certified in Emergency Medicine and Lifestyle Medicine, and I help people lose weight, prevent disease, and optimize their lifestyle habits, so they can slow down aging and live a longer, healthier, and happier life.
1. Eating the standard American diet.
When surveyed, 75% of Americans think that they are eating a healthy diet, yet the majority of Americans are not eating enough fruits, vegetables, fiber, or nutrients. The food we eat is profoundly related to how fast we age, our risk for developing chronic diseases, and our physical and mental health. Eating a diet high in sugar, fast food, saturated fat, refined carbohydrates, and other highly processed foods promotes inflammation and will rapidly age you. Alternatively, if you are eating an anti-inflammatory, nutrient rich diet, consisting primarily of fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, you will be at lower risk for developing chronic diseases, and you will age more slowly.
2. Not sleeping enough
Sleep is vitally important to our physical and mental health, and skimping on sleep will not only increase your risk for diseases and negatively impact your quality of life, but it will also prematurely age you. In fact, it has been found that rats who were totally deprived of sleep died prematurely in just a few weeks. When you sleep, your body repairs its cells, your body restores its energy, and your brain clears out toxins and waste. For these reasons, and more, sleep is essential, and an inadequate quantity or quality of sleep will age you.
3. Being Sedentary
The people who live the longest lives in the world don’t necessarily go to the gym every day, but they live active lives, and physical activity is just part of their daily routine. In contrast, for many of us, we spend the majority of our day sitting. This sedentary lifestyle promotes inflammation, which will accelerate aging.
Ideally, we should all try to incorporate a set amount of time to exercise at least 5 times a week. At least 30-60 minutes a day is optimal. But, as we work up to that goal, we should feel good about incorporating any amount of increased physical activity in our life. At the same time, we can also just change our daily routine to be less sedentary. Examples of this are taking the stairs instead of the elevator, parking further away in a parking lot, or taking a call while walking.
4. Focusing on social media rather than prioritizing your in person relationships
It is well known that relationships are important for our mental and physical health. But relationships are also closely tied to longevity.
The “Harvard Study of Adult Development,” is a famous, gigantic, and ongoing study that followed more than 700 men since they were teenagers in 1938. This study is one of the most comprehensive studies of health and well being in history, and the findings are clear that relationships are the single most important factor for our health and longevity.
In this study, they found that people who were more socially connected to family, friends, and the community, were happier, healthier, and they actually lived longer, than people who were lonely.
In contrast, it has also been found that social media use can have a negative impact on our health. Social media interactions are not equivalent to real life interactions, have been found to actually promote loneliness. Social media use can also be detrimental to our mental health, and has been linked with increased anxiety and depression.
5. Stressing too much and not managing our stress well
The health of our body and mind are closely connected, and stress has been implicated as a factor for increasing our risk for multiple diseases, and even decreasing our lifespan.
In contrast, practicing mindfulness based stress reduction techniques to better manage stress has been linked to increasing longevity.
Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of our chromosomes, and the their job is to preserve our DNA. With every cell division, a small portion of this telomere DNA is lost, so the result is that telomeres shorten with age.
Shorter telomeres have been associated with an increased risk of developing diseases and a decreased lifespan.
It has been found that the rate of telomere shortening can actually be either increased or decreased by specific lifestyle factors, and practicing mindfulness and meditation appear to slow this rate of telomere shortening, which in effect may increase longevity.
6. Drinking too much alcohol
There are multiple reasons why excessive alcohol intake can age you. Drinking too much alcohol promotes inflammation, and increases the risk for multiple chronic diseases such as cancer and liver disease. Alcohol intake also promotes dehydration which accelerates skin aging, including skin puffiness and wrinkles. Additionally, alcohol intake can interfere with sleep, affecting both sleep quality and quantity. For women, and men over 65, moderate drinking means drinking up to 1 drink per day. For men 65 and under, 2 drinks a day is considered moderate.
Everyone wants to live a healthy, happy and long life, free of sickness and disease.
But there is no magic bullet or longevity pill, which will slow down aging or lengthen your life. In truth, it is a combination of factors—including the food we eat, our sleep, our physical activity levels, our relationships, our stress, and our substance use which primarily determine how fast we age. By focusing on these areas, we will not only add years to our life— but also improve our quality of life, so that those extra years are healthier and happier.
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