While global research targets all aspects of ageing, there are basic strategies we can employ to contribute towards quality ageing.
In 2013, Google bankrolled a company called Calico, short for California Life Company.
It’s headed by the chairman of Apple (and several highly post-name initialed scientists and researchers) and its mission is to “harness advanced technologies to increase our understanding of the biology that controls lifespan. We will use that knowledge to devise interventions that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives”.
There is a substantial argument that finding a way to slow down ageing will save more lives than finding a cure for cancer. This outside-the-square thinking group of investors and scientists see this avenue as a more effective means to help human beings achieve a greater quality of life for longer; what is now commonly referred to as ‘life extension’.
What science (and probably anyone paying attention) already knows, is that ageing is partly to blame for muscle loss, decreased bone density, cardiovascular disease risk, a decrease in reaction time and cognitive ability, and a diminished immune function, an increased risk of cancer, and both sleep and wakefulness can become increasingly fragmented.
Research into how to lessen these biological nuisances is surely welcome.
The Maximum Life Foundation aims to reverse ageing by 2033 and is investing in the exploration of strategies such as genome modification (replacing the DNA that causes a disease with one that doesn’t), nutraceutical development (developing peptides [proteins] that manipulate genes to get them to express the right thing instead of the thing that leads to disease), maximising artificial intelligence (to process bulk information about diseases faster so that more timely solutions can be found), and nanotechnologies (drug delivery and biological enhancements at a less than microscopic level).
Best-selling author Miranda Esmonde-White brought attention to the Life Extension movement with her books “Ageing Backwards” and believes ‘we should never have to surrender helplessly to chronic pain, hip and knee replacements, loss of energy and mobility, poor posture, weight gain—regardless of our chronological years’ and is a bit less techno-heavy in focusing on movement and exercise-based protocols (move it or lose it principle).
If you look closely, the life extension movement is starting to get traction, and for good reason. Medical science is enabling the extension of life; however, this is most often than not, without quality and vigour attached.
So what can we do to live long and prosper?
Alongside the increasing research on life extension is an equal amount of concern that only the rich will be able to access the resources and technology that will extend quality of life. However there are some tried and tested truths that anyone can access. There just has to be the will and commitment to sticking with the habits that will see one reap the benefits in old age.
Numerous research results show that not over-eating can increase life span substantially. One experiment with rodents showed this to be true for just a ten percent reduction in calorie intake. Those poor mice on a 40 percent restriction were no better off relevant to life span, and in fact had diminished health outcomes, further proving why very low calorie diets don’t work (for mice or men) and that moderation is key.
There continues to be conflicting ideas around exercise intensity and ageing. Proponents of working with our still essentially caveman biology and doing what they did, suggest that they walked a lot, jogged some, sprinted and carried stuff… and got plenty of sleep. Their stress was the kind that promotes growth, not the chronic stress modern civilization heaps upon us, and that training this way leads to longer maintenance of strength and fitness.
Other evidence comparing master’s athletes in both power (carrying stuff) and endurance sports, showed no significant differences between the groups in dynamic balance, walking speed or handgrip strength, suggesting that you can just walk, run or cycle and still maintain strength and fitness into your old age
There is agreement however that nearly all types and levels of exercise enhance or maintain cognitive function which is a highly desired utility into old age.
Telomeres. Heard of them? Telomeres are the specialised structures at the ends of chromosomes which protect the end of the chromosome to maintain genomic stability, avoiding degradation.
Shortened telomeres have been associated with a large number of age-related disorders, such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, and even cancer.
Furthermore, the practise of life-long exercise has been shown to reduce factors related to telomere attrition, such as oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, while there are several studies pointing to sedentary behaviour being associated with shorter telomeres.
Adding to the telomere-exercise-cancer hypothesis is that elite athletes, and master athletes have longer telomeres than their non-athlete counterparts.
Sleep plays a major part in the way our body functions and ages. There is little to no evidence that getting less than seven hours a night is healthy, with most human beings needing between seven and nine hours, and some athletes or highly active people requiring more to fully recover each night.
Acute or short-term sleep restriction is consistently reported in association with an increase in food intake, calorie consumption, poor dietary quality, and also alcohol consumption.
Additionally, a UK study of more than 50,000 people also showed the odds of reporting high TV viewing (three hours a day) was one and a half times greater in the overweight and two times greater in obese adults.
Poor sleep duration (less than seven hours a night), was almost two times higher in overweight and obese, compared with the ‘normal weight’ group. The overweight and obese groups also reported low levels of physical activity.
Research suggests that these behaviours seem to cluster and so collectively expose individuals to greater risk of obesity.
And why is obesity a risk to a long life and quality ageing? A pooled analysis of studies shows obesity is associated with substantially elevated rates of total mortality, with most of the excess deaths due to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, with major reductions in life expectancy when compared with normal weight participants.
So while the billionaires work to enhance advanced technologies to harness life extension, there are four clear strategies that can be followed without those advances, and they have been true since the dawn of civilisation;
- Eat moderately and nutritiously
- Exercise daily
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get adequate sleep.
All research points to these basic laws working cumulatively to extend the quality of life and help us to age well, which is surely everyone’s wish.
And then there’s the argument that if we actually figure out how to extend life or reverse ageing that it would reduce the evolutionary rate of humans, increasing our susceptibility to extinction, adversely affecting practises that promote welbeing, and impede our moral progress.
Nothing is ever straightforward is it?