Phase Out Destructive Habits

  1. The single best thing you can do for your health and longevity is quit smoking. Smoking has been indicted for a laundry list of ills from heart disease to lung disorders, all of which can foil your longevity plans.
  2. Drink only in moderation. Alcohol infuses every cell, damaging genes and inflaming your liver. A glass of wine a day for women and maybe two for men, but no more, may be mildly beneficial.
  3. Get your Zzzz’s. Your body needs down time to repair cells and rest your heart. And your mind needs dreaming to stay sane.
  4. Find a doctor who specializes in geriatrics or anti-aging. Barbara M. Morris, RPh, author of Boomers Can Really Put Old on Hold, recommends an anti-aging doctor. But according to Marc R. Blackman, MD, chief of the laboratory of clinical investigation of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (part of the National Institutes of Health), a geriatrician would be more mainstream and recommend fewer unproven treatments. “Anti-aging is like saying anti-puberty or anti-pregnancy. This is a natural process,” he says. Whatever his or her style, your new doctor may recommend yearly assessment of various biomarkers, including lipids, DHEA, estrogen, cortisol, thyroid, lung function, and micronutrient assays.
  5. Cut saturated fat, up omega-3 fats. It’s gospel by now: eat less or no red meat; lose the cake and ice cream; consume more complex carbs, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; and get plenty of fatty fish. The healthy fats in salmon, mackerel, and sardines help keep oxygen free-radical molecules from damaging your cells.
  6. Consider moderating your total food intake. Studies in rats show that a 30% calorie restriction means longer life (no, it doesn’t just seem longer!). Blackman also cites studies in rhesus monkeys showing a gain in years from a reduction in food. Obviously, losing excess pounds means less strain on your system.
  7. Be careful when tweaking your hormones. Morris swears by controversial human growth hormone — for her. Blackman is no fan. “There have been big studies to determine the relationship between decreases in human growth hormone and thinner bones, more body fat, and mood swings. Giving growth hormone can build muscle, but it has not been shown that the muscle is any stronger.” HGH has also been associated with water retention, carpal tunnel syndrome, high blood pressure, and blood-sugar fluctuations. ” is not at a point where any responsible provider could recommend it,” Blackman says. And what about the other substance — a steroid called DHEA — often recommended for aging? “Dramatically less evidence than HGH!” exclaims Blackman. As for estrogen and progesterone replacement, it’s been in all the papers. The combo therapy may increase, rather than cut, the risk of cancer and heart disease. Many natural alternatives to these substances exist — your own situation should dictate your decision, but always consult your doctor.
  8. Supplement, supplement, supplement. Most of us suffer from “overconsumption malnutrition” — too much of the wrong things, Morris says. She takes a fistful of vitamins and minerals each morning. Even the cautious American Medical Association recently endorsed taking a daily multivitamin. In addition to the effective antioxidant vitamin C, Morris says CoQ10, vitamin E, alpha lipoic acid (another antioxidant), and perhaps some of those “mental acuity” mixtures in the health-food store should be in your medicine cabinet. Again, your doctor can help you fashion routine.
  9. Reprogram your vision of old age. A study at Yale recently showed that those with a positive view of growing older lived seven years longer than those who griped about it. Morris works with young people and “they forget things all the time and never refer to ‘having to a junior moment.'”
  10. Kick guilt out of your life! Laura Berman Fortgang, author of Living Your Best Life, says: “Be future-minded. Guilt and regrets are part of the past. Evolving and changing is how we stay young.”
  11. Don’t be afraid to make a big change. Fortgang says it’s never too late to move, join the Peace Corps, change careers, get married, or get a divorce. “Don’t say you’re too old,” she says. “Sometimes decisions need to be changed.” She and Morris also say plastic surgery can be life-enhancing if you do it to look and feel better, not to change your life overnight.
  12. Morris also half-jokingly advises that people never retire. “Retirement is a contagious, debilitating disease.” Take some time off for a vacation and smell the roses, she advises. But don’t get so intoxicated by the roses that you don’t come back and do something useful. “Those roses could turn into daisies,” she says, “as in pushing up daisies.”

Patients often come into my office asking, “How can I look younger?” While I always recommend healthy living — a balanced diet and regular exercise — in order to look and feel younger, I have never thought of facial exercises as part of that regimen. That is, until a recent study, published in JAMA Dermatology, showed promising results that routine facial exercise may slow the unrelenting tide of time.

Facial exercises: A fountain of youth for your face?

The rationale behind the study stems from the fact that a major part of facial aging is due to the loss of fat and soft tissue, which leads to sagging and exaggeration of wrinkles. If we can lift weights at the gym and enlarge our biceps, why couldn’t the same be done for muscles in our faces, thereby filling out those contours to create a more youthful countenance?

The concept of facial exercise is not a new one. A simple Internet search will produce a litany of blog posts and books on the subject, touting a variety of programs that promise to be the next fountain of youth. What the JAMA Dermatology researchers did in their study, which was the first of its kind, was to examine this question from a more rigorous scientific perspective. They enrolled 27 women between the ages of 40 and 65 to perform daily, 30-minute exercises for eight weeks, and then continue every other day for a total of 20 weeks.

Dermatologists who did not know the participants were asked to rate their photographs before and after the exercise regimen. The dermatologists found an improvement in cheek fullness and estimated the age of the participants at 51 years of age at the start of the program and 48 at the end of the 20-week study. Furthermore, all the participants felt improvement in their own facial appearance at the end of the study.

While these results seem exciting, the study has some obvious limitations. Of the 27 patients enrolled, 11 dropped out before completing the study. One reason may be that the program was too time-consuming, clocking in at 30 minutes a day. The overall small size of the study also limits its generalizability to the larger population. In addition, there was also no control group, meaning a group of participants who did no facial exercises, which would have helped minimize the possibility that this improvement occurred by chance.

It’s also hard to draw conclusions about the longevity of these results. Presumably the exercises must be continued to maintain their effects. But for how long? And how frequently? Which exercises are most fruitful? More studies are needed to address these questions.

Facial exercises may help, but sunscreen is tried and true

For those who are still skeptical but wish to try something more evidence-based to maintain youthfulness, I have one simple suggestion: use sunscreen. You may roll your eyes at the suggestion of sunscreen from a dermatologist, but there is an enormous body of research that demonstrates the sun’s role in prematurely aging our skin. You can protect your skin from these damaging effects by using broad-spectrum, SPF 30 or higher sunscreen daily, especially on the face. An analogy I often make is to think of a rug of in front of a window in your house. How does it look after five or 10 years? If the sun can fade an inanimate object to such a degree, think of what it can do to your skin.

As for facial exercises, the jury is still out. But unlike youth-preserving cosmetic procedures that require money and time for recovery, facial exercises are free and almost certainly not harmful. So why not try facial exercises if you have the time? If they don’t make you look younger, these goofy moves will, at the very least, make you smile.

Follow me on Twitter @KristinaLiuMD

5 Signs Your Body Is Aging Too Fast, and How to Reverse it

One of the human body’s most masterful tricks is its ability to give us clues about what’s going on inside. These biological breadcrumbs can alert us to potential health concerns before they become serious—and in many cases—give us a chance to reverse damage.

Premature wrinkles, skin tone, the condition of your hair, and the way you look and move can indicate whether your biological age is higher than your chronological age. Your biological age refers to how well your body is functioning and can be much higher or lower than your actual age.You’ve probably met an “old” young person or someone who is 80, but seems decades younger.

Here are some signs of aging and what to do about it:

Red Eyes

Red eyes can come from more than just seasonal allergies or staring at the computer screen for too long. Chronic red eyes can be a sign of chronic inflammation, which is associated with several age-related diseases such as osteoarthritis.

How to stop it: An alkaline diet rich in antioxidants can reduce inflammation, cut down on joint pain and stiffness, and fight aging. When you follow The Beauty Detox plan, you eat a diet of about 80 percent alkaline-forming foods and 20 percent acid-forming foods. That means 80 percent of your diet should be fruits, greens, and vegetables, while the other 20 percent is for protein, carbohydrates, starches, and fats. Alkaline foods include ripe fruits, sprouts, greens, and other non-starchy vegetables. When you trade in fast food and refined sugars for whole, real foods, you may begin to see (and feel) less evidence of chronic inflammation.

Some of the best inflammation-fighting foods are:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Almonds
  • Walnuts (try my Sweet Walnut Chutney recipe)
  • Garlic

Droopy Eyelids or Fatty Deposits Around the Eyes

The eyes are not only the windows to your soul, they provide a peek at the overall health of your body. Droopy eyelids can be an indication of fatigue, allergies, thyroid dysfunction, or fluid retention. In most cases, droopy lids are connected to oxidative stress, which allows free radicals to accumulate and cause cell damage in your body.

The good news is that oxidative stress is greatly attributed to eating a poor diet full of processed foods. Put down that potato chip and pick up some blueberries or crunchy carrots and jicama dipped in hummus. Free radicals can also come from the environment in the air or water; a diet high in antioxidants can negate their effects.

How to stop it: Switching to a diet with whole, rather than processed, foods will help. Celery (an ingredient in my Glowing Green Smoothie) can help the skin around the eyes look healthier and reduce puffiness thanks to an anti-inflammatory compound inside called polyacetylene. It also helps your liver and kidneys get rid of toxins in the body.

Aging around the eyes can be indicative of a more serious health problem. A study completed over the course of 35 years by Danish scientists and shared with the American Heart Association in Los Angeles found that fatty deposits around your eyes could indicate heart disease.

While the scientists don’t claim that there’s a direct cause-and-effect link between the two, the study does suggest that premature aging on the outside is indicative of heart trouble on the inside. By noticing that something’s not quite right around your eyes, you might be able to stop heart disease from progressing with a change in diet.

Wrinkles and Sagging Skin

Wrinkles and sagging skin may feel like an inevitable part of aging, but some people see wrinkles and fine lines as early as their 20s. There are creams, makeup products, and procedures to minimize their visibility. However, the ability to mask them doesn’t mean you’ve solved what’s causing the wrinkles in the first place.

If you aren’t feeding your body “beauty” foods, especially those for beautiful skin, like pears, cabbage, and turmeric, you may be seeing deep nasio-labial lines and wrinkles much earlier than you should. Deep nasio-labial lines can be a sign that you have a congested digestive tract (which leads to congestion in the body overall), an overloaded liver, or might mean you’re not getting enough oxygen. Part of my Beauty Detox plan involves cleansing the body and all of its organs to increase energy and vitality.

How to stop it: Add a few components from The Beauty Detox plan such as water and lemon and the Glowing Green Smoothies, and incorporate “beauty” foods for the skin into your diet.

  • One of the first steps to cleansing the liver involves drinking hot water with lemon each morning.
  • Pears are high in fiber that helps cleanse the colon while simultaneously delivering vitamins E, B, and A, plus minerals. Pears are also part of the Glowing Green Smoothie, which I recommend drinking every day.
  • Cabbage works to cleanse the blood thanks to the vitamin C and sulfur. Just like pears, cabbage is high in fiber and helps clear out waste, too.
  • Turmeric contains the powerful antioxidant, curcumin, which is an anti-inflammatory. Turmeric also improves circulation, which in turn, can improve your complexion.

Changes in Skin Tone or Texture

We typically experience changes in our skin tone and texture as we age. The condition of your skin also signals problems inside the body.

If overly dry, flaky skin suddenly crops up you might want to check out your thyroid. The thyroid’s ability to function depends on several factors; a weak thyroid indicates that your adrenals may not be making some of the hormones you need to stay energized and feel young. Both the thyroid and the adrenals depend on the small and large intestines to efficiently remove waste from the body.

How quickly your body ages all boils down to how clean or toxic it is. Work to clear out the sludge on a consistent basis and you’ll notice that your skin glows and feels softer than it did before.

How to stop it: Give your thyroid and adrenals a break by skipping the soy and caffeine. Soy can depress your thyroid function and damage the enzymes that synthesize thyroid hormones. You don’t have to add tofu for “protein” either; whole plant foods naturally contain it. One dense plant source of protein is millet, which contains manganese, a mineral that helps strengthen your thyroid gland. Manganese may also help you maintain your hair color. Try my Millet “Couscous” Salad.

Over an extended period of time, drinking coffee to combat chronic fatigue can lead to problems with your renal system in some cases. Then there are the highs and lows experienced when you drink coffee. The endless cycle of crashing and then being jolted awake can be pretty stressful on your body. The Glowing Green Smoothie will get your day started with a burst of energy without causing a crash later or taxing your organs.

When you stop relying on caffeine and artificial sugars to power through your day and instead depend on whole foods, your energy level will stay more constant and your organs can begin to recover. If you need a boost and you’re about to reach for the coffee, try bee pollen instead. If you have a pollen or other allergy, or are new to bee pollen, check with your doctor first or try a very small amount. Not only do you get a dose of beauty-inducing minerals, you’ll increase your energy, stamina, and immunity. Here are other ways to get energy without relying on caffeine.

In addition, some of the best foods for detoxifying the liver and kidneys are:

  • Probiotic & Enzyme Salad
  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Lemons

You Constantly Feel Stressed Out

This has to do with how you feel more than what you see when you look in the mirror, although stress does show up on your face and in the way you move. Remember, all that stress you’re experiencing is aging your body.

The telomeres, or outermost parts of chromosomes in your cells, shorten when exposed to stress over time. It doesn’t matter if the stress comes from a phobia or long-term emotional stress, like the stress involved when taking care of a sick child. Stress still has the same effect.

Stress is linked to chronic fatigue syndrome (which will make you feel much older than you are), and it can eventually result in adrenal fatigue and heart disease. Your body releases cortisol from the adrenal cortex when you’re stressed, which is good for short-term fight-or-flight situations. However, it’s can wreak havoc on your body over sustained periods of time.

If your job or home life is stressful and you aren’t taking care of yourself in a way that will help you alleviate and manage that stress, cortisol is probably running wild in your blood stream, damaging your circulatory system, and contributing to weight gain. You could also be experiencing insomnia, panic attacks, and high blood pressure.

How to stop it: You aren’t doomed to a lifetime of stress even if there are some parts of your life that are challenging. Take control of your life with a healthy diet and regular exercise—an action recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—connecting with other people, and sticking to a routine. Once you’ve started eating better foods and moving around a little, the stress won’t seem as unmanageable.

Now for the Good News

The good news is this: you are powerful. You have a tremendous amount of control over how quickly your body ages by the lifestyle you lead. You can change your course and stop inflammation in the body if you notice premature signs of aging. When you begin to take care of your body, you’ll not only feel better, you’ll look better too. Isn’t that a nice bonus?

*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center’s Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.

Anxiety and Stress Are Messing With Your Good Looks

The research is clear: Stress does ugly things to us. For example, one study found that women who experience high stress are 11 times more likely to experience hair loss than women with moderate or low stress. Work stress, too, is associated with weight gain over five years. And 74 percent of acne patients say that stress exacerbates their condition. We see the same sorts of effects in animals: Anxious dogs grey earlier, and stressed mice age faster.

But how does stress actually affect physical appearance? There are two big ways.

First, when we’re stressed we do things that hurt how we look. For example, we furrow our brows or purse our lips, which can cause wrinkles over time. Or we anxiously, absentmindedly pick our skin or bite our nails. Lots of stress often means too little time, so we also tend to make hasty, unwise eating decisions and gain weight. “You’re busy, so you might rely on preprepared foods, which tend to be high in sugar and fat,” says Susan Torres, an Australian researcher who studies the relationship between mental health and dietary intake. In short, stress can incite self-sabotage.

The other way stress affects appearance is more complicated and systemic. When stress hormones like cortisol interact with other hormones and neurotransmitters, physiological changes occur that sometimes manifest externally.

For instance, stress hastens our hair’s natural growth cycle, which can expedite hair loss, and prolongs the hair-loss stage in the cycle. It can also cause premature greying, since each hair follicle has a finite amount of pigment; when our hair cycle speeds up due to stress, the pigment drains sooner. Alternatively, sometimes stress signals the hair follicles to stop producing color, which can make hair duller and finer.

In contrast, stress slows the skin’s monthly cell renewal process. Wrinkles, dry skin and delayed healing of acne scars can result. Meanwhile, excess cortisol sets off a hormonal chain reaction that stimulates excess oil production and can instigate, or at least exacerbate, breakouts. Indeed, in one study, increased stressed levels during college exams were significantly associated with increased acne severity. Perhaps most alarmingly, stress may impede digestion, thereby inhibiting absorption of vitamins that are essential for healthy teeth, skin, and hair.

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Chronic life stress is also causally linked to weight gain. When we’re stressed, our bodies release cortisol, which then interacts with two hormones called neuropeptide Y and leptin to stimulate our appetite for high sugar and high fat food. Moreover, when we’re stressed, good food stimulates an opioid release—your body’s natural version of heroin. An addicting reward cycle ensues: We get stressed, and comfort food quite literally, physiologically, comforts us, and then we indulge in it to alleviate our stress. Stress “increases the reward value of highly palatable food,” one study explains. The more stressed we get, the more we crave and love high sugar, high fat food, and the more weight we gain. Stress also affects a stress response system called the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis, which may promote fat storage particularly in the abdominal region.

Stress can even trigger premature aging on a cellular level. Research suggests that stress is associated with shorter telomere length. Telomeres are those little pieces of DNA on the ends of chromosomes, which effectively tell researchers how old a cell is. Shorter telomeres are associated with, among other things, reduced lifespan, decreased physical capacity to recover from stresses like wounds and reduced skin elasticity. In one study, women with the highest perceived stress had telomeres the same lengths as women who were a decade older. In other words, stress ages us not just psychologically but also biologically.

Finally, stress affects our attractiveness in subliminal, instinctual ways. In one Finnish study, men judged the faces of women who had higher levels of cortisol to be less attractive than women with lower levels. Stress plays a critical role in this phenomenon: High cortisol levels make individuals appear less fertile, thereby reducing their attractiveness. This makes sense, says the study’s lead researcher, Markus Rantala. Stress inhibits sex hormones, and sex hormones influence physical attractiveness.

There are better reasons to avoid stress than pure aesthetics. But the point is our bodies don’t wait for us to “just get through this” or “learn to manage.” In manifest ways, our bodies begin to degrade. Perhaps, once we notice these superficial effects, we’ll realize the whole of what we sacrifice to stress.

Read This Next: What Happens to Your Brain When You Stop Believing in God

If you’re currently stressed about something — work, money or that date from two days ago you haven’t heard from — stop. You’re making yourself look old. At least according to Dr. Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D, professor at Columbia University and Founder of Comprehensive Consultation Psychological Services in New York City, who believes stress is written all over our faces.

Read: Being Good-Looking Leads To Better Pay? The ‘Beauty Premium’ Debunked And Other Surprises About Attractiveness

“When someone is under stress they can appear up to 5 years older, 10 years if they don’t manage stress or make changes to their lives,” she claims. “I have seen patients end relationships or get new jobs and look 10 years younger within days. People are spending money on creams, facials and cosmetic procedures but if the stress is still there it will still show in their face,” advises Hafeez.

Stress can cause acne, wrinkles, and hair loss, says doctor.

Here are eight ways the doctor says stress can take a toll on your face:

Dark Circles

Stress can break the fragile capillaries under your eyes, leaving you with under-eye rings and a tired appearance.

Mini Menopause

Hafeez says this isn’t proven, but some believe increased levels of the stress hormone cortisol can cause a dip in estrogen that’s similar to the decrease during menopause. Less estrogen means less collagen production which can leave your skin dull and dry.

Wrinkles

Anxiety, crying, feeling down and a lack of sleep can cause deeper lines around the eyes, forehead, eye area and mouth.

Itchiness, Flakiness Or Hives

Inflammation prompted by stress can cause rashes, rosacea, eczema and changes in skin moisture.

Under-Eye Bags

Worrying can keep you up at night, and this lack of beauty sleep causes fluid to gather in your lower eyelid area. Not only will sleep make you look better, but according to the American Psychological Association, sleeping even an hour more a night will make you feel happier.

Increased Jaw Size

Habits like teeth grinding and jaw clenching are common with stress and make muscles work overtime, leaving you with a bigger jawline and damaged teeth.

Read: A 30-Minute Run Fights Alzheimer’s, Promotes Weight Loss, And Benefits Your Skin, Mental Health And More

Hair Loss

When anxious, your hair follicles’ growth stage switches from active to resting. Once in the premature resting stage, it stays there for around three months, before resulting in a large amount of hair loss. Good news for women: this change usually isn’t permanent, says Hafeez.

Adult Acne

Adult acne is caused by a variety of factors, including Polycystic Ovary Syndrome in women, but stress hormones can be a big reason, explains the doctor. Making it even worse, anxious people typically pick and poke at their pimples as a way to release tension.

However, this doesn’t mean you’ll experience all of these as stress manifests differently in everyone, Hafeez tells Medical Daily in an email. “Some people see wrinkles, changes in skin tone and texture, hair loss, acne, or eye twitching.”

Of course, avoiding stress is impossible, but chronically being anxious or worried is what causes these issues. The professor advises physical fitness, meditation, and deep breathing exercises as outlets to relieve tension.

“Those few seconds can help tremendously in that it allows time to process what is going on and that is when the mind seeks a solution,” she says. Hafeez also recommends establishing boundaries and planning personal time outs without the interference of colleagues, children or significant others.

See Also:

How Weird Nails Can Be An Indicator Of Health Problems

Why You Should Take That Nap: 5 Science-Backed Ways To Relieve Stress You’ll Actually Want To Follow

Real Proof You Can Reverse Stress and Aging

Science doesn’t need to tell you that you’re more stressed than your parents. You can feel it and, worse yet, you can see it in the mirror too. But new science has found that you can actually turn back the clock and reverse the powerful early onset aging effects of stress on your body and health.

The secret? Eat right, exercise, meditate, sleep more, and surround yourself with loved ones. Yes, you’ve heard this before, but now a study published in the October issue of The Lancet Oncology confirms that beyond helping you look and feel younger, these habits may add at least 10 years to your life in a matter of months.

“This study is the first of it’s kind that scientifically proves you can reverse aging at a cellular level through lifestyle changes,” says lead researcher Dean Ornish, M.D., author of The Spectrum. Ornish and his team looked at the telomeres-the caps at the end of chromosomes (picture the plastic ends of shoelaces) that keeps DNA strands from unraveling-in men who had been diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer. With age, these caps become shorter, which in turn increases the risk of premature death from a wide variety of conditions including heart disease, breast cancer, and diabetes. Chronic stress also shortens them and, ultimately, your life from nine to 17 years.

RELATED: 10 Everyday Things That Age You

With that in mind, Ornish set out to stop or reverse the damage to telomeres by telling the men in the study to eat a diet high in plant foods, exercise at least 30 minutes six days a week, practice yoga or mediation, and attend support groups. By the end of the three-month study, the men had increased their telomeres by 10 percent. (Ornish believes the same results would have been true for female subjects as well.) In the process, Ornish realized people have more control over their stress than they think.

“You need to understand how powerful you are. It’s not about finding new stress-relieving techniques but rather about putting the existing ones into practice,” says Ornish, who created a Heart Disease Reversal Program to teach people how to adopt smart diet and positive lifestyle changes. The 12-week bootcamp-like program opened to the public at the Continuum Center for Health and Healing at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City this October.

But you don’t need 12 weeks. You can start reversing cell damage within hours of making small tweaks, such as taking up yoga, eating whole foods, and especially improving your social life (not to be confused with online social network), Ornish says. He found that spending time with family, friends, and loved ones may be the most important way to buffer stress. “A supportive community can help reframe the reason for making changes. You’re not doing it for fear of dying, which is not sustainable, but rather for the joy of living, which is,” he says.

  • By Cristina Goyanes

Emotional Distress Can Speed Up Cellular Aging

Every human cell has 46 chromosomes—23 come from your father and 23 come from your mother. Each chromosome is like a DNA library with two protective caps on the end known as telomeres. As telomeres become shorter, their structural integrity weakens, which causes cells to age faster and die younger. In human cells, telomeres are usually single-stranded DNA that contains several thousand repeats of a simple TTAGGG sequence.

At a certain point of shrinkage, cells lose their ability to divide further. This stage is known as “replicative senescence.” Cellular senescence is a necessary mechanism to eliminate worn-out cells, but it also appears to contribute to premature aging and shorter human lifespans.

Telomere length is a marker of both biological and cellular aging. Stressful life experiences in childhood and adulthood have previously been linked to accelerated telomere shortening. Shortened telomeres have been associated with chronic diseases and premature death in previous studies by Dr. Owen Wolkowitz and colleagues at University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).

Longer Telomeres Linked to Longevity

The root epi- (Greek: over, outside of, around) indicates chromosone structural changes usually caused by lifestyle choices, as well as, social and environmental stressors. Previous studies in rodents—and in humans—have shown dynamic epigenetic responses to physical stimuli such as stress, diet, or exercise can occur for better or worse within just a few hours.

I have written a plethora of Psychology Today blog posts about the power of lifestyle choices to improve well-being, reduce disease, and increase longevity. A pilot study released in September 2013 showed for the first time that changes in diet, exercise, stress management and social support may result in longer telomeres.

Loneliness and Shortened Telomeres

An April 2014 study by scientists at the Vetmeduni Vienna in Austria examined the telomere length of isolated “lonely” African grey parrots compared to parrots with a partner. The researchers found that the telomere lengths of single parrots were shorter than those housed with a companion parrot. African grey parrots are highly social birds, but unfortunately in captivity they are often kept in isolation from other parrots.

Although no human studies have been done on social isolation and telomere length, this new study supports the hypothesis that loneliness can interfere with cellular aging and DNA repair. The findings of the Austrian study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Phobic Anxiety and Shortened Telomeres

A July 2012 study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) found that chronic phobic anxiety shortened telomere length in middle-aged and older women. The study suggests that untreated chronic phobic anxiety is a possible risk factor for accelerated aging.

Telomeres in red.

Having a high level of phobic anxiety was associated with significantly shorter telomere lengths. The difference in telomere lengths for women of the same age who were highly phobic vs. not phobic was equivalent to six years of premature aging.

Untreated Depression and Shortened Telomeres

Untreated depression creates biological changes that accelerate aging and increase the risk of life-threatening diseases. Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) can shorten the length of telomeres. A team led by Owen Wolkowitz, MD, professor of psychiatry at UC San Francisco (UCSF) has been studying the biological link between chronic depression and an enzyme called telomerase which is linked to shorter telomeres.

The scientists discovered that within the cells of the immune system, activity of telomerase is generally greater in individuals with untreated major depression. Over time, untreated depression can shorten telomeres and make people prone to diseases typically associated with advanced age such as heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, and stroke. These findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association in San Francisco in May of 2013.

Along the lines of untreated depression and shortened telomeres… a Finnish study from November 2013 found that men who had been unemployed for more than two of the preceding three years were more than twice as likely to have short telomeres compared to men who were continuously employed.

Conclusion: Mindfulness Meditation Can Reduce Stress and Influence Genes

In a groundbreaking discovery, a collaborative team of researchers from Wisconsin, Spain, and France reported in December 2013 the first evidence of specific molecular changes at a genetic level following a period of mindfulness meditation.

The study compared the effects of a single day of intensive mindfulness practice between a group of experienced meditators and a group of untrained control subjects who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities. After an intensive day of mindfulness practice, the meditators showed a dramatic range of genetic and molecular differences.

The study, led by Richard J. Davidson and colleagues, wasn’t designed to distinguish any effects of long-term meditation training from those of a single day of practice. Instead, the key result is that meditators experienced genetic changes following mindfulness practice that were not seen in the non-meditating group after other quiet activities. This outcome provides proof that mindfulness practice can lead to epigenetic alterations of the genome, according to the researchers.

If you’d like to read more about lifestyle choices that can lengthen telomeres and slow aging, check out my Psychology Today blog posts:

  • “Untreated Depression Linked to Telomeres, Aging, and Disease”
  • “Four Lifestyle Choices That Will Keep You Young”
  • “Meditation Has the Power to Alter Your Genes”
  • “Mindfulness Made Simple”
  • “Yoga Has Potent Health Benefits”

Follow me on Twitter @ckbergland for updates on The Athlete’s Way blog posts.

Anti-Aging: Can Stress Really Cause Extra Wrinkles?

Remember when you were a frolicking, fearless first grader? You weren’t Googling “anti-aging cream,” that’s for sure. No, the most stress you had was deciding which color marker to use.

You’d get home from school with enough natural energy to power a car, and you’d propel yourself around the house until your stressed-out mother would exclaim that you were giving her gray hair.

Fast-forward. Now you’re busy with deadlines and meetings by day, and busy with chores and household duties by night. The good news is that early gray hair is predominantly determined by your genetic makeup, and not the business of your life. The bad news is that chronic stress and exhaustion has been linked to premature crow’s feet, frown lines and under eye wrinkles. (Are you reaching for your favorite wrinkle cream right about now? Because we are.)

What Exactly is Stress?

Whether you realize it or not, stress affects your body both mentally and physically. While the exact definition of stress has been disputed over the years, it is essentially our bodies flight-or-fight response, and it’s triggered when our sympathetic nervous system senses a threat.

Whether this threat is an approaching deadline at work, or an approaching bear in the woods, your body goes into action and produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. You may experience a quickened heart rate, extra sweating and increased alertness when you are stressed, all things that could potentially help you get out of a bad situation.

How Chronic Stress Could Cause Wrinkles

Research has shown the impact of stress can cause premature wrinkles and constantly being stressed certainly doesn’t help your anti-aging routine.

Cortisol, the primary stress hormone, has been known to break down the collagen in your skin, among other things. The more stressed you are, the more cortisol your body produces. Eventually, your skin cells won’t be able to naturally rebuild the elastin and collagen as well as they used to.

And what causes wrinkles? That’s right, a loss of elastin and collagen.

Other Ways Stress Interrupts your Anti-Aging Routine

While extra amounts of cortisol may directly connect chronic stress with wrinkles and premature signs of aging, there are also some indirect ways that stress can take a toll on your youthful appearance.

Think about the last time you were stressed for more than a day or two. How was your lifestyle during that stressful time? Chances are you weren’t living the healthiest version of yourself.

Maybe you spent many late nights at the office, running on only a few hours of sleep. Maybe you didn’t have the time or the desire to eat much more than some vending machine chips and fast food, as stress can suppress your appetite. Maybe you got in the habit of oversleeping and then skipping your daily anti-wrinkle cream application in the morning.

And let’s be honest, if you were short on time, you definitely didn’t make it to the gym.

Little sleep, poor diet, dry skin and lack of exercise are all things that can negatively affect skin’s appearance, leaving your younger looking skin looking dull and tired. If these stress-induced unhealthy occurrences become regular habits, then it’s no wonder that you may see more forehead wrinkles, under eye wrinkles and frown lines form.

Don’t Let Stress Age You

If you’re noticing that your stressful life is getting the best of you and taking a physical or mental toll, it’s time to slow down. It’s OK to take a breather and focus on YOU for a change!

Meet up with friends for a walk in the park or a healthy lunch. Get some exercise by going to that aerobics class you used to like so much. Try some retail therapy by visiting the aromatherapy store around the corner that you keep saying you’re going to check out. Then indulge yourself in a calming bubble bath, followed by your favorite anti-aging moisturizer cream (don’t forget that hot water really dries out your skin!)

There are many different ways to reduce stress to minimize its negative effects. Just like you have to find the best anti-aging cream for your skin, you have to find the best stress relief method for yourself. (And it’s totally fine if it turns out to just be sleep.)

High levels of anxiety might really make you age faster, a new study suggests.

The study found a link between a common form of anxiety called phobic anxiety — an unreasonable fear of certain situations, such as crowds, heights or the outside world — and shorter telomeres in middle-aged and older women. Telomeres are caps on the ends of chromosomes that protect the genetic material from damage.

“Many people wonder about whether — and how — stress can make us age faster,” said study researcher Dr. Olivia Okereke, a psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “This study is notable for showing a connection between a common form of psychological stress — phobic anxiety — and a plausible mechanism for premature aging,” Okereke said.

Telomeres generally shorten as we age, and among people of the same age, shortened telomeres have been linked to an increased risk of cancers, heart disease, dementia and overall risk of death.

However, the researchers emphasized that the study only shows an association, not a cause-effect link, and it’s possible that people with shorter telomeres are generally prone to experiencing more stress. Studies that follow people forward over time are needed to confirm the findings.

Okereke and colleagues analyzed information from 5,243 women ages 42 to 69 years, who took part in the Nurses’ Health Study. To measure participants’ levels of phobic anxiety, researchers looked at their answers to questions such as “Do you have an unreasonable fear of being in enclosed spaces?” and “Do you feel panicky in crowds?”

The researchers found a link between high scores on the questionnaire and shorter telomeres.

The difference in telomere lengths between women who were highly phobic and those who were not was similar to what would be expected between women about six years apart in age.

The findings held even after the researchers accounted for factors that might influence the length of telomeres, such as participants’ smoking, body mass indexes, physical activity levels and the age of participants’ fathers when their children were born.

The researchers noted they did not take into account whether participants experienced depression, which may have affected the results.

The study is published today (July 11) in the journal PLoS ONE.

Pass it on: A new study linksa common form of anxiety with shorter telomeres.

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11 ways to reduce premature skin aging

Many things cause our skin to age. Some things we cannot do anything about; others we can influence.

One thing that we cannot change is the natural aging process. It plays a key role. With time, we all get visible lines on our face. It is natural for our face to lose some of its youthful fullness. We notice our skin becoming thinner and drier. Our genes largely control when these changes occur. The medical term for this type of aging is “intrinsic aging.”

We can influence another type of aging that affects our skin. Our environment and lifestyle choices can cause our skin to age prematurely. The medical term for this type of aging is “extrinsic aging.” By taking some preventive actions, we can slow the effects that this type of aging has on our skin.

The sun plays a major role in prematurely aging our skin. Other things that we do also can age our skin more quickly than it naturally would. To help their patients prevent premature skin aging, dermatologists offer their patients the following tips.

  1. Protect your skin from the sun every day. Whether spending a day at the beach or running errands, sun protection is essential. You can protect your skin by seeking shade, covering up with clothing, and using sunscreen that is broad-spectrum, SPF 30 (or higher), and water-resistant. You should apply sunscreen every day to all skin that is not covered by clothing.

  2. Apply self-tanner rather than get a tan. Every time you get a tan, you prematurely age your skin. This holds true if you get a tan from the sun, a tanning bed, or other indoor tanning equipment. All emit harmful UV rays that accelerate how quickly your skin ages.

  3. If you smoke, stop. Smoking greatly speeds up how quickly skin ages. It causes wrinkles and a dull, sallow complexion.

  4. Avoid repetitive facial expressions. When you make a facial expression, you contract the underlying muscles. If you repeatedly contract the same muscles for many years, these lines become permanent. Wearing sunglasses can help reduce lines caused by squinting.

  5. Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Findings from a few studies suggest that eating plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables may help prevent damage that leads to premature skin aging. Findings from research studies also suggest that a diet containing lots of sugar or other refined carbohydrates can accelerate aging.

  6. Drink less alcohol. Alcohol is rough on the skin. It dehydrates the skin, and in time, damages the skin. This can make us look older.

  7. Exercise most days of the week. Findings from a few studies suggest that moderate exercise can improve circulation and boost the immune system. This, in turn, may give the skin a more-youthful appearance.

  8. Cleanse your skin gently. Scrubbing your skin clean can irritate your skin. Irritating your skin accelerates skin aging. Gentle washing helps to remove pollution, makeup, and other substances without irritating your skin.

  9. Wash your face twice a day and after sweating heavily. Perspiration, especially when wearing a hat or helmet, irritates the skin, so you want to wash your skin as soon as possible after sweating.

  10. Apply a facial moisturizer every day. Moisturizer traps water in our skin, giving it a more youthful appearance.

  11. Stop using skin care products that sting or burn. When your skin burns or stings, it means your skin is irritated. Irritating your skin can make it look older.

Note: Some anti-aging products prescribed by a dermatologist may burn or sting. When using a prescription anti-aging product, this can be OK. Just be sure to let your dermatologist know.

Never too late to benefit

Even people who already have signs of premature skin aging can benefit from making lifestyle changes. By protecting your skin from the sun, you give it a chance to repair some of the damage. Smokers who stop often notice that their skin looks healthier.

If signs of aging skin bother you, you may want to see a dermatologist. New treatments and less-invasive procedures for smoothing wrinkles, tightening skin, and improving one’s complexion are giving many people younger-looking skin.

Related AAD resources

  • How do I prevent skin cancer?
    Following these tips can prevent skin cancer and premature skin aging.

  • Face washing 101
    How you wash your face can make a difference in your appearance

  • How to select anti-aging skin care products
    Selecting anti-aging products does not have to be a hit-or-miss experience.

  • How to maximize results from your anti-aging skin care products
    Dermatologists share their expertise to help you get the best results.

Castanet J, Ortonne JP. “Pigmentary changes in aged and photoaged skin.” Arch Dermatol. 1997 Oct;133(10):1296-9.

Chung JH, Hanft VN, et al. “Aging and photoaging.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2003 Oct;49(4):690-7.

Rabe JH, Mamelak AJ, “Photoaging: Mechanisms and repair.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2006 Jul;55:1-19.

3 Ways to Reverse Your Biological Age

  • When it comes to your age, there are two numbers. There’s your chronological age, which is how many birthdays you’ve had. There’s also your biological age — how old your body appears to be, based on how it functions and how much wear and tear your cells have gone through.
  • You can’t change your chronological age, but you can do a lot to reverse your biological age. With the right tools, you can have the body and brain of a 25-year-old, even when you’re pushing 50.
  • This article teaches you how to reverse your biological clock by upgrading your mitochondria, turning on autophagy, and managing stress to keep your cells young and healthy.

How old are you?

Researchers are discovering that there are actually two answers to that question. The obvious one is your chronological age: the number of birthdays you’ve had. But there’s also your biological age. Your biological age is how old your body appears to be — how well your organs, hormones, muscles, and brain work, and how much wear and tear your cells have gone through.

In the last few years, researchers have developed tests that figure out biological age. They’ve also discovered that your biological age is a much better predictor of longevity than your chronological age

If you take great care of yourself, it’s possible to be 50 years old chronologically with a 30-year-old biological age. Conversely, if you eat junk and neglect your body, you can have a 50-year-old biological age when you hit your 30th birthday.

With the right tools, you can change your biological age to make your body younger, and you can do it more quickly than you might think.

In his recent Bulletproof Radio podcast episode , anti-aging expert and investor James Peyer talks about the many things you can do to reverse your biological age, and about how anti-aging helped him cope with mortality as a teen.

Age backward and maybe live forever with my new book, Super Human. Head on over here to get your copy!

“My grandfather got cancer …I thought about life and what life meant and what we were all moving toward,” he says. “Then, after a little more reflection and a lot of reading and so on, I was like ‘Oh, wait, there’s something I can do here.’”

Thanks to Peyer’s work, and the work of other anti-aging researchers and experts, it’s now clear that you can do quite a lot to live a strong, healthy life, no matter how old you get.

This article will look at how you can turn back the clock at a cellular level and keep your body young, regardless of the year you were born.

3 ways to reverse your biological age

1. Upgrade your mitochondria

Your mitochondria are the power plants of your cells — they crank out the energy that runs everything your body does, from breathing to moving to thinking.

Typically, your mitochondria slow down as you age, and you produce less and less energy. Slower mitochondria are a hallmark of aging, and come with fatigue, decreased muscle mass and brain function, declining cardiovascular health, and more.

However, just because most people age that way doesn’t mean you have to. There are dozens of ways to power up your mitochondria and make them stronger than ever before. Upgrading your mitochondria does a tremendous amount for reversing your biological age; it can make you feel like you’re in your twenties again.

Building better mitochondria keeps your brain strong, which can ward off memory loss, dementia, and even neurodegenerative disease like Alzheimer’s.

Stronger mitochondria also keep your heart and muscles strong, which can help you stay in phenomenal physical shape as you age.

In fact, better mitochondrial function links to overall longevity in a dose-dependent manner — the stronger the mitochondria, the longer people live.

How to turn on your mitochondria

  • Eat a keto diet (or a variation). In animal studies, a keto diet (lots of fat, very few carbs) makes existing mitochondria more efficient, and also grows new ones (called mitochondrial biogenesis). A keto diet also increases mitochondrial density in the liver and skeletal muscles of mice. In humans, ketosis increases mitochondrial function and protects mitochondria from stress-related damage. You don’t have to eat keto all the time; if a full keto diet doesn’t work for you, try a cyclical keto diet or a targeted keto diet. Both allow more carbs while still giving you the benefits of ketosis.
  • Do HIIT. Exercise in general is amazing for your mitochondria, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is the best type of workout you can do for mitochondrial function. HIIT causes dramatic improvements in mitochondrial energy production. It also increases the maximum amount of energy your mitochondria can produce, giving you a bigger energy reserve in your day-to-day life. HIIT involves short bursts of intense, all-out exercise, followed by brief rest periods. Here’s a great introductory HIIT workout.

Related: Why Mitochondria Are the Key to Slowing Down the Aging Process

2. Trigger autophagy

Autophagy is like spring cleaning for your cells. It’s Greek for “eating of self,” which is exactly what autophagy does: your cells sift through their various parts, getting rid of anything that’s old or damaged and replacing it with a shiny new version. Even better, a lot of the old stuff gets recycled and packaged into new materials your body can use.

Autophagy keeps your cells young and new, which means they run faster while producing less cellular waste. Your whole system becomes more efficient.

But when autophagy breaks down, your cells age, and you age with them — disturbed autophagy leads to significantly faster markers of aging.

How to trigger autophagy

  • Work out. Exercise is one of the best ways to turn on autophagy. Research shows that working out increases cellular turnover (how quickly your cells replace themselves) and cleans out damaged cellular parts, which links to decreased aging. Any kind of exercise works, but you might as well do HIIT so you also capitalize on the mitochondrial benefits you read about a moment ago.
  • Do intermittent fasting. Caloric restriction is one of the most powerful ways to activate autophagy, especially for your brain. Long-term caloric restriction is rough on your body — you’ll get hungry and have a dip in energy levels, and over time may start to lose muscle. A better option is intermittent fasting, where you take short breaks without food and then eat until you’re full afterward. Intermittent fasting triggers “profound autophagy,” to quote one group of researchers. Fasting also corresponds with longevity and overall healthier aging. Check out this complete guide to intermittent fasting to figure out a fasting schedule that works for you and learn about the benefits of fasting.

Autophagy is one of the best tools you can use to age well.

Related: Forget Juice Cleanses. Autophagy Is the Real Way to Detox Your Body

3. Control stress

Stress ages you faster than anything else. If you want proof, compare photos of presidents before and after their time in office. After a term or two of round-the-clock pressure and stress, they look like they’ve aged 20 years.

Chronic stress ages you in two ways. First, it increases free radicals — compounds that damage your cells and cause inflammation. Free radicals increase when you push yourself past your limit, and if you do that chronically, they speed up aging at a cellular level.

Second, chronic stress interferes with your cortisol production. Cortisol is the hormone you release in response to immediate threat; it shuts down non-essential functions like metabolism and executive brain function, saving that energy so you can escape whatever danger you’re in. Cortisol also breaks down muscle tissue so you have more glucose in your system to use for short-term fuel.

That’s all great if you’re running from a tiger. But your brain isn’t good at distinguishing between immediate, tangible threats and more abstract ones (fear of getting fired or too many emails in your inbox, for example). When you have constant, lower-level stressors running, your cortisol continually interferes with your metabolism, brain function, muscle mass, and more. Over time, you’ll end up aging faster than you would otherwise.

Tools to manage stress:

  • Meditation
  • Heart rate variability (HRV) training
  • Deeper sleep
  • Stress supplements
  • Adaptogens
  • Sensory deprivation

If you live your life well, age really can just be a number. Use these tools to turn back your biological clock and stay young, even as you get older. You’ll feel better than ever.

Read next: Hack Your Longevity to Look Younger, Feel Stronger, and Think Clearly

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Which one of us wouldn’t like to turn back the clock and become young again? But is it even possible to reverse aging? Not exactly in the Benjamin Button way, but the science of anti-aging has made some major strides recently.

In 2009, Elizabeth Helen Blackburn, along with two others, received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of telomerase, an enzyme that replenishes telomere length (a direct sign of aging).

To understand what telomeres are, think of the aglet at the ends of shoelaces. Just as this piece of plastic stops the shoelace from unraveling, the telomere at the ends of a DNA strand protects the genetic code during replication.

Every time a cell divides and the DNA is replicated, some of the bases at the ends don’t get replicated. The telomeres at the ends sacrifice themselves to protect the vital information stored in the DNA. As we age, the telomeres shorten and once we run out of telomeres, the cells can’t replicate anymore; putting a hard limit at how long we can live.

This limit, known as the Hayflick limit is at 120 years, much longer than most of us live. The good news is that new research shows that reversing telomere shortening can slow down and even reverse aging.

5 Ways to Increase Telomere Length and Reverse Aging

1. Calorie Restriction is a simple way to preserve longer telomeres. Eating often and excessively leads to shortened telomeres. Eating a calorie restricted and time restricted diet activates the sirtuin1 gene (sirt1) which is responsible for maintaining the primary systems in the body during food scarcity. This gene helps in preserving telomere length which means you age slower and show fewer signs of aging.

2. Stress is a big reason for shortened telomeres. It’s literally true that stress makes you older. Remember Obama at the end of his second term?

A study done by Elizabeth Blackburn found that female caregivers who were under higher stress levels had shorter telomeres equivalent to almost a decade of aging! So don’t get stressed, but of course that’s easier said than done. So what could you do if you are facing a lot of stress and don’t want to add the stress of aging to the list?

Vigorous exercise has been shown to reverse the effects of stress on telomere length. High intensity exercise such as Peak 8 or HIIT are especially useful in reversing effects of stress.

3. Obesity means inflammation and inflammation leads to shorter telomeres. The long list of fatal diseases caused by obesity, are more like symptoms to the disease of you getting old much faster than your age.

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid, is great at fighting inflammation. Cold showers reduce inflammation as well. But the best way to fight inflammation and keep your telomeres long is to lead a healthy lifestyle with a good wholesome diet and enough exercise.

4. SAMe or S-Adenosyl-L-Methionine is a chemical that acts as a methyl donor, helping in a process called methylation which is very important for maintaining proper telomere health.

SAMe can be taken as a supplement but it is better to build it within the body using the building blocks such as methionine, MSM sulfur, choline, trimethylglycine, vitamin B12 and B6, folic acid etc. To ensure you’re getting enough of these building blocks for SAMe in your diet, make sure you’re eating sulfur rich protein such as whey protein, eggs, cottage cheese, dairy, red meat, legumes, duck, nuts and seeds along with a good multivitamin supplement.

SAMe ensures that the telomeres are healthy and so prevents their premature shortening.

5. Minerals and Vitamins such as vitamin C, D and E are essential to maintaining telomere length. Vitamin D fights inflammation as well. And vitamin E has actually been known to restore telomere length. One word of caution when talking about vitamins is that although supplements can be useful if the diet is restricted but most of the vitamins in the pills don’t get absorbed so it’s better to get them from natural sources.

Minerals such as magnesium and zinc are important for restricting telomere shortening. Magnesium is essential for certain enzymes that help in DNA replication and it has been found that a lack of magnesium can lead to rapid loss of telomere length. It will be good to note here that the American diet is deficient in magnesium so it might be a good idea to take it as a supplement.

Zinc helps in DNA repair and is essential for maintaining telomere length. You need a minimum of 15mg to a maximum of 50mg (for women) 75mg (for men) of Zinc in your diet per day.

These 5 simple tips can help you fight premature aging and maybe even reverse the signs of aging. This information isn’t quite the fountain of youth, yet, but we are getting pretty close.

Dr. Elisa Lottor is a nutritionist and homeopath with a special interest in Regenerative Medicine, and has been practicing in Southern California for 30 years. She is the author of Female and Forgetful and The Miracle of Regenerative.

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Seeking the Fountain of Youth? 10 Tips to Reverse Aging

Of course, the decision to use any ED medication should be made as a couple. And ED meds are not a cure for relationship issues. Couples with problems should consider seeing a couples therapist.

Also, not every man is an appropriate candidate for ED drugs. See your doctor. More details about that here.

7. Sleep well.

In general, longer sleep duration is associated with longer telomeres, as reported in detail here. Specifically, six hours of sleep or less is linked to shorter telomeres, while nine hours of sleep is associated with longer telomeres. (Results vary depending on age and other factors.) Most health professionals recommend getting 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

8. Look into cataract surgery.

I am including this medical procedure because it is outpatient, very low-risk, and covered by Medicare and other insurance plans. This amazing surgery involves replacing the cloudy, aging lenses of the eye with artificial lenses that restore youthful sight. “Was blind but now I see” accurately describes the experience of some patients. My own experience was more complicated, but I am clearly better off than before.

9. Meditate: It’s exercise for the mind.

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist with Harvard Medical School, has studied the effects of meditation on the brain. Her 2005 study showed that regular meditators had more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), the executive area of the brain. Moreover, 50-year-old meditators had as much gray matter as 25-year-olds, leading Lazar to hypothesize that meditation could reverse or slow the natural age-related atrophy of the brain.

Another one of her studies indicated that just eight weeks of regular meditation practice could thicken the memory part of the brain, the hippocampus, and reduce the stress reaction in the amygdala, the flight-or-flight area.

In 2014, Lazar and colleagues reviewed 12 studies about meditation and cognitive decline, concluding that “meditation techniques may be able to offset age-related cognitive decline and perhaps even increase cognitive capabilities in older adults.” More details here.

10. Good relationships promote health, happiness, and longevity.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has followed over 700 men since 1938. The results have consistently shown that good social relationships promote physical and mental health, provide a buffer against loneliness, increase longevity, and foster happiness. The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study found similar results.

Why? Safe and supportive social relationships help calm our stress-response system, according to an article by Karin Evan here. Lower levels of stress hormones such as cortisol mean less wear and tear on the brain and body, longer life, and more joy in daily living.

Other Possible Age-Reversers

People who want to live long and prosper could take advantage of other activities that are linked to a more youthful old age. For example, research shows that older people who have a purpose in life tend to sleep better, have better brain health, and feel happier. A Mediterranean diet has been linked in some research to better brain health. The decision to adopt better posture when standing, sitting, or moving may not change your DNA, but good posture is an easy way to broadcast youth and vitality, help you breathe better, and protect your spine, shoulders, and neck.

So, don’t try to change your birth date with an official piece of paper. Instead, focus on choices that will promote physical and mental health, vitality, connection with others, and longevity. Although time and trouble will happen to us all, we can make numerous positive changes in both our actions and attitudes, as well as learn to accept what we cannot change.

Note: This blog emerged out of an email exchange between my sister Kate Kimelman and me. Thanks for your input, Kate! Kate is an editor in the Bay Area.

© Meg Selig, 2019. For permissions, click here.

Scientists reverse aging process in rat brain stem cells

The results have far reaching implications for how we understand the ageing process, and how we might develop much-needed treatments for age-related brain diseases.

As our bodies age, muscles and joints can become stiff, making everyday movements more difficult. This study shows the same is true in our brains, and that age-related brain stiffening has a significant impact on the function of brain stem cells.

A multi-disciplinary research team, based at the Wellcome-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute (University of Cambridge), studied young and old rat brains to understand the impact of age-related brain stiffening on the function of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs).

These cells are a type of brain stem cell important for maintaining normal brain function, and for the regeneration of myelin — the fatty sheath that surrounds our nerves, which is damaged in multiple sclerosis (MS). The effects of age on these cells contributes to MS, but their function also declines with age in healthy people.

To determine whether the loss of function in aged OPCs was reversible, the researchers transplanted older OPCs from aged rats into the soft, spongy brains of younger animals. Remarkably, the older brain cells were rejuvenated, and began to behave like the younger, more vigorous cells.

To study this further, the researchers developed new materials in the lab with varying degrees of stiffness, and used these to grow and study the rat brain stem cells in a controlled environment. The materials were engineered to have a similar softness to either young or old brains.

To fully understand how brain softness and stiffness influences cell behavior, the researchers investigated Piezo1 — a protein found on the cell surface, which informs the cell whether the surrounding environment is soft or stiff.

Dr Kevin Chalut, who co-led the research, said: “We were fascinated to see that when we grew young, functioning rat brain stem cells on the stiff material, the cells became dysfunctional and lost their ability to regenerate, and in fact began to function like aged cells. What was especially interesting, however, was that when the old brain cells were grown on the soft material, they began to function like young cells — in other words, they were rejuvenated.”

“When we removed Piezo1 from the surface of aged brain stem cells, we were able to trick the cells into perceiving a soft surrounding environment, even when they were growing on the stiff material,” explained Professor Robin Franklin, who co-led the research with Dr Chalut. “What’s more, we were able to delete Piezo1 in the OPCs within the aged rat brains, which lead to the cells becoming rejuvenated and once again able to assume their normal regenerative function.”

Dr Susan Kohlhaas, Director of Research at the MS Society, who part funded the research, said: “MS is relentless, painful, and disabling, and treatments that can slow and prevent the accumulation of disability over time are desperately needed. The Cambridge team’s discoveries on how brain stem cells age and how this process might be reversed have important implications for future treatment, because it gives us a new target to address issues associated with aging and MS, including how to potentially regain lost function in the brain.”

This research was supported by the European Research Council, MS Society, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, The Adelson Medical Research Foundation, Medical Research Council and Wellcome.

How to reverse the signs of aging?

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