8 Science-Backed Things You Can Do Now To Help You Live Longer
Let's face it, just about everyone is looking for effective, safe ways to turn back the clock for their skin, body, and just overall health. Here's the thing: We do have influence over our longevity destiny, and we can slow aging with lifestyle and dietary changes that improve our body and skin's ability to function optimally and repair itself. "The thinking is that for the average person, your genes influence about 25% of your longevity, and 75% is the environment," Robert Rountree, M.D., renowned integrative physician, recently told mbg.
Here, discover the small, sustainable, science-backed changes—plus one really intriguing supplement—that will help you look and feel your best:
Prioritize quality sleep.
According to functional medicine physician Frank Lipman, M.D., "Sleep is the most important thing you can do for aging." Not only does restorative sleep help detox your brain and reduce the risk of neurodegenerative diseases by triggering glymphatic drainage, i.e., waste removal, but it's important for regulating blood sugar as well (remember, unbalanced blood sugar regulation is at the core of the aging process).
When people were allowed to sleep only 4.5 hours per night for four nights, participants in one study experienced a 16% drop in insulin sensitivity overall, and their fat cells' sensitivity to insulin dropped 30%. Researchers say that is equivalent to metabolically aging someone 10 to 20 years. To ensure you're sleeping enough, scale back on tech before bed, try wearing blue-light-blocking glasses in the evening, and consider a magnesium glycinate supplement.
Take high-quality, targeted supplements.
Nicotinamide riboside (NR), a newly discovered form of vitamin B3, which our bodies convert into nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD). NAD is a coenzyme found in all living cells, and it plays a vital role in energy metabolism and maintaining proper cell functioning. Levels of NAD also decline significantly as we get older, and these declining levels seem to drive the aging process. Research has shown that NR as a supplement converts directly into 1nicotinamide mononucleotide (NMN), which is then converted into NAD—this process is much quicker than the other NAD precursors. Additional research has shown that helps support NAD levels in the body2.
Right now, there's plenty of research in the works for NR, all of which seems very promising3. For example, this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that taking the supplement daily helped individuals manage healthy weight4, which in turn helps longevity.
Some studies5 have found that replenishing levels of NAD with supplements containing NR lengthens the life span of mice by improving mitochondrial function and increasing activation of SIRT16, a specific sirtuin protein in the body. This is one of the same mechanisms by which caloric restriction seems to lengthen life span. (Another compound that may mimic the life-extending effects of calorie restriction is pterostilbene.) Other studies suggest that NAD increases the activation of SIRT67, which helps maintain the length of telomeres—the end caps on DNA that are associated with longevity.
Ditch the refined carbs.
"The No. 1 cellular pathway that's involved in aging is called the insulin-signaling pathway," says Rountree. "What does that say? That blood sugar regulation is really at the core of the aging process. So that translates into a basic rule of not eating refined carbohydrates."
Lipman agrees, adding that as we get older, our capacity to metabolize carbohydrates actually decreases. This may be why a large body of research8 suggests that the traditional Mediterranean diet—think vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts, legumes, whole grains, healthy fats (olive oil), and lean meats—lowers the incidence of chronic diseases and improves longevity. Swapping out refined carbs in favor of these nourishing whole foods also helps curb chronic inflammation, a process associated with a number of age-related chronic diseases.
Consider intermittent fasting.
Another great way to maintain healthy blood sugar and battle inflammation is by intermittent fasting, extended periods of time without eating, or time-restricted feeding, in which you consume all your daily calories within a set window (like 16:8 fasting). Fasting also inhibits a cellular process called mTOR (mechanistic target of rapamycin), thus triggering a process known as autophagy, which may contribute to improved cellular health and longevity.
"Autophagy (literally meaning 'self-eating') is the natural process by which cells disassemble and clean out unnecessary or dysfunctional components...so you can get back to more optimal functioning," says Ilene Ruhoy, M.D., integrative neurologist. "Autophagy can dictate not only how well we live but perhaps how long we live. It is notable that most neurodegenerative disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease, are associated with the accumulation of misfolded proteins or pathologic proteins—so impaired autophagy may contribute to these diseases."
Take care of your gut.
Scientists believe that chronic, systemic, and low-grade inflammation is a major contributor to aging. It's an underlying process in all age-related diseases including premature skin aging, type 2 diabetes, atherosclerosis, arthritis, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. But, according to medical microbiologist Douglas Toal, Ph.D., one of the best (and tastiest) ways to combat this time of age-accelerating inflammation is by supporting your gut with plenty of fiber-rich vegetables and fruits (particularly those high in prebiotic fiber), as well as probiotic-rich fermented foods.
How it helps: The good bacteria in your gut thrive on fiber. When you eat fiber-rich foods, they're able to proliferate and outweigh the bad guys, promoting overall health and immune functioning. When good bacteria break down fiber, they produce anti-inflammatory compounds called short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs). These SCFAs are the main source of energy for colon cells and actually help repair leaky gut by increasing the expression of tight junction proteins. This helps prevent toxins in the intestines from leaking out into the bloodstream, where they can wreak havoc on the body and lead to a cascade of chronic inflammation.
Research has shown that higher microbial diversity in the gut is associated with less frailty (i.e., weakness, inability to perform basic functions) as you age.
Prioritize your relationships and get social.
Social connectedness is also one of the main characteristics of people living in the blue zones—the areas in the world where people have been shown to live the longest, healthiest lives. As Dan Buettner, bestselling author and founder of the blue zones, explains, "These safety nets lend financial and emotional support in times of need and give all of their members the stress-shedding security of knowing that there is always someone there for them." Building a strong social network lies at the core of living a long, happy life.
And recently, research has found that increased social contact may do wonders for your brain, potentially warding off forms of dementia such as Alzheimer's, one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. In fact, people who saw their friends almost daily were 12% less likely to develop dementia later in life than people who saw only one or two friends every few months.
Spending quality social time with others has also been associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in the body. IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that has been implicated in a number of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer's, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.
Sit less and move your body more.
Research shows that getting regular movement into your life can help combat this in a variety of ways. According to cardiologist Joel Kahn, M.D., "The amount of activity needed to improve the response to prolonged sitting is small; even light walking two out of every 20 minutes improves glucose metabolism."
Regular exercise confers a slew of life-extending benefits, starting with helping you achieve a healthy weight, which has positive effects on nearly every aspect of your health. A recent study found that people with bigger waistlines and a high body mass index (BMI) in their 60s had greater signs of brain aging six years later. Specifically, people with bigger waists and higher BMIs were more likely to have thinning in the cortex area of the brain.
Moving your body also helps you build and maintain muscle mass, and reduced muscle mass is a telltale sign of aging in older adults. In fact, as you age, muscle wasting (sarcopenia) is associated with9 an increased risk of falls, fractures, low quality of life, and increased mortality.
According to Lipman, exercise becomes more important as we age because it is a hormetic stressor—and it turns out, a little bit of this hormesis (or mild stress)10 on the body is a really good thing for longevity and building up our resistance to other types of stress. Other things that stress your body in a good way when not taken to the extreme: fasting and exposure to cold (think finishing your hot shower with a blast of cold water).
Take steps to counter chronic stress.
Chronic stress is straight-up toxic. Research shows11 that perceived levels of stress are associated with increased mortality in a dose-response pattern (meaning the higher the perceived stress, the greater the increased risk of death). According to Robin Berzin, M.D., unhealthy stress levels can (among many other things) impair the functioning of your immune system, increase inflammation, and turn on (or off) certain genes that affect everything from how fast you age to whether or not you will develop cancer.
Many of the suggestions mentioned above (nutrient-rich diet low in refined carbs, supplementation, getting plenty of sleep, engaging in daily movement) go a long way in curbing chronic stress that could speed the aging process. In addition to these, consider deep breathing, yoga, meditation, or seeing a therapist.
The bottom line:
Your future is, to some extent, in your hands. And by sticking to healthy lifestyle and diet habits, you can feel and look healthier for longer.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).