General Health, Health and Wellness

The Truth About Aging: The 5 Principles of Longevity

1 Comment 01 July 2010

The truth about aging is that you — right now — have the ability to live 35 percent longer than expected with a greater quality of life and without frailty. How? Start by understanding these five new principles of longevity, which will change the way you think about the way your body ages. From YOU: Staying Young by Drs. Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz.

1. Aging Is Really About Trade-offs
Despite what you think, aging — in the traditional way that we think of it, with everything slowly and painfully shutting down — isn’t “meant to be.” It’s not an effect of life. It’s actually more of a side effect of a grander plan for humans.

A lot of people think that creaky joints, craggy nails, and cranky bowels are simply part of the deal. You get to live to eighty-something; then, in exchange, you’re going to have your fair share of misery along the rest of the way. Horrible being old, eh? Hold on. Yes, there is a trade-off, but it’s not that one. If you take a look at every biological process that happens in your body, there’s an evolutionary reason why it works that way, and that reason, without fail, is to ensure the survival of the species. That is, evolution has deemed the perpetuation of your genes to be much more important than the perpetuation of your individual life. Your biological processes are designed to protect you only long enough to reproduce and to raise your young. In fact, it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century — at least in developed countries — that human beings could expect to live much beyond their reproductive years.

Those processes that make perfect sense for reproduction may not work in your favor as you get older. That’s aging. The systems designed to protect you until you finish reproducing (whether you’re actually reproducing is unimportant) can be maladaptive as you age. When you look at aging through the lens of the gene, rather than the lens of the individual, it all makes much more sense. These trade-offs are what we’ll occasionally refer to as the YOU-nified theory of aging — the fact that aging isn’t some master plan for life but, rather, an offshoot.

2. Aging Isn’t About Breaking Down as Much as It Is About Repair
Stuff breaks. Cars, computers, and relationships all have their own breaking points. And to suggest that stuff will not break either through acute injury (a five alarm fire or a torn knee ligament) or from wear and tear over time (a fifty-year old roadway or an overused back) would be misleading. While it’s obviously important to keep your biological systems from breaking down, the real secret to longevity isn’t whether or not you break; it’s how well you recover and repair when you do. Our bodies, in fact, weren’t designed not to break down (legs as thick as redwoods may not break, but they wouldn’t be very nimble). They were designed with a great efficiency and ability to repair themselves.

As with a car, you’ll get a lot more mileage out of your body if you perform routine maintenance. Aging is essentially a process in which your cells lose their resilience; they lose their ability to repair damage because the things you might never have heard of (until now), like mitochondria and telomeres, aren’t working the way they should. But it’s within your power to boost that resilience and keep your vehicle going an extra couple hundred thousand miles.

3. Aging Happens from Both the Inside Out and the Outside In
Many of us like to think that aging is a magical process that happens deep within our bodies; that some so-called gremlins of gerontology ratchet down our cells and our systems so we grow old. You’ll learn that aging is not only about those cellular processes, but, more important, it’s how you respond, adapt to, and deal with the stressors that affect you from the outside — things like sun and stress and slippery sidewalks. What does that mean? It means that aging is really about the rate of aging — specifically, how the outside and inside factors accelerate or decelerate your aging. Here’s the big secret about aging: Your rate of aging doubles every eight years. So, if we were able to maintain a forty-year-old’s rate of aging for the rest of our lives, we would live past age one hundred twenty and “die of old age.” While inside out and outside in both play a role — and both influence each other — your job is to try to manage both forms, so that you slow the real culprit in growing old: the rate of aging.

4. Aging Is Not About Individual Problems but Compounded Ones
Spend any time at a deli counter, and you know that Swiss cheese has two different looks. Big holes or small holes, all in random order and patterns. A good way to think about aging is to imagine yourself looking through a dozen slices of stacked-up Swiss cheese. If the holes are small and the slices are thick, you can’t see through the stack. Now pretend that each of these Swiss cheese slices represents a layer of protection that your body provides to prevent aging. People who are vibrant and strong may have small holes in their system — stuff that lets through a few problems, but nothing too major. Maybe they’ve got a little hole in their slice of heart health, and a few little holes in their slice of brain health, and a medium-sized hole in their slice of chromosome health. Nothing major lets you see through the stack.

As aging takes effect, however, those holes can get a little bigger, or the cheese can get a little thinner. When big holes from one slice perfectly align with big holes from another slice, then, in effect, you’ve got big problems. That’s a little bit what aging is like: The small problems may not have a big effect here and there, but when they grow, and when they interact with other problems, then you’ve created what we like to call a (cue scary orchestra music) web of causality. That’s when seemingly small health problems spiral into bigger ones — all possibly triggered by several different causes.

5. Aging Is Reversible — All You Need Is a Nudge
Most people think aging is a landslide of a process, that we’re destined to use walkers and hearing aids and thick glasses no matter what. And while we’re not saying that you will absolutely avoid all the bumps (big and small) along the way, we are saying that aging isn’t as inevitable as a morning trip to the bathroom.

What you will learn is how to nudge your systems so that they work in your favor, to create leverage points in life. And the great thing is that it’s never too early or too late to start making these changes. You don’t need a complete overhaul, because, frankly, your body is a pretty fine piece of machinery. What you’ll ultimately do is find and fix your own personal weak links — the things that make you most vulnerable to the effects of aging. The cumulative effect of those nudges, though not major from a behavioral or even a biological perspective, can be huge when it comes to increasing the length and quality of your life.

The truth about aging is that you — right now — have the ability to live 35 percent longer than expected (today’s life expectancy is seventy-five for men and eighty for women) with a greater quality of life and without frailty. That means it’s reasonable to say that you can get to one hundred or beyond and enjoy a good quality of life along the way. While relying on the talents, skills, and knowledge of others may get you out of a medical jam, what you really want is to avoid it in the first place. Restricting calories, increasing your strength, and getting quality sleep are three of nature’s best anti-aging medicines. Together, these activities — as well as the other actions we recommend — control 70 percent of how well you age. Wouldn’t you want to hold the power of your future in your hands, rather than put it in someone else’s?

Just because you’ve made mistakes in the past doesn’t mean you can’t reverse them. Even if you’ve had burgers for breakfast or fried your brain cells with stress, you’re not necessarily destined to wear husky pants and forget birthdays. No matter what kind of life you’ve already led, aging is reversible: You can have a do-over if you want it. If you perform a good habit for three years, the effect on your body is as if you’ve done it your entire life. Even better, within three months of changing a behavior, you can start to measure a difference in your life expectancy.

As we said, aging is inevitable, but the rate of aging is not. Consider this fact: Only 10 percent of people are classified as frail when they’re in their seventies. By the time people reach one hundred, almost 100 percent are considered frail. What we’re trying to do is make sure that percentage stays lower for longer. We want you to feel as good at the end of the race as you do at the start.

Our goal here is to ensure that you have a high quality of life until whatever time — forgive our bluntness — you drop dead. That’s the ideal scenario, right? Nobody wants to spend their golden years on diets of Jell-O, suffering from bedsores, or not remembering the previous nine decades. You want to feel like you’re thirty even when you’re eighty. You want to have the wisdom of a grandparent without feeling like one. So our goal isn’t to get you to 120 — unless those 120 years come with quality.

After all, living longer shouldn’t be about “taking longer to die,” which is what so many people think it means. It should be about enjoying every moment of a longer life — and taking longer to live.

You want to live long and live well. You want to feel alive while you’re living.

You don’t want to grow old. You want to stay young.

This is the way.

Now hup to it.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Michael F. Roizen, M.D., is a New York Times bestselling author and cofounder and originator of the very popular RealAge.com website. He is professor and chair of the Division of Anesthesia, Critical Care Medicine, and Pain Management, and chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic. Mehment C. Oz, M.D., is also a New York Times bestselling author and the health expert of The Oprah Winfrey Show. He is professor and vice-chairman of surgery at New York Presbyterian Columbia University and the medical director of the Integrated Medicine Center and the director of the Heart Institute. They are the coauthors of YOU: Staying Young: The Owner’s Manual for Extending Your Warranty (Copyright © 2007 by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Oz Works LLC).

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