WE all hope to live a long and healthy life, but working out how can be a frustrating experience.
With so much conflicting advice around, it can often be hard to separate fact from fiction.
Molecular biologist Nicklas Brendborg wanted to get to the bottom of it, studying research from across the globe to see what nature can really tell us about ageing.
His new book, Jellyfish Age Backwards, not only looks at the science of growing older, but explores which diet and fitness tricks can really help slow down the clock.
Here, he reveals how tips like going to the sauna at the gym really can work – and the common myths to avoid.
Vitamin D is hailed as the king of supplements but it has no effect on aging.
Our largest and most rigorous studies conclude that vitamin D supplements do nothing to prevent an early death.
If vitamin D is the king, fish oil is the prince. Just like vitamin D, fish oil is touted as a miracle supplement.
But most of the benefits of fish oil disappear upon closer scrutiny. In the largest studies, people taking fish oil supplements don’t live longer than others.
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Though to be fair, fish oil fares a bit better than vitamin D. It might slightly lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Resveratrol is often claimed to be the source of red wine’s “anti-aging” abilities.
The problem is that red wine doesn’t slow down aging after all. Sorry to be the one to tell you.
The alcohol industry likes to promote this story but it doesn’t hold up under independent scientific investigation. And the resveratrol molecule itself also fails in trials.
Many people take resveratrol because it is promoted as life-extending. But in reality, it doesn’t even extend the life of laboratory animals, let alone humans.
In fact, resveratrol could even be harmful. Studies show it blunts the effects of exercise, meaning you get less out of your workouts.
It also increases cholesterol levels and have even caused kidney damage in some patients.
You can probably guess where this molecule was first discovered. But don’t worry – there are other sources, too.
Studies have found that mice receiving spermidine in their drinking water live longer than normal mice.
We also know that people who eat more spermidine in their diet tend to live longer.
However, scientists are still investigating exactly how this works. Until then, eating more spermidine-rich foods like wheat germ and certain beans and mushrooms can’t hurt.
In the 1960s, Canadian scientists visited Easter Island where they found a special bacterium in the soil.
It later turned out this bacterium produces a compound called rapamycin which has become a darling of aging research.
Rapamycin consistently prolongs the life of rodents and has shown promise in other animals too – particularly in dogs.
It is actually already approved for use in humans but this is at high doses in patients receiving organ transplants.
Fortunately, scientists are now trying out lower doses of rapamycin as anti-aging medicine.
The most consistent way to prolong the life of laboratory animals is something called ‘calorie restriction’. Simply put, laboratory mice live longer when they are fed less.
People following this approach also tend to be unusually healthy: their blood pressures, cholesterol levels, immune systems and so on are perfect.
Okay, you might not be bursting to give this one a try. And justifiably so.
People on severe calorie restriction also report that they feel constantly cold and tired.
I guess you can say they might not live forever but it will certainly feel that way.
Fortunately, though, there might be a way around the downsides. It turns out mice don’t have to be calorie restricted all the time to reap the benefits.
When mice are calorie restricted some of the time – by fasting every other day – they live almost as long as the mice that never eat enough.
We know fasting can also have several health benefits in humans, though it should be avoided in pregnancy and by children and the elderly.
Finnish people love the sauna and Finnish scientists have blessed us with more studies on sauna users than we could have ever asked for.
These studies demonstrate that people using the sauna have lower risks of cardiovascular diseases and longer lifespans.
The only downside is if you’re a man who wants kids in the near future – high heat lowers sperm quality.
I know this is not the most fun advice but hear me out. We simply can’t get around the fact that fibre is miraculous for health.
Fibre suppresses hunger and we just learned eating less fights aging. It will also help you look better at the beach.
Furthermore, fibre reliably lowers cholesterol levels and it is involved in several other anti-aging mechanisms as well.
You might not be too excited about chowing down tons of carrots but there are also fibre supplements. These are pretty convenient and have shown health benefits in clinical trials.
The real king of the health world is exercise. If it was a drug, exercise would be the most powerful medicine ever invented.
Exercise prolongs the life of laboratory animals. And in humans, lifespans are longer all the way up the fitness ladder.
Even those in the best shape live longer than those merely in good shape.
There are too many reasons for this to fit here. But some are that exercise counteracts age-associated muscle and bone loss, that it fights high blood pressure, high blood sugar and even helps the immune system stay young.
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And that it leads to several beneficial changes in your cells. Among them, turning on cellular waste disposal and keeping mitochondria – the power-plants of the cell – young and vigorous.
In fact, many age-related declines can be almost completely counteracted by staying in shape.
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