Healthy Aging: Renew Your Cells and Your Life
Aging happens on a cellular level. In a process called senescence, cells that are damaged by disease, injury, or other stress factors stop dividing. No longer functioning like their younger, healthier counterparts, these damaged senescent cells remain and accumulate, releasing chemicals that trigger inflammation in surrounding cells.
The unfortunate result is a weakening of our immune system and a slowing down of our biological processes, to make staving off and recovering from illnesses and injuries more difficult. Not surprisingly, cellular senescence has been linked to many age-related conditions, ranging from decline in eyesight to serious heart issues.
Understanding why this process occurs could help unlock the secrets to expanding the human lifespan; however, it remains a mystery. One of the more popular theories is that telomeres (the ends of the chromosomes of each cell) shorten during each replication and eventually signal cells to stop dividing.
We can influence the aging process
We might not have full control over our rate of cellular senescence or our lifespan. However, we can still make a significant impact on our longevity and our healthspan (how long we live healthy lives).1 In fact, according to a 2016 article, human longevity hinges on both genetic and non-genetic factors. Family studies demonstrated that about 25% of the variation in longevity is due to genes, leaving the other 75% up to lifestyle and environmental factors. Research has suggested several ways we can help ourselves live longer.
Adopt healthy habits
A2018 study led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health showed that eating well, maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly, not drinking too much alcohol, and avoiding smoking could add a decade or more to one’s life.2 Specifically, this research linked longevity to having a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9 and drinking no more than one 5-ounce glass of wine per day for women and two for men. At a minimum, try to keep your BMI lower than 30. According to a2016 NIH article, a BMI of 30 or higher is a risk factor for early death and shortens active life expectancy.3
Eat a nourishing diet
A whole-foods diet rich in legumes and whole grains can add up to a decade of life, according to this2022 study.4 As part of your diet, consider including tomatoes, strawberries, grapes, onions, and other fruits and vegetables rich in the plant pigment, quercetin. Scientists have found that this flavonoid has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and could help clear out senescent cells. A 2020 article suggests that people might benefit from their protective effects by taking them in through their diets or as supplements.5
Some research has also pegged a vegetarian diet to increased longevity. One case in point: along-term study of the religious group, Seventh-day Adventists, found that they live an average of 10 years longer than most Americans.6 In addition to avoiding tobacco and alcohol, they stick to a meatless diet.
As Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, an NIH geriatrician and epidemiologist, told the NIH forthe 2016 NIH article, “if I had to rank behaviors in terms of priority, I’d say that exercise is the most important thing associated with living longer and healthier.” Astudy that same year backed up the importance of physical activity, revealing that exercising regularly reduces the chances of mobility issues.7 After 2.7 years, study subjects who had walked 150 minutes per week plus practiced strength, flexibility, and balance training were 4.5% less likely to have major mobility disorder than those who did not exercise regularly. According to the 2018 Harvard study, exercising regularly involves at least 30 minutes per day of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Live with purpose
We might experience less cell turnover as we age. However, we can always renew our mindset and try to live with intention. In fact, as a2019 study of 6,985 adults showed, having a stronger purpose in life was associated with decreased mortality.8 According to this2020 Psychology Today article, living with a sense of purpose means “acting in accord with your most cherished values and goals.”9 To help with this goal, the article’s author, Meg Selig, recommends prioritizing the following:
love and friendship
compassion for others
small joys and pleasures
creative projects and play
leaving a legacy
bearing suffering with grace, courage, and dignity
contributing to the repair and improvement of the world
staying strong and healthy
1 Passarino,G., De Rango,F., Montesanto, A. (2016). [Study on longevity, genetics and environment]. National Library of Medicine.
2 Li et al. (2018). [Study on lifestyle factors on life expectancies]. PubMed.gov.
3 [Research on staying healthier longer]. (2016). NIH News in Health.
4 Fadnes et al. (2022). [Study on diet and life expectancy]. PLOS Medicine.
5 Salehi et al. (2020). [Study on effects of quercetin on health]. National Library of Medicine.
6 [Findings on lifestyle and longevity], n.d., Adventisthealthstudy.org.
7 [Study on physical activity and disabilities in the elderly], (2016), bmj.com.
8 Alimujiang et al, (2019), [Study on life purpose and mortality in older adults], JAMA Network
9 Selig, M., (2020), [Ways to find purpose as you age], Psychology Today.