Habits That Influence the Aging Process

How you live your life could have positive or negative influences on how well you age. Controlling these habits could increase the quality of your longevity and extend your lifetime.

Sleep and longevity

Two independent studies confirm that quality and duration of sleep have an impact on your main longevity biological factors — telomeres. Poor sleep quality, specifically short sleep duration, long sleep latency, and low sleep efficiency were associated with faster longitudinal shortening of telomeres.

A telomere is a region of repetitive DNA sequences at the end of a chromosome. During our lifespan, telomeres become shorter. This is a natural process, which is initiated when our cells divide. Still, when telomeres become too short, the cells die.

According to these studies, people who sleep less than six hours per night, have an insomnia disorder, or sleep longer than eight hours, were associated with short telomeres. The longest telomeres were for people who sleep six to eight hours per night.

Sleep latency — how long it takes for you to fall asleep — was another indicator for telomere length. Telomeres were shortened faster when sleep latency was 25 minutes. The slowest shortening of telomeres was in a group of people who needed just 10 minutes for sleep latency.

The study of longevity parameters and sleep indicated that the best sleep time is between 9:57 p.m. and 1:06 a.m. The best wake-up time is between 6:55 a.m. and 8:52 a.m.

Results of another study showed that those who took a nap during the day were 2.79 times more likely to have one or more of the following diseases: hypertension (high blood pressure), myocardial infarction (heart attack), stroke, or diabetes.

Diet and longevity

According to research, the mitochondrial and telomere mechanisms of aging have been united and a direct molecular connection between telomere attrition and mitochondrial dysfunction has been established.

Unhealthy factors, which include endogenous genotoxins, inadequate nutrition, and other unfavorable lifestyle factors, are also responsible for both an increase in baseline genome damage and accelerated telomere shortening.

Therefore, experiments were performed examining the effect of the most common antioxidant compounds found in food such as vitamins, minerals, polyphenols, and omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention of telomere shortening and possible slowing down of the aging process.

At the moment, research has demonstrated that vitamins C, D, E, folate, and β-carotene and the minerals zinc and magnesium have positive effects in protection against oxidative stress and inflammation. This leads to telomere protection and is positively associated with telomere length in humans.

There is a special note about magnesium. Insufficient magnesium reduces DNA repair capacity and induces chromosomal abnormalities. It is reasonable to hypothesize that magnesium influences telomere length by affecting DNA integrity and repair in addition to its potential role in oxidative stress and inflammation. There is a strong recommendation to take organic magnesium instead of inorganic, because of better bioavailability. The best forms of magnesium are threonate, bis-glycinate, and chelate.

Polyphenols found in green and black tea have a positive influence on telomere length. Elderly people who are habitual tea drinkers have longer telomeres, which correspond to an average increase of five years in life span, compared to their counterparts who do not drink tea as frequently.

Another significant, naturally occurring polyphenol related to telomere length is resveratrol, which activates longevity genes called sirtuins. Resveratrol delays senescence at the cellular level and increases telomere length and telomerase activity.

Clinical trials show that it is not omega-3 itself, but rather the ratio between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids that is important, as telomere length increases with a ratio of 1:3 (omega-3: omega-6).

Although the effect of a calorie-restricted diet on life span in humans remains to be determined unequivocally, evidence suggests that it can be a successful step to prolonged healthspan and healthy aging.

The Mediterranean diet and more

The Mediterranean diet has a direct positive effect on telomere length. The Mediterranean diet managed to preserve a telomere length that corresponded to 4.5 years of aging, which is comparable to the effects of not smoking (4.6 years) and physical activity (4.4 years) on the telomere shortening rate. The Mediterranean diet also stimulates telomerase activity in peripheral blood mononuclear cells.

There is evidence that obesity and a high body mass index (BMI) could be related with shorter telomeres.

A negative correlation between active smoking and telomere length has been indicated in many studies. It was calculated that if you smoke one pack of cigarettes for 40 years, you decrease your telomere length which is equal to 7.4 years of your life.

Differences in telomere length between non-alcohol users and the group with the highest alcohol consumption rate could be represented as a 10-year difference in biological age. Still, one study showed that more drinks per week had no effect on the shortening of telomeres. While there is not much research on alcohol versus longevity, we should follow World Health Organization recommendations and not drink more than one to two alcohol units per day.

Sports and longevity

Most research indicates that higher physical activity exhibits a positive relationship with longer leukocyte or skeletal muscle telomere length in comparison to a sedentary lifestyle.

One study showed the differences between telomere length for participants who are currently active and those who are not. The median telomere length was significantly higher for participants who were currently active. However, the differences were rather small.

Resistance training (bodybuilding, gymnastics), endurance (cycling, jogging), and other types of sport showed fairly similar patterns, while individuals who engaged in intensive activity (marathon sport, long-distance running) showed slightly higher values of telomere length.

We could conclude that any physical activity is a very promising longevity factor, but if you hope for even longer telomere length, you need to perform intensively active sports. The same researchers observed that practicing sports for more than 10 years has a significant effect on relative telomere length.

Cold-heat therapy and longevity

Research into cold therapy in experimental animals has shown promising results. Exposure to cold water/air improved their recovery from traumatic injuries, increased metabolic activity, and decreased cancer incidence rate.

For humans, it is known that cold therapy improves survey scores of tension, fatigue, memory, and mood, and reduces infection rate and depression.

On the other hand, exposure to the cold can increase your brown fat. Brown fat increases your metabolism, producing extra energy. One study analyzed the cold effect during the prenatal period and saw the tendency that consistent prenatal temperature exposure below the cold threshold (5°C) was associated with longer telomeres. These mentioned results need more investigation, but smart exposure to cold temperatures could be beneficial for our longevity.

On the opposite side — heat therapy is also a good factor for longevity. One of the most well-known heat therapies is saunas. When you get exposure to controlled heat at 80 to 100 Celsius, the so-called “heat shock” proteins are activated.

These proteins are very important and could be related to living longer. The recommendation would be to take a sauna once per week, combining your sauna with exposure to cold temperatures.

The mind and longevity

Stress is the number one negative factor in longevity and lifespan. It could be harmful even very early in our lifetime. Research indicated that pregnant women who had exposure to high-level stress gave birth to newborns with really short telomeres.

Women with the highest levels of perceived stress have telomeres shorter on average by the equivalent of at least one decade of additional aging compared to low-stress women.

Reducing stress with meditation could be an effective way for stabilising telomeres.

There is tentative support for the hypothesis that people who meditate have longer telomeres than people who don’t, and that a greater number of hours of meditation is associated with a greater impact on telomere biology.

There are a number of factors you can control in order to increase your ability to age well. These include getting a good night’s sleep, eating a good diet, playing sports, trying a sauna, and reducing stress.

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