Scientists are starting to unlock the secrets of living longer by slowing the aging of our bodies and minds in ways that go down to the cellular level. Amazon titan Jeff Bezos’ new Altos Labs underscores the growing push behind longevity science. The billionaire’s venture is part of a still-nascent field—sometimes dubbed rejuvenation research—that is trying to reverse the normal aging process with the help of Nobel Prize winners and other prominent scientists.
Among other techniques, Altos is studying whether cells can be biologically reprogrammed to return to their origins as stem cells, which can differentiate into any other cell type, and be integrated into the skin to restore a more youthful appearance.
But these efforts are far more than skin deep. One of Altos’ new hires is the developer of a biological clock that can accurately measure human aging by measuring chemical changes on 353 DNA molecules. The ultimate hope is that lab-rejuvenated cells might lead to ways to help us live longer.
Hope, of course, doesn’t immediately translate into real-world strategies. Some scientists contend that, although treatments against aging will be available to us within a few years, the real beneficiaries will be people born after 1997, (Generation Z). These young adults may see an average lifespan that is about 20 years longer that what people can expect today.
Try these biohacks
You may already know some of the tweaks in daily habits and lifestyle choices that scientists tout to reduce inflammation and thwart the effects of aging. Along with certain types of preemptive testing and other vigilance, some biohacks may seem like a decidedly old-school approach. But if we’ve learned anything during the ongoing pandemic, it’s that keeping our bodies strong can help guard against unwanted outcomes.
Remember the adage that living longer is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s a long game that challenges us to make small, regular changes that can add up to longevity and vitality. Here’s a menu of evidence-backed options:
- Health and history audit. Take a thorough look at medical conditions you’ve had and any new symptoms you’re experiencing now. Review these with your primary care doctor to make sure you’re doing all you can to manage any existing health concerns.
- Genetic tests. Using your health history, genetic testing might determine if certain genes or enzymes further predispose you to serious diseases. A genetic specialist could tease out, for example, if certain cancers or Alzheimer’s disease are likelier for you and point the way toward more aggressive preventive measures that you can take now.
- Blood tests. Simpler than genetic tests, blood panels can detect key imbalances in nutrients, hormones, or inflammatory markers such as C-reactive protein or homocysteine that can indicate simmering problems in your cardiovascular or central nervous systems, among others.
- Intermittent (or longer) fasting. Consuming all your daily calories within a six- or eight-hour window each day may be challenging at first, but this current weight-loss fad does more than help shed unwanted pounds: Long hours without processing glucose act as an anti-inflammatory clean-out, ridding the body of damaged cells and proteins. Fasting for even longer periods, such as having only clear liquids for 48 hours once a month or eating 75 percent fewer calories two days a week, expands these evidence-backed anti-aging benefits even more.
- Less red meat. Even small amounts of red meat can have a negative effect on longevity. Eating more than 18 ounces of beef, pork, or lamb each week significantly increases colorectal cancer risk, and cutting consumption dramatically reduces all types of inflammation.
- More beans. Sweeping research conducted by the World Health Organization called consumption of beans and other legumes the most important dietary predictor of longevity. Every 20-gram daily increase (less than an ounce) in legume consumption was linked to an 8 percent reduction in death risk. Soy, tofu, miso, brown beans, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and white beans all provide powerful health benefits across global cultures.
- More movement. This is also no big revelation, but the importance of exercise on longevity cannot be overemphasized. It’s not just any exercise: Vigorous movement confers the most life-extending benefits. It reduces the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and other health conditions, and it wards off obesity. Aerobic activity should be supplemented with one key anti-aging exercise: squats. Research shows definitively that older adults who can rise from sitting without support are less likely to die in the short term than those who can’t. Strength training (weightlifting or resistance training) is also highly correlated to longer life because stronger muscles help protect age-vulnerable bones and joints.
- Out and about. Among other lessons from the pandemic is just how important in-person connections are to our mental health. Social engagement is also integral to longevity: Research shows that survival rates are highest among seniors who leave their homes daily for any reason, and lowest among those holed up and cut off from others. Bonus points if you mix the social and physical realms by playing sports like tennis or pickleball.
- Deep breathing. Take three minutes each day to lower your cortisol, a pro-inflammatory stress hormone, by practicing 4-7-8 breathing. Breath through your nose to a count of four, hold your breath to a count of seven, and exhale to a count of eight. Ideally, repeat twice a day for four breath cycles.