#223 6 Ways to Slow Aging

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6 Ways to Slow Aging

How old are you?  Is it the number of candles on your birthday cake or your mindset?  In this article, I will teach you how to slow aging and reverse your biological age.

Aging and the Medical System

Just prior to giving the keynote lecture at a large medical conference organized by Northwestern University in Chicago on the subject of “How to Thrive to 100,” a surprising number of conference attendees I met said something to the effect of, “who in their right mind would want to live to be 100?” That sort of response completely ignores the fact that a person who arrives at 100 in good health most likely enjoyed great health when they were 60, 70, 80, and 90, too. What these doctors didn’t understand is that people who live to 100 have learned how to slow aging.

But even doctors are products of their environments. They have been bombarded with messages that make getting old look awful.  The have spent their careers examining people who have confirmed through their struggles the idea that getting old is a painful, lonely, and frightening ordeal. Of course, healthy people don’t spend a lot of time at the doctor’s office, so what doctors don’t see nearly so often are the examples of slow aging that have inspired me to believe that calendar age is little more than a condition of our mindset.

Don’t Act Old

I just had my 50th birthday.  Is there a certain way I should act and feel now that I am 50?

Inside I don’t feel any older.  In fact, I actually feel younger now than I did in my 30s.

Instead of simply denouncing those who respond with malice toward the idea of getting old, I try to change their minds. I share examples of people who have learned how to slow aging.

I tell them about Fauja Singh, who took up marathon running when he was 80 and continued running distance races well past his hundredth birthday. I tell them about Teiichi Igarashi, a former lumberjack from Japan who summited Mount Fuji for twelve years in a row, starting when he was eighty-nine. I tell them about Georgina Harwood, who celebrated her hundredth birthday by jumping out of an airplane and then swimming with sharks off the coast of South Africa. And, of course, I tell them about the amazing people of China’s longevity village who stand as proof that the process of growing older isn’t something that should be feared, but rather something that should be craved.

In fact, every last one of the centenarians I’ve spoken to in China’s longevity village have told me they are living the best years of their lives. Those in the village who were not yet 100 longed to get there. And looking forward to golden years that have the potential to be truly golden might be one of the best things you can do for your health right now, no matter what age you are.

Your Mindset Determines Your Biological Age

It occurred to me, as I watched the centenarians in China’s longevity village garden or take their daily walks, that no one every told them that there was a certain way people in their 100s were expected to feel and act. That’s because none of the centenarians in Longevity Village think about “growing older,” let alone worry about it. There is no fear in the passing of another year.  They have learned naturally how to slow aging.

We should follow their example. Although our age is often a tremendously large part of our mindset about “where we’re at” in life, it is a perfectly pointless measure of who we are.

Inherently we all do know this. Not everyone “acts” his or her age after all. Almost all of us have met children who are “old souls” and adults who act like kids. The number of times we’ve circled the sun has far less to do with our well-being than we typically think.

To take advantage of what science actually tells us about aging, though, we have to get into the habit of ignoring the other messages we get about what is “supposed to happen” as the calendar flips from one year to another. To this end, it’s important to know that a lot of the social and cultural messages we get about age, sometimes from our own friends and family, are wrongful and can even be harmful. And these messages can even come from those we trust most to provide us accurate information about our health and well-being.

Your Mindset Can Slow Aging

There are tremendous health advantages to anticipation. Studies show, for instance, that the mere knowledge that a vacation is coming makes people feel happier at work and that the mere expectation that sleep is on its way lowers blood pressure. It’s hardly a stretch, then, to conclude the mere belief that growing older is a positive thing might be a significant influencer of good health.

In a study of 660 older Americans, researchers found that regardless of socioeconomic status or even age, people who embraced the aging process and felt like life would continue to get better lived nearly 8 years longer than those with a more pessimistic view about aging and the future.

As part of life, everyone sooner or later will face a medical condition.  Once again, studies show that those who embrace the aging process are 44% more likely to recover from any medical condition they may face in this life.

That could be because pessimism can actually deteriorate our DNA—or, to be specific, the curled ends of nucleotides, known as telomeres, which cap our chromatids. Telomeres are sort of like helmets for our chromosomes, and when they deteriorate in a process known as shortening, it leaves us vulnerable to aging-related diseases.

Your Daily Health Choices Determine Biological Age

Just as your mindset can slow aging, so do your daily health decisions.  Studies show that most of us can expect at least 90 years of great health provided we make the right daily decisions.  Given that the average American looses their health at age 69, that means we are leaving 21 excellent years of life on the table.

While genes certainly play a role as to whether we can slow aging, each little health decision you make everyday plays a much bigger role.  Indeed, studies show that just 25% of your health and longevity is influenced by your genes.  The other 75%, though, is entirely up to you and the health decisions you make.

6 Ways to Slow Aging

To keep the 90 years of great health your body was programmed to enjoy, focus on each of these 6 ways to slow aging.  To see the studies supporting each of these 6 ways to slow aging, just click on the link embedded in the numbered section title.

1. Positive Mindset

Embrace aging.  Expect that life will just get better with each new year.  Don’t act old.

2. Don’t Smoke

Nothing more needs to be said here.  Smoking will rob you of 10 years of life.  Breathing in polluted air triggers an inflammation process that causes intense premature aging.

3. Weighing More Than You Should

As with smoking, weighing more than you should can also rob you of about 10 years of life.  Carrying extra weight around triggers an inflammation process throughout your body that speeds up biological aging.  While diets don’t work long-term, healthy lifestyles do.

In my cardiology practice I have hundreds of patients who have successfully kept the weight off for years.  As I have asked them their secret, most of these patients have used one or more of the following three strategies.

The first is that they eat a light and early dinner and then nothing more for the rest of the day.  This is the cultural norm in China’s longevity village.  It is also a form of intermittent fasting which I covered in blog #51.

The second strategy is to eliminate added sugars and processed foods.  In addition to the traditional sugars this also means eliminating other forms of sugar like honey, maple syrup, or fruit juice.  Instead of shopping the processed food packed isles of the grocery store, they just shop the periphery.  They only eat real food or the food our bodies were designed to eat for slow aging.

The third successful strategy is to track what you eat or keep a food journal.  Knowing what you are putting in your mouth each day brings mindfulness and awareness.  Most people drop the weight fast when they know what they are actually eating.

4. Skipping Your Daily Work Out

To claim the 90 years of excellent health your body is programmed to enjoy, you have to move your body.  Sitting more than you should can rob you of 10 years of life.

When you are sitting your body is rusting.  Almost without exception, my patients who move the most during the day live the longest and healthiest.

5. Stressing Out

The only people without stress in their lives have already passed away.  To live means to experience stress.  If you feel like your stress is not helping you, your life may be cut short by 10 years.

The key is how you perceive and manage your stress.  To learn more about keeping your stresses in the healthy zone for slow aging, please read blog #158.

6. High Blood Sugar

Diabetes is a medical condition where the blood sugar is abnormally high.  High blood sugar robs you of 10 years of life by causing premature aging and deterioration of almost every aspect of your body.

For people with adult-onset or type 2 diabetes, weight loss, daily exercise, and eliminating all added sugars and processed carbohydrates cures most people.  For those with forms of diabetes that can’t be reversed, do everything possible to keep your blood sugar in the normal range.

Take Home Message

At the end of the day, your calendar age doesn’t really mean that much.  No matter how you look on the outside, it’s how everything is working on the inside that really counts.  Regardless of wrinkles, gray hair, or any other cosmetic feature of your outside body, there’s a tremendous difference between calendar age and biological age.

For most people, your body comes fully programmed to enjoy great health to 90 years of age.  If you can just give your body what it needs, it will heal itself and support you for many years to come.  This is the secret to slow aging.

What is your take on biological versus calendar aging?  Please leave your thoughts and questions below.  I will do my best to answer every question as quickly as I can.

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11 Comments
  1. What health advantages are there to living at altitude (5000 ft. or more)? All of the communities of centenarians, except for the Okinawans, live at altitude (many above 8,000 ft.). How much of an effect does that have on their improved health? I’m also reading that people in Colorado are much healthier than their similar-aged counterparts in the rest of the country, even in health-conscious places like Portland and Seattle. Should we all just move to Denver?

    • Hi Diane,

      A great question. There are some small, not very well done studies, suggesting that higher altitude is better for longevity. Then there are also some arguing the opposite. I don’t think we really understand if altitude matters or not…

      Probably more important than altitude is where you live. If you live in a community which values health, green space, outdoor activities, and that is safe you will probably live much longer.

      Hope this helps!

      John

  2. How do you deal with society’s expectations of a quick health decline after age 50? I’m 57, currently in good health, and I’m always getting comments now from others to expect to lose mobility and expect health problems. It’s everywhere, and makes me feel that no matter what I do, I’m going to fall apart.

    It’s good reading this article, but then I’m bombarded with information telling me that as you get older you inevitably start to fall apart. How do you deal with that? It’s hard to go against that. You tend to believe what you hear the most.

    Of course, when you get the message that decline is inevitable at age 50, it reduces motivation to improve diet and stay active, especially when you see your peers drastically slowing down. That’s hard to ignore, and you feel at some level, you should slow down too, even if you’re able to do what you’ve been doing.

    • Hi Diane,

      The people in Longevity Village are proof that the body doesn’t have to fall apart with age. I worry that with all of the negative stereotypes of aging that some of what we are seeing is due to the “nocebo effect.” In other words, if you expect things to get worse, they will.

      Please read Longevity Plan. Hopefully, it will be a welcome relief.

      Warm regards,

      John

  3. I like your newsletters a lot and am looking forward to reading your book.

    I have a question about Natto. I would like to take it for the vitamin k2 for my osteoporosis. But I take a daily low dose aspirin and wondered if this would be ok as I have read you shouldn’t eat Natto if you take a blood thinner like Coumadin. Also because sugar is used in the fermentation is Natto ok if you have pre diabetes?
    Tnank you.

    • Thank you in advance for reading The Longevity Plan! The reason why natto is not recommended for people on the blood thinner warfarin is that it does have some very mild blood thinning properties. Also, I wouldn’t expect natto to bump your blood sugars as the glycemic index/load is extremely low.

      Hope this helps!

      John

  4. Oh to be 50 again…and know what I know now about diet and exercise. I turn 70 in November, but if anyone asks…I say I can’t remember if I’ll be seventee…or seventeen!
    Not long after 50, I was diagnosed as type 2 diabetic with an a1c of 6.2. After being advised to “lose weight and exercise” I dropped my weight by 60 pounds, began walking walk 2 to 3 miles a day…and have an a1c of 5.6. I feel better than I felt at 50! (Mediterranean/DASH diet pretty much…very careful about what I eat.)

    Much appreciate your articles…have your book on order.

    • Hi John,

      What a success story! Thanks for sharing! Thank you as well for buying Longevity Plan!

      Warm regards,

      John

    • Hi John,

      Wow! What an inspirational story! Congratulations on your health turn around and thanks for sharing!

      John

  5. I really enjoyed this post, and can’t wait for my copy of your book. Soon!

    I’m trying to get a healthier way of eating figured out, and have been trying to eat more real food. I’m confused, though, about certain natural starches. I’m assuming it’s not good to eat too much of them, even if they are natural. For example, potatoes, or corn, or brown rice. I get that I should be eating more vegetables rather than a lot of these items. But just so I can get a better idea of the relative goodness, would you say that it’s better to eat plain potato (maybe roasted with a little olive oil) or plain rice that has been cooked, then chilled, then reheated? Or are they both sort of worthless?

    • Hi Margot,

      Thank you so much for posting! The book, The Longevity Plan, won’t disappoint. You’ll love it!

      You are asking some great questions. Starches, including potatoes, corn, or brown rice, can all be healthy if eaten in their real food whole form without processing.

      You also bring up an interesting point about resistant starches. Yes, if you cook potatoes or rice, then cool them overnight in the fridge, and reheat you have changed the chemical nature of the starches. It is now much harder to digest and so is less likely to spike your blood glucose. This is good when it comes to feeling full or weight loss. It is also very helpful for people with elevated blood sugar issues.

      If you want to enjoy an occasional potato with olive oil or some rice, go for it. An even better option would be to use a sweet potato with a little olive oil.

      Hope this helps!

      John