The search for the fountain of youth is as old as time. Here’s an idea: What if the fountain of youth is simply the sum of our decisions? If that’s the case, then the power to live long and well is (somewhat) in our hands! We can influence our longevity by making a daily commitment to healthy, longevity-based lifestyle choices. Research shows that only about 25 percent of our longevity is inherited and the remaining 75 percent is determined by the way we live. If the factors that influence the aging process are few enough to control through healthy living, we stand a chance at increasing our longevity by making the right choices.
Why do we age?
There are many compelling theories on the subject of how and why we age dating back to antiquity. Some ancient philosophers believed in a version of the “rate of living” theory, which suggests each person possesses a mysterious “vital substance” that keeps them alive. This elusive life-giving ingredient was thought of as a predetermined, finite number of heartbeats and breaths awarded to each person at birth to last throughout their lifetime. Luckily for us, this isn’t the case! However, the mystery of exactly how and why we age has yet to be fully solved.
Aging occurs at the cellular level
One modern theory is the cross linking/glycation hypothesis. As we age, the mobility and elasticity of structural molecules and proteins in our cells is impaired because of a cellular process called “cross-linking.” Cross-linking occurs when cells form inappropriate attachments to one another, impairing the proteins’ functions, the same chemical process that causes food to turn brown when cooked.
Evidence also suggests aging can be caused by free radicals causing oxidative damage to cells. Free radicals are the toxic byproducts of normal cellular metabolism. This creates a vicious cycle in which free radicals cause oxidative damage to cells, which in turn produces more free radicals. This unavoidable side effect of cell production leads to cell death, the result of which are the signs of aging.
Stress is the killer
All of the most compelling modern theories on aging point to cellular damage as the main cause for the deterioration of our bodies as we grow older. Stress has the power to lower our immune system, increase inflammation and destroy the brain cells that are responsible for memory. This is because when we’re stressed our bodies produce cortisol, a hormone directly linked to causing cell damage.
Physical and psychological stress
Both environmental as well as lifestyle choices can impact stress levels in the body. Heavy metals from polluted water, EMFs, chemicals, alcohol, cigarettes and poor diet all contribute to the production of cortisol which means more stress.
People who suffer from chronic stress, depression, anxiety, trauma and social isolation have similar damage in common at the cellular level. Studies show that stress shortens the length of a part of cells called telomeres. Shortened telomeres are a leading cause of cell death and aging.
Holistic stress reducers
Living a stress-free lifestyle is the key to a long, happy, healthy life. The challenge, should we choose to accept it, is committing ourselves to reducing stress in our lives. So, what are some tools we can use to manage and eliminate stress, one day at a time?
Meditation. Meditation has been proven to reduce stress by creating new neurological pathways in the brain. This makes new thoughts possible and helps shake us out of old habits. Taking a moment to quiet the endless stream of thoughts running through our minds allows us to take a piece of that tranquility with us throughout the rest of the day.
Healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet full of fresh organic vegetables, whole grains and nutrient-rich proteins is key to longevity. Eliminating sugar and processed foods is a must for anyone concerned with living long and well.
Physical activity. Implementing an exercise routine is essential to mental and physical wellness. Physical activity releases powerful stress-reducing endorphins in the brain. Yoga is especially helpful, as it combines meditation with exercise, naturally relaxing the body and mind.
Good sleep. Sleep facilitates the function of the lymphatic system, which can be thought of as the brain’s garbage disposer. While we’re asleep, the brain works 10 times as hard to remove toxins, like the protein build-up responsible for Alzheimer’s disease.
Limiting exposure to toxins. The effects of environmental toxins such as polluted water and poor air quality can seriously impact longevity over time. It’s been proven that people who live in places with cleaner air and access to fresh, clean water are known to live longer. Avoiding toxic materials, such as using plastic for food storage, is an easy way to start reducing toxicity in the body.
Purposeful living. Living a purposeful life is the most important thing we can do to extend our longevity. One thing centenarians all have in common is feeling they have lived a life worth living. Studies show that people who live with a greater sense of purpose experience better quality sleep along with receiving the regenerative benefits of being well-rested.
Gratitude. Practicing an attitude of gratitude is one way to ensure we live long and prosper.
A note on Blue Zones
The places on earth with the greatest longevity are known as “Blue Zones,” and people who live there all have some major things in common. They tend to live with a greater sense of purpose and value healthy eating, exercise and maintaining positive relationships with themselves and others.
Japan is the country with the greatest longevity on the planet, one out of 1,500 Japanese citizens are over one hundred years old!
The answer is in the culture. Obesity rates are low, as the common Japanese diet consists mainly of plant food, fish and non-sugar sweetened beverages. The Japanese value purposeful living and meditation is a regular practice among common people.
You only live once!
As far as we know, this is our one and only life in this form. It’s up to the individual to tend their own garden by implementing life-affirming, longevity-boosting lifestyles to ensure this life is meaningful, enjoyable and lasts a good long time!
Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP, is a woman’s hormone expert and the owner of Wise Woman Wellness LLC, an innovative wellness and hormone care center at 1480 Swan Road, De Pere. Mann is the author of the eBook: A Guide to Gluten and Going Gluten Free. She is a board certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner, one of a handful in Wisconsin and less than 1600 worldwide to achieve this distinction. She combines the best of conventional, functional and integrative medicine to help women with female, thyroid and adrenal hormone issues to live healthier, more abundant, joy-filled lives using a blend of compassion, cutting edge science, practical guidance and humor. Contact her at 920-339-5252 or via the Internet at www.wisewomanwellness.com. Join the introductory virtual seminar, “End Hormone Havoc – Crazy Hormones Cause Fatigue, Weight Gain and Brain Fog and How to Fix Them!”, offered monthly, to learn about specialized thyroid, adrenal and female hormone testing and customized, bioidentical hormone treatments to achieve lifelong optimal hormone balance, increased vitality and longevity.
Sources: Goyal M, Singh S, Sibinga EM, Gould NF, Rowland-Seymour A, Sharma R, Berger Z, Sleicher D, Maron DD, Shihab HM, Ranasinghe PD, Linn S, Saha S, Bass EB, Haythornthwaite JA. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med. 2014 Mar;174(3):357-68. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2013.13018. PMID: 24395196; PMCID: PMC4142584.
Schultchen D, Reichenberger J, Mittl T, Weh TRM, Smyth JM, Blechert J, Pollatos O. Bidirectional relationship of stress and affect with physical activity and healthy eating. Br J Health Psychol. 2019 May;24(2):315-333. doi: 10.1111/bjhp.12355. Epub 2019 Jan 22. PMID: 30672069; PMCID: PMC6767465.
Tsugane, S. Why has Japan become the world’s most long-lived country: insights from a food and nutrition perspective. Eur J Clin Nutr (2020).
Alimujiang A, Wiensch A, Boss J, et al. Association Between Life Purpose and Mortality Among US Adults Older Than 50 Years. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(5):e194270. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.4270
Diggs J. (2008) The Cross‐Linkage Theory of Aging. In: Loue S.J., Sajatovic M. (eds) Encyclopedia of Aging and Public Health. Springer, Boston, MA.
Lints FA. The rate of living theory revisited. Gerontology. 1989;35(1):36-57. doi: 10.1159/000212998. PMID: 2656413.
“Stress has the power to lower our immune system, increase inflammation and destroy the brain cells that are responsible for memory.”