If you want to turn back the clock, staying physically and mentally fit can result in a much happier, healthier you. “Exercise, sleep, and diet are all tremendously beneficial and can help to slow ageing at a cellular level,” explains Thomas Yates, a professor who studies the impact of lifestyle on ageing.
Snooze fewer than 6 hours a night and you may be 12% more likely to die earlier than if you logged 6-8. Getting less than 7 hours disrupts hunger-relating hormones, causing weight gain and related concerns.
What is ageing?
Most of us think of ageing as the process of getting older. But what does that really mean? Ageing is the accumulation of changes in our bodies over time. These changes can be physical, mental, or emotional. They can be positive or negative – and they can happen quickly or slowly.
Ageing is a natural process that happens to everyone. However, there are things you can do to slow down the ageing process and stay full of energy and have youthful skin. Exercise, eat healthy foods, drink water, and get plenty of good sleep. These things will help your body stay strong and healthy and help you avoid many of the problems that come with age.
We all want to stay young and healthy as we age, but what does the science say? What can we do to keep our bodies and minds healthy? Many of the steps to staying young are manageable – in fact too much vigorous exercise may be harmful to the heart in very high volumes and moderate activity is often better.
- Cut calories by up to 25%
Researchers looked at 220 people, with a third cutting their calorie intake by 25% over two years, while the rest made no changes to their regular diet. The calorie-cutters appeared to age up to 3% more slowly, which could slash their risk of an early death.
- Run – 5 days a week
Many studies have confirmed that aerobic exercise has potent benefits for longevity, as long as you do it regularly. Researchers have suggested that putting in extra amounts of effort slows ageing inside the body’s cells by as much as 9 years. As we grow older, our telomeres (the protein “bumpers” that protect DNA from damage) shorten, a process compounded by poor diet, drinking and inactivity, and this results in cell ageing.
- Walking fast can knock 15 years off
Walking at a brisk pace of about 100 steps per minute (or 2.7pmh) could add years to your life. Researchers discovered speedy daily walkers can have a biological age up to 15 years younger than dawdlers. Specifically, a lifetime of brisk walking leads to longer telomeres. These are protective “caps” on the ends of your chromosomes. Although they don’t carry genetic information, telomeres play a vital role in keeping DNA stable. Scientists measure these end caps to calculate a person’s biological age. The longer they are, the younger a person is in terms of biological age – which can be different from chronological age (your birthday).
Regular walking leads to enhanced mood and reduced anxiety and depression, while helping to offset fatigue, and to some degree, even symptoms of pain. Some of the benefits are immediate (lowered blood sugar, for example), while others are more long term and can fend off common age-related illnesses, such as obesity, high cholesterol, vascular stiffness, joint pain, inflammation, and mental stress. That’s plenty of incentive to start putting “take a walk” on your to-do list now.
- Consume 1.5-2l of fluids a day
Staying well hydrated helps to slow biological ageing and consuming 1.5-2L of fluid a day – equivalent to 6 glasses of water – should be your target (more if you exercise hard). Tea, coffee, and foods with a high fluid content such as fruit, vegetables and soups all count towards your fluid intake.
- Take up cycling
Pedalling is kinder to the joints than running and another option for warding off premature ageing. The thymus, which makes immune T cells that fight infection, usually begins to shrink from the age of 20, producing fewer of these important cells, but less so in the lifelong exercisers. A study by Professor Janet Lord, director of the Institute of Ageing at Birmingham, showed the cyclists’ thymuses were making as many T cells as those of a young person. It’s never too late to start cycling or any form of exercise. Although a lifetime of activity is better, sedentary people that become more active in midlife or older age still get tremendous benefits when it comes to longevity and preventing ill effects of ageing.
- Get 7 hours of sleep a night
A regular 7 hours of sleep a night from middle age onwards is what’s needed to ward off many of the ill effects of ageing, including cognitive decline. Interrupted sleep has been shown to increase inflammation, resulting in an increased susceptibility to age-related diseases. The disruption of slow-wave, deep sleep, is associated with a build-up of the protein amyloid, which causes “tangles” in the brain typical of some types of dementia. Sleep is extremely important for preventing accelerated ageing. One night of not getting enough sleep in older adults activates important biological pathways that promote biological ageing.
- Yoga keeps us young
Yoga can certainly make us feel more youthful thanks to its ability to improve flexibility and mobility, but it can also slow physical ageing by reducing harmful effects of stress at a cellular level. Research showed that 12 weeks of practising yoga that included postures, breathing techniques and some meditation for 90 minutes on five days a week, slowed down key markers of cellular ageing. The study reported positive changes in biomarkers that indicate DNA damage and oxidative stress that can age cells.
- Eat less processed food
Consumption of mass-produced ultra-processed foods (UPFs) which are typically packed with dyes, sweeteners, and additives, will do nothing to ward off ageing and may speed up the path to old age. Spanish scientists from the University of Navarra found a clear link between UPF consumption, the shortening of telomeres and accelerated cell ageing. It is always best to eat as much of food in its natural state as we can. Avoiding ingredients that you wouldn’t find in your kitchen cupboard is a key to healthy ageing.