Share this Image On Your Site
After our sharing on the science behind aging, in this article, we will talk about the things we can actually do to reverse / slow down aging. The answer lies in our lifestyle. Lifestyle can affect the microscopic processes going on in your cells day in and day out.
Scientists are also finding that even small amounts of healthy behaviour can retard these processes so that you age more slowly
Studies on lifestyle changes vs aging
There is a 5 year study on 25 men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer. 10 of them were asked to make comprehensive lifestyle changes while a control group of 25 men maintained their lifestyle habits. (1)
The lifestyle changes focused on four main areas.
- Eating right : Adoption of a whole food, plant-based diet that was low in fat and processed carbohydrates
- Moderate exercise : 30 minutes walks, 6 days a week
- Stress management : participation in meditation, yoga and other relaxation techniques for an hour a day
- Social support : Attendance at an hour long support-group meeting once a week.
The researchers took blood samples and measured the length of the participants’ telomeres at the start of the study and again after 5 years. The men who made comprehensive lifestyle changes experienced an average of 10% increase in their telomere length.
Men in the control group had their telomeres shrink an average of 3 percent. Furthermore, there appears to be a relationship between the “ dose “ of lifestyle change and the body’s response - the more positive the lifestyle choices someone made, the longer their telomeres grow.
Another small pilot study published in the Journal Aging in April 2021, 18 midlife men strictly followed a healthy lifestyle regimen ( that included a healthy diet, sleep, exercise and relaxation guidance, and supplemental probiotics and phytonutrients ) for 8 weeks.
Their estimated biological age dropped the equivalent of about 3 years when compared with the control group that didn’t follow the regimen (2).
So it seems that adopting a lifestyle that combines healthy eating, regular exercise, and stress management is certainly one of the best things one can do to reverse or slow down aging.
Lifestyle changes to combat aging
The amount of sleep has a huge impact on aging and our health. People who live the longest report sleeping for 6-7 hours each night. (3)
Lack of sleep of less than 5 hours a night more than doubles the risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Studies have shown that one of the biggest risk factors to obesity is lack of sleep.
There is a 55% more likely chance of developing obesity for adults and this increases to a whopping 89% for children who have insufficient sleep
Factors as to why lack of sleep can cause obesity include the release of appetite inducing hormones and suppression of those that help control hunger when you have insufficient sleep.
There is study published in the journal SLEEP which found that a twin who slept less than 7 hours a night was more likely to have a higher BMI than his or her siblings who slept more (4).
Sleep studies have consistently shown that for most people, getting 7-8 hours will make a big difference to your health. There is definitely some truth in the phrase “beauty sleep”.
Additionally, inadequate sleep impedes the productivity, cognition and concentration performance of an individual. A study on medical interns showed that those that were made to work more than 24 hours straight were 36% more prone to making serious medical errors than those who had enough rest.
A study conducted by the University of South Australia compared the effect of staying awake against the effect alcohol has on our functional performance and it was found that they are comparable. The more you drink, the worse your performance gets. The same is true for staying awake: the longer you are awake after a normal day of work, the worse your performance.
Avoidance of chronic stress is associated with a slower loss of telomeres in most studies and with decreased cortisol levels (5).
Cortisol is a hormone that is released from our body to help us deal with stress. A chronically high cortisol level compromises the immune system, causes cardiac damage and arterial hardening and is associated with facial ageing.
Stress can be countered by social connection, spirituality and married life, all of which are associated with longevity. Practising mindfulness meditation have been reported to increase telomerase activity and prolong telomere lengths.
So while sitting at your desk, you can push back against stress by regularly taking in few long, deep, slow breaths and picturing yourself out in the nature, paying close attention to how it would smell and feel.
According to some studies, people with mental disorders like bipolar disorders, schizophrenia and major depression and post-traumatic stress disorder have shorter telomeres. Stress and mental illnesses, therefore have direct effects on the aging of our cells, with consequences for health over the course of life.
Smoking has been shown to reduce both appetite and life span. It results in accelerated telomere shortening. Smoking can also accelerate skin pigmentation, skin aging and loss of collagen in the skin, resulting in skin thinning (6).
Studies by Goodman et al revealed that the degree of facial aging increases with the amount and time of exposure to tobacco.
Other than these simple changes to lifestyle habits, there is a very important aspect that greatly helps with retarding the signs of aging, and that is maintaining an active lifestyle. We will cover this area in depth for our third instalment of this anti-aging series.
By : Dr Chen Yiming
Family Physician, MBBS (Singapore), GDFM (NUS), GDFP Dermatology (NUS)