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Home ANTI-AGING & LONGEVITY The Natural Way to Longevity: What We Have Learned From Centenarians

The Natural Way to Longevity: What We Have Learned From Centenarians

Here’s a look at a few ways to live longer and to stay healthier as you age.

by Helen Jahn

Here’s a look at a few ways to live longer and to stay healthier as you age.

Global life expectancy is increasing, and the population is getting older.  Experts project worldwide life expectancy to be 81.69 by 2100.  By 2050, 17 percent of people worldwide will be 65 and older.  The aging of the population presents both economic and global public health issues, as aging is the biggest risk factor for many serious disorders, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and neurodegeneration.  We all face the risk of age-related disease as we enter our later years. 

It may seem as though decline is inevitable with old age, but what if we could not only live longer but also stay healthier as we age?  Your numeric age is likely different from your biological age.  Biological aging is the breakdown of your cellular health.  As we age, we experience a decline in well-being and biochemical integrity.  Longevity science aims to increase not only lifespan but also health-span to preserve a high quality of life into old age.  In other words, a major goal of longevity science is to stay biologically young even as the number of candles on your birthday cake keeps increasing.

The Blue Zones and the secrets of longevity

The Blue Zones were discovered by explorer and author Dan Buettner while on a National Geographic expedition aimed at finding the secrets of longevity.  Buettner and his team identified five world locations where people consistently lived to 100 and beyond.  They found several commonalities in these populations, later distilled as the Power 9 teachings of Right Outlook, Move Naturally, Eat Wisely, and Belong.  People in these regions led active lives, practiced stress-relieving routines such as prayer and ancestor worship, ate less, followed diets rich in plants and low in meat, consumed alcohol in moderation, prioritized family and proximity to loved ones, and maintained a deep sense of purpose in their lives. 

What is most striking about these findings is that these longevity secrets addressed the whole person on physical, psychological, social and even spiritual levels.  As it turns out, culture and way of life play a large role in determining how well we age.  Indeed, twin studies have established that only 20% of how long we live is determined by our genes, while the other 80% is governed by lifestyle.  This suggests that the choices we make throughout our lives are the main determinants of whether or not we can expect to be healthy, active centenarians. Eat Wisely: a look at calorie restriction

Our ancient hunter-gatherer ancestors alternated between times of feast and famine.  They ate as much as possible after a hunt and endured famine when food was unavailable.  The human body enters a pruning process during fasting, breaking down old cells and mass.  In modern environments where food is always plentiful, we don’t have periods of fasting, so there is a buildup of old cells.  This long-term buildup is thought to contribute to the development of disease.  We can help our bodies to consume this buildup through calorie restriction, slowing down the aging process through a return to our evolutionary roots.

Indeed, science tells us that we may be able to improve our longevity by eating less.  The connection between calorie restriction and longevity first appeared in the 1930s when animal husbandry professor Clive McCay noticed that underfed rats were healthier and lived 33% longer.  Subsequent studies on numerous other species have shown lifespan extensions as high as 50-300%.  Calorie restriction (CR) can also reduce disease risk.  It has been shown to reduce the likelihood of cancer, heart disease, diabetes and cognitive decline.  It is also said to enhance immune function. 

Most CR studies have been performed on animals; however, there is some direct evidence that it slows down aging in humans.  A two-year CR study on humans who reduced their caloric intake by 14% showed an increase in immune function, reduced abdominal fat, improved reaction to insulin and healthier blood vessels and hearts.  Of course, you can go too far with CR, and CR studies are based on a moderately low caloric intake with adequate nutrition.  Research on eating disorders has shown the negative health effects of excessive restriction and malnutrition.  

Senolytics: the benefits of CR without the diet

The science that benefited our ancient ancestors when they fasted is based on the concept of cell senescence.  The expired cells that were absorbed into the bodies of ancient huntergatherers when they fasted are called senescent cells.  These cells have stopped functioning as they have reached their capacity for division.  Sometimes these cells are not absorbed and become inflamed, sending chemical signals to nearby cells so that they also become zombies.  Calorie restriction promotes the process of autophagy, by which damaged cell components are recycled into their basic biomolecules.  If the body has high levels of zombie cells, then you may be more vulnerable to conditions like heart disease, diabetes, dementia, and osteoporosis.   

If you don’t think that CR is for you, but you still want to slow the aging process, then there may be a natural supplement that can help.  Senolytic ingredients like quercetin can destroy senescent cells in humans, in this sense mimicking the effect of CR.  Quercetin is a naturally occurring fruit flavonoid that has been shown to destroy zombie cells in mice, preventing or even curing a range of age-related conditions.  In addition, the mice in these studies lived up to 36% longer.  Quercetin is found in many fruits and vegetables, and is also available as a dietary supplement. 

Many supplement manufacturers are jumping into the longevity market, but as these products are largely unregulated, many contain such small quantities of each substance that they are ineffective.  However, it is possible to find quality quercetin at a reasonable price.  Toniiq is a Chicago based supplement manufacturer recognized for its products’ exceptional purity and potency.  CEO Udae Sandhu founded this standout in the dietary supplement market in 2013. 

Sandhu developed the idea to sell high-quality natural supplements while a student at The University of Michigan.  The objective was to market to educated consumers who already appreciated the power of natural products to enhance health and were looking for the highest potency and purity. Toniiq sells quercetin in 1000 mg capsules at 95% standardized purity.  Thorne, a supplement company that collaborates with the Mayo Clinic on research, also sells a high-quality quercetin supplement, but at a higher price point.

Right Outlook: resilience and “reason for being”

Okinawa, Japan is one of the best-known of The Blue Zones, where women live longer than anywhere else in the world.  Okinawans also have relatively low rates of cancer, heart disease, and dementia.  Researchers believe that the practice of ikigai, or “reason for being” in this region contributes to the longevity of its residents.  Rooted in traditional Japanese medicine, ikigai refers to a state of well-being derived from devotion to enjoyable and fulfilling activities.  It alludes to a sense of purpose in life.  Therefore, your psychology plays a large role in your longevity.

Studies of centenarians show that those who live longer may do so not by avoiding stress but by responding to it effectively.  Resilience is the ability to cope with stress in a positive way and to adapt to adversity.  Those who are most psychologically resilient maintain a sense of hope and meaning in the face of hardship.  One study showed that people aged 94-98 were 43.1% more likely to reach 100 if they demonstrated high resilience.  This may be partially explained by the fact that people who better manage the stress in their lives are at lower risk for serious disease. Chronic stress contributes to the development of health conditions such as high blood pressure, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, digestive issues, and heart disease.

Psychology describes many aspects of the ideal outlook that will help you to better respond to stress.  Cognitive-behavioral therapists have identified several factors that build resilience, including having a strong social circle, accepting things that cannot be changed, pursuing realistic goals, viewing problems in a larger context, and using loss to better understand the self. The most resilient response to a difficult situation is to reframe it in a more positive light.  You can cultivate optimism by visualizing positive outcomes to situations.

Resveratrol and the French Paradox

Aging happens with the decline of gene function and cell metabolism.  A lot of anti-aging science focuses on nutrition, because nutrients are at the foundation of our biochemistry.  What we consume on a daily basis has a profound effect on longevity; in this sense, food is medicine. One commonality among Blue Zone residents is their moderate consumption of alcohol, and there is a scientific basis for the idea that red wine may help you to live a longer, healthier life.   

The French Paradox is the observation that the French experience low rates of cardiovascular disease despite a high-fat diet and high incidence of smoking.  The presence of resveratrol in red wine may explain this phenomenon.  Resveratrol is an antioxidant found in purple grape skins, blueberries, and cranberries.  Research on cells, worms and mice has shown that resveratrol turns on the SIRT1 gene, which protects against diseases like diabetes and lengthens lifespan.  Humans have the same SIRT1 gene, so we may also reap the benefits of this natural substance.  Resveratrol is thought to trigger the destruction of damaged cells by the activation of this gene, in one sense mimicking the effects of calorie restriction.

Resveratrol is known to have a low bioavailability, and studies have shown that only around 10% of an oral dose will make it to the rest of your body once it has passed through the liver.  Taking resveratrol with quercetin has been shown to increase bioavailability, but if you are shopping for a resveratrol supplement, then you should look for the highest potency product.  Toniiq offers a highly purified form of resveratrol in 600 mg capsules at 98% purity.  Ethically sourced and produced at a GMP-certified manufacturing facility, this resveratrol brand is one of the most effective on the market.  As all Toniiq products are internally sourced, from a family farm in Peru to a biotech company in Tokyo, they provide an assurance of high quality and traceability.  Rigorous third-party testing is the final step in a process created to ensure the safety and quality of these products.  Other top rated resveratrol products include Nuzena Resveratrol Rapid+, Life Extension Optimized Resveratrol, and Thorne ResveraCel. 

Belong: staying young and staying sharp

As the elderly in Okinawa are known for their long lifespans, they are also reported to have fewer cases of dementia.  The brain adapts to a changing environment by developing stronger connections between frequently used neurons and pruning away weaker connections.  This effect is known as neuroplasticity.  Neuroscience tells us that a learning environment that offers stimulation, challenge, and novelty will change your brain positively.  For example, you could learn a new language, learn an instrument, or travel.  As high social engagement provides a wealth of stimulation for the brain, the Okinawan practice of maintaining a strong social network called a moai may help slow the cognitive decline that sometimes follows us into old age.  The old adage of “use it or lose it” holds true when it comes to staying sharp as we age.

Studies of centenarians like those who live in Okinawa, Japan have shed light on the secrets of longevity.  Not only is it possible to live past 100 with the right lifestyle and environment, but it is also possible to do so in relatively good health.  As it turns out, the solutions are simple and easily practiced.  Suppose you move naturally throughout the day, consume alcohol in moderation, eat less, follow a diet dominated by plant sources, stay socially engaged, and build resilience to stress.  In that case, you are well on your way to a longer, healthier life.

Living long and living well

There is great scientific support for all of these lifestyle choices, including calorie restriction, psychological resilience, constant learning and supplementation.  If you apply these principles, you are more likely to live longer and live well.  Perhaps the most celebrated longevity secret is to have a clear sense of life purpose.  If you have a good reason to get up in the morning, then your life at 100 is almost certain to be a happy one.

Important Note: This article does not contain health or medical advice, and the information contained herein is not intended to diagnose, prevent, treat or cure any disease, condition or health problem. Before beginning any program of diet, nutrition or supplementation, seek the advice of a competent healthcare professional in order to determine the possible effects on your health, given your individual sensitivities, needs and objectives

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