Across the world, people are increasingly having longer lifespans. Getting older in terms of the number of candles on a cake is inevitable. However, not everyone seems to age in the same way — and quality of life is not equal across the board.
This brings us to the questions: Are all parts of aging inevitable? Is there anything we can do about it? Is aging backwards a viable option? Is there a guide on how to age backwards?
To answer these questions, we’ll look at what happens as we age, recent advances in the science of aging, and what you can do to age healthily or even reverse the clock.
As we get older, molecular and cellular damage accumulates over time — hence, the aging process. The hallmark signs of aging include graying hair, wrinkles, reduced mobility, strength and balance.
Other changes might be reduced tactile sensation; changes to eyesight, hearing, and taste; and memory loss. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab offers insight into this with an “aging suit” that simulates some of the changes experienced as we age. This is used to gain greater empathy for these changes and to inform new technologies and products that will help us to live longer with a better quality of life.
According to the World Health Organization, as we age we’re also at an increased risk for various medical conditions including some cancers, heart disease, diabetes, depression, and dementia (like Alzheimer’s). Osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and joint pain are also more common, as well as the risk of frailty or disability.
Factors that affect aging can start as early as when you are growing inside the womb — and there can be a genetic element at play along with our physical and social environments. Some people might think these changes are just “part of old age.” However, you can reduce the impact of these changes — and even reverse some of them.
Aging backwards may be possible — up to a certain point. Recent advances in the science of aging have led to the discovery that a person’s biological age can be different from their chronological age.
This has been shown through DNA (or “epigenetic”) tests, which gave a biological age that sometimes differed from the person’s chronological age. Upon further testing of these biomarkers, the biological age was found to be reliable in a clinical setting. Versions of these tests are available to the public but are not thought to be reliable enough to use in home testing at the moment.
Our age in terms of the number of years we have lived is our chronological age. The age that is assigned to the overall health of our body is known as our biological age. More specifically, our biological age is defined as the amount of change our DNA has undergone by a chemical process called methylation. A recent study showed that biological age can increase due to a stressful life event and then recover to the person’s previous biological age. It also showed that a person can have an older or younger biological age than their chronological age.
Although we are unable to stop the entire aging process, there are things we can do to slow, pause, or maybe even reverse some biological aging changes.
To keep healthy and age well, it’s essential to keep your mind and body in the best shape possible. Various lifestyle practices can support your health and healthy aging, including:
This may seem like an overwhelming list. However, it’s important to note that making small changes — and remaining consistent — is the best course of action.
For instance, could you take the stairs instead of the elevator to get in some extra steps? Or maybe you can stop using your electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime to ensure better sleep hygiene? These are simple but effective lifestyle changes you can make to improve your health and perhaps start “aging backwards” a bit.
While the aging process is inevitable, and some elements like genetics are out of your control, you can still ensure a healthy aging process. To achieve your goals, it can help to follow the SMART method of setting targets and keeping yourself accountable. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Let’s delve deeper into some of the lifestyle practices that could make a big difference.
About 3-8% of muscle mass is lost each decade from the age of 30 and more rapidly after 60. This process is known as sarcopenia and it’s part of natural aging. However, exercise can strengthen muscles and reverse muscle loss.
The CDC recommends adults exercise for 150 minutes or more a week doing an activity of moderate intensity such as brisk walking, wheelchair rolling, or riding a bike. For vigorous intensity exercise, the CDC recommends 75 minutes a week — such as jogging or playing soccer. This can help to keep your lungs and heart healthy as well as strengthening your immune system and helping with sleep.
The CDC also advises including muscle strengthening exercises two days a week, using all the major muscle groups of the body in a full body workout. This could be lifting weights, yoga, or body weight resistance exercises (e.g., push-ups or sit-ups).
Strength training exercises are sometimes referred to as “age-reversing workouts” as they can help you maintain muscle and bone mass as you get older. They also help maintain the range of motion and flexibility of your joints and improve balance – reducing the risk of falls.
Workouts can also have the added benefit of reducing stress hormones, toning your body, and helping maintain a healthy weight (or weight loss if necessary). The best way to stick to it is to do exercise that you enjoy and to let others know what your goals are to keep you accountable.
Many of us struggle with sleep from time to time and the CDC recommends at least 7 hours of sleep per night for adults. However, if you’re constantly feeling tired in the daytime, struggling to get to sleep, waking in the middle of the night, or not getting enough hours, now is the time to do something about it.
Thankfully, you can take action to improve your sleep, which is referred to as good “sleep hygiene.” For instance, you should go to sleep and wake up at the same time whenever possible, even on the weekend. Keep your bedroom quiet, dark, relaxing, and as cool as possible. Incorporate a bedtime routine that includes time to wind down and don’t use electronics in the hour before bed as the blue light can be overstimulating.
If you’re struggling to get to sleep, try reading, journaling, or listening to relaxing music or a guided meditation. Eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise (but not too close to bedtime), and not having caffeine in the afternoon can also help with sleep.
Good quality sleep allows your mind and body to recover each night, as the brain flushes out toxins as you sleep. This can keep stress levels low, boost mood, and keep diseases at bay. As sleep can affect your chances of developing heart disease, obesity, diabetes, infections and mental health illnesses, poor sleep can negatively affect life expectancy. Some studies have shown that regularly getting too much sleep – 9 hours or more – may be as detrimental as getting only 4, although the cause of this is still up for debate.
If following sleep hygiene advice doesn’t help to solve your sleep issues, seek advice from your healthcare practitioner.
Stress, both mental and physical, has been shown to have a significant effect on the biological aging process. However, your body and mind’s ability to bounce back after stressful life events may be important in the aging process and the quality of life you have.
Chronic stress that isn’t addressed can make you more susceptible to a range of physical illnesses such as high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also lead to mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety and also drug or alcohol addiction.
So how can you work towards dealing with life’s stressors, both big and small? As mentioned, regular exercise, enough good quality sleep, and a healthy balanced diet can all help. Social connection is also important — be it with family, friends, colleagues, or in your local community — as it can reduce feelings of stress.
Having a sense of purpose that’s bigger than oneself can contribute to your health and longevity — we’re all connected in the grand scheme of things and we each bring something unique. Relaxation techniques like meditation or yoga and journaling can help reduce stress, as can making time for the things you enjoy most in life.
If you’re really struggling with the effects of stress or have tried ways to feel better but they aren’t helping, please seek the advice of your healthcare practitioner.
The up-and-coming scientific field of “geroscience” aims to study the potential link between the biology of aging at a molecular level and age-related diseases. As we develop a greater understanding in this field, the hope is that one day there may be anti-aging treatments to complement healthy lifestyle changes.
Currently used medications that are being looked into for their broader anti-aging effects include metformin (a drug used for diabetes). This could potentially help to bridge the health inequalities that can be seen in both the predisposition to premature aging and the access to some of the lifestyle changes that can delay biological aging.
Answers may also come from so-called “super-agers” and studying the “Blue Zones” across the world, which contain the highest numbers of healthy centenarians – such as in Okinawa, Japan and Sardinia, Italy.
For now, you can take a look at your current lifestyle and make sustainable changes where possible to potentially boost life expectancy and quality of life as you age. One simple action you can take is to find out more about your risk factors for developing different types of cancer over your lifetime.
With the Ezra risk factor tool, you can get a holistic view in just five minutes — and it’s free to use. Ezra also offers a Full Body MRI Scan to screen for any potential abnormalities in up to 13 organs, allowing you to take a proactive, holistic approach to your health.
There are many ongoing developments in our understanding of aging, and we can already leverage some of these to help us maintain independence and good health well into our older years.
While it’s impossible not to age, evidence for the potential to reverse the aging process is real. Whether it’s a person’s chronological age differing from their biological age or lifestyle choices that can prevent and even reverse signs of aging, the pursuit of reverse aging will continue in the quest for overall well-being.
We’ll have to wait and see what may come in the next chapter of interventions to help people enjoy a longer life and stave off conditions like cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline. In the meantime, you can take charge of your health and be proactive in early detection of cancer and other diseases to help improve your outcomes. Learn more about how an Ezra Full Body Scan can help.