I Study Longevity & These Are My Underrated Tips To Slow Down Aging
Optimizing longevity is not just for the scientific elite. As we discussed in our 2022 Wellness Trends, trailblazing scientists, experts, and innovators are working to make longevity research and resources available to everyone. Longevity expert and Harvard geneticist David Sinclair, Ph.D., is one of those individuals: "With aging, [it's like] we already know how to fly—now, we're going to see how quickly and how cheaply we can do it," he says on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Meaning, we've identified the specific molecules and lifestyle interventions that can help slow down or optimize the aging process; and according to Sinclair, now we're in a pretty good place to help make those interventions more accessible to the public.
The "longevity therapeutics" are still underway, but Sinclair does offer more than a few lifestyle changes to help increase lifespan (he has also developed a test that measures biological age and provides recommendations, which you can sign up for here, if you're curious). Below, find his three underrated longevity tips anyone can commit to at any time:
When it comes to longevity, experts agree that regular exercise is key. "Don't sit around. The worst [thing] for you is not moving," says Sinclair. However! He says healthy exercise sits on a bell curve: There's a sweet spot for optimal well-being, and overdoing it can actually backfire for longevity.
According to Sinclair, engaging in high-intensity exercise every single day can result in a spike in cortisol. "That will age you," he notes. (Elevated cortisol levels, after all, are associated with accelerated aging1.) Of course, the type of exercise matters: Studies show that high-intensity exercise like CrossFit or running causes this temporary rise in cortisol levels2—stick to an everyday schedule, and your body might have a difficult time recovering.
"You can over-stress the body," notes Sinclair. "And so my recommendation is to exercise every other day, and let your body rest." That's the recipe for longevity success, he says: "Going full bore the whole time is not going to be optimal. You do need those rest periods."
"I used to do cold plunges," recounts Sinclair. "I used to do cycles of four degrees Celsius, almost shivering cold water, up to my neck and stay in there for as long as I could bear—which was about five minutes." After those five minutes are up, Sinclair would jump out and sit in a sweltering sauna for 20 minutes. And repeat. "I've never felt better after that," he says.
The research is still relatively young, but studies have associated "cold therapy," or cryotherapy, with a balanced inflammatory response3, improved sleep4, muscle and joint health5, and mood support6. And according to Sinclair, a cold plunge also activates the production of brown fat7: "Brown fat is super healthy," he says. "It puts out signals that increase your metabolism." Brown fat burns energy to create heat and manage body temperature, which is why it's activated by colder temperatures.
Of course, not many of us have regular access to an icy body of water and/or a sauna, so Sinclair advises a shower time hack at least once a week: Just turn the nozzle as cold as you can and stand under the spray for a few minutes. After those few minutes are up, turn the faucet up to high heat and let the shower steam up (an impromptu steam sauna!). Just be careful not to actually stand under the scalding water, lest you burn your skin.
Maintain mental health.
"Your brain controls your longevity," says Sinclair. "In my lab, we've manipulated mouse brains to make them turn on longevity genes—and then the whole mouse is healthy. We know that the brain puts out factors that will either accelerate aging or slow it down."
Your mental and physical health are deeply connected—we don't have to tell you how your stress levels affect everything from sleep to immunity to, yes, healthy aging. "Your mental state is important," says Sinclair, and he advises to do what you can to keep your stress levels down. "If you can, meditate," he adds. He also suggests speaking with a mental health professional, if it's available to you: In fact, one study found that when 46 participants engaged in nine weeks of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) treatment, they had reduced stress levels 8and 8increased telomerase activity8 (an enzyme that slows the shortening of telomeres, which effectively promotes longevity) in blood samples.
We're continuing to learn more and more about how to increase longevity—and how to make these resources accessible to the public. We predict we'll see more of these resources in 2022 (read the full trend here!), but in the meantime? Sinclair's lifestyle recommendations can make a significant difference.