Most people tend to look at the cycle of life as inevitable, and while it’s true that none of us can outrun Father Time, there are natural life extenders that can activate longevity pathways to slow the aging process.
“Genes are not your destiny,” says Dr. David Sinclair, Ph.D., A.O., on the Dr. Axe show podcast. “… You can change that rate of aging by doing the right things.”
What are those things? Sinclair, a professor in the Department of Genetics, co-Director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Sinclair Lab at Harvard’s Blavatnik Institute, which specializes in genetics and longevity, says that a healthy lifestyle is the key, emphasizing these five things the most:
“These things can extend your life span by 14 years or more just by doing the basics,” he says. “And it turns out an estimated 80% of your health and longevity is not genetic. It depends on how you live your life.”
Keys to Longevity
Sinclair says four important factors in longevity are:
- blood sugar levels
- liver function
- testosterone for males and hormones in general
By looking at these factors and others, Sinclair’s team has been able to determine people’s biological age — how old they are based on their bodies and health, not necessarily how long since they were born — and his researchers have discovered a group of longevity genes called sirtuins.
“They control how fast we age,” Sinclair says of sirtuins. “There are molecules in foods we eat that activate these defenses in our body, these genes. These molecules are the same that are in food types that people in Blue Zones eat: resveratrol and oleic acid found in things like olive oil, avocado and nuts.”
It turns out, these genes are not predetermined. They can be fostered to help extend longevity and support a healthier overall lifestyle.
“We’ve got the wrong conception about what aging is. We tend to think that it’s just a natural process that we can do nothing about, but we’ve learned that that’s not true — 80% of the rate of our aging is in our own hands. It’s actually controlled by how we live and what we eat,” Sinclair says.
“I am proposing a new theory about why we age: the loss of information in our body and how to preserve that information over time. The analogy would be if we had a DVD of information on ourselves, over time the it gets scratched, so the cell cannot read the original genetic information easily. What we’ve discovered is we can now polish that DVD and get the cell to read the useful information again. And in that way, we’re actually showing that we can reverse the aging process.”
How to Support Longevity
1. Allow Yourself to Be Hungry
“There’s a lot of evidence that fasting turns on these longevity pathways,” Sinclair says. “… Don’t eat three large meals a day and snack in between. I think the old idea of always having food around and never being hungry has to be revised.”
2. Move, Move, Move
Maybe it’s also finding a new sport that you want to play again and again, with friends — such as golf, tennis or pickleball.
3. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep affects all aspects of health and has huge effects on aging. It’s vital. Aim for at least seven hours a night.
4. Have a Calm Mental Attitude
“Part of that is having a goal in life. The other is to have a partner or friends and family that are caring and loving around you. That will definitely reduce your amount of stress. It’ll help you sleep, and it’ll make every day much more enjoyable as well,” he says.
“Chronic stress is a real problem for aging,” he adds. “It can rapidly shorten the ends of chromosome, the telomeres. We also know mainly from studies in the lab with mice is that if you manipulate the brain of the mouse to have more inflammation, it will age prematurely and vice versa — if you lower the inflammation in the brain it can live longer.
“We also know that if you turn gene No. 1 on in the mouse’s brain, it’ll be healthier and live longer. That tells me probably how our brains are functioning, how worried we are, how depressed we are can have major impacts on the aging of the rest of the body.”
5. Focus on Eating the Right Foods
Remove the bad from the diet, and focus on nutritious foods:
- Any type of sugar is bad.
- Try not to eat too much process carbohydrates
- Keeping blood sugar levels at a steady level, not too high, is clearly important, so eat foods that support healthy blood sugar.
- Avoid excess body fat. It’s been shown obesity lowers the amount of NAD and lowers your sirtuin defenses.
“I stopped eating dessert at age 40, though I still steal tastes,” Sinclair says. “Try to focus on fresh food if you can, and also I think plant-based mainly is the way to go for ultimate longevity based on a lot of data over the last few thousand years. We know that that’s what you need to do.”
Sample Day for Dr. Sinclair
1. Say Goodbye to Three Meals a Day
“I try to skip breakfast or have a very small breakfast,” Sinclair says.
He has a few spoonfuls of homemade yogurt mixed with resveratrol if he does eat breakfast, then doesn’t eat again until having a late lunch or even dinner on busy days. When he does eat lunch, he typically eats light, such as a salad without much dressing and possibly some fruit. He also consumes plenty of hot drinks that are low in caffeine to support immunity.
“Then for dinner I eat mostly a plant-based diet,” Sinclair says. “I’ll eat a little meat since I lift weights to help body recover but not a big red meat, steak guy. I don’t think in the long run that’s super healthy. Carnivore diets are OK short run, but I focus on eating plants that are picked freshly.”
2. Sauna/Cold Plunge
Sinclair describes these as activities “that trick the body into feeling like it’s under threat, under adverse conditions, and it fights back. That’s hormesis. The definition of hormesis is to be uncomfortable, and that pays dividends in the long run.”
“For people who are in the second half of their life, it’s important to maintain flexibility and muscle strength. Lift some weights. Especially if you’re in the first half of your life and all the way up to 80, you want to do high-intensity interval training, get your heart rate up to a safe level. It doesn’t have to be for a half hour — it can be as little as 10 minutes every few days. That alone has been shown to have remarkable protection against diseases of aging,” says Sinclair.
4. Take Anti-Aging Supplements
- NAD+: “Sirtuins make enzymes that protect the body. They send out the troops to repair DNA and get rid of bad proteins that have accumulated. Those enzymes don’t work at all if they don’t have enough NAD. NAD is a common chemical that our bodies make all the time. We need it to survive. Without NAD we’d be dead in probably 30 seconds or less. Now we know NAD levels control our health and longevity. We think our body loses NAD and its ability to make NAD as we get older. But we also know there are ways to boost NAD levels naturally: One way is to exercise. One way is to be hungry. And another way is to take a supplement which consists of a precursor to NAD.”
- NMN: “It’s the immediate precursor to NAD, what the body make NAD from,” Sinclair says. “We’re doing clinical trials now. This is based mouse studies. The mice show promise, protection against loss of endurance, mice have more energy, they’re protected against diabetes. I’m taking this NAD booster with an abundance of caution.”
- Vitamin D
- Vitamin B12: Be careful. Dr. Sinclair had to stop taking it because his levels were exceedingly high, but it’s an important vitamin for longevity, so you may want to supplement if your levels are low.
- No one can outrun Father Time, but there are things you can do to slow the aging process and support longevity.
- Dr. David Sinclair has found that we can control up to 80% of the aging process through lifestyle factors.
- He says the keys to combat aging are to eat healthy, avoid gaining excess body fat, exercise, get enough sleep, have supportive friends and family, and allow yourself to be hungry every once in a while.