A few wrinkles shouldn’t fill you with dread; take control of your future health and happiness and make getting older bespoke and joyful
Found your first grey hair? Before you start to worry, it’s worth knowing that how you age isn’t set in stone. Last year, groundbreaking research by scientists at Stanford University identified four biological pathways that reveal your risk of age-related illness. The team, led by Professor Michael Snyder, discovered different ageing scenarios linked to immunity, liver and kidney functions and metabolic activity. The good news is these pathways, known as ageotypes, give you the power to take control over your health.
“We were able to see clear patterns of how individuals experience ageing on a molecular level,” says Professor Snyder, “and there’s quite a bit of difference.” Interestingly, the researchers found that lifestyle and diet changes meant some participants aged at a slower rate. “The ageotype is more than a label,” explains Professor Snyder, “it can help individuals zero in on health-risk factors and find the areas in which they’re most likely to encounter problems down the line. Most importantly, our study shows that it’s possible to change the way you age for the better.” If you are a ‘metabolic ager’ for example, “you might be at a higher risk for diabetes than the general population,” says geneticist Dr Ricki Lewis (@rickilewis), “but you can follow a low-carb diet and exercise to keep blood sugar within a normal range.”
The Stanford study was quite small, so further research is needed, but there are already plans for a commercial test to determine ageotypes. Until it becomes available, there are plenty of ways you can take control of the way you age.
What do you do to relax when you’ve had a stressful day?
A. Hibernate on the sofa and watch a boxset
B. Reach for the chocolates
C. I get insomnia when I’m anxious so I’d try to get an early night
D. Meet up with friends (virtually, if necessary) and have a good catch up
How refreshed do you feel when you wake in the morning?
A. I’m a bit slow to get going, I think I probably sleep too much
B. I often eat late at night, so I can wake up feeling sluggish
C. Not very, I tend to sleep quite fitfully
D. It depends on what the day holds. If I’m seeing/talking to people, I’m raring to go
Your friend wants you to do a virtual 5K run for charity, what do you tell her?
A. You’ll happily sponsor her, but it’s not really your thing
B. You’re busy that day, but you’ll bake some cakes to raise funds instead
C. You agree, but secretly wonder if you’ll have the energy on the day
D. Great, let’s get the whole family involved and do it in teams
It’s date night, what do you want to do?
A. Stream a new movie or theatre performance at home
B. Have your partner cook you a special meal, with all the trimmings
C. You’re not too worried about date nights these days; your libido is a bit low
D. Pre-covid it would have been a night out with friends, but now you’ll settle for a Zoom party with a few friends and their partners
If you could change your career, which kind of work would you like to do?
A. Something that extends my mind, such as a researcher
B. I’d like to run my own tea room or cafe
C. Something in medicine, such as a doctor, nurse or paramedic
D. A counsellor or life coach
Where will you go on your first, post-pandemic holiday?
A. Somewhere hot and sunny so I can lie by the pool with a good book
B. A French pastry course in the Loire Valley
C. A restorative spa, where I can rebalance my system
D. I miss the feeling of connection with like-minded people, so probably a summer festival
Sounds like you need a little inspiration to get your trainers on. Increasing the amount you exercise won’t just help you stay trim, it can alter the way you age too. Research from the University of Birmingham and King’s College London shows regular exercisers have the immunity, muscle mass and cholesterol levels of a younger person. But it doesn’t end there, a study by Brigham Young University found high levels of exercise (think 30 minutes of jogging a day) can reduce your cellular age by a whopping nine years! Not a runner? Fear not. “Find an exercise that you enjoy in whatever environment that suits you and make a habit of physical activity,” said the researchers from King’s College. “You will reap the rewards in later life by enjoying an independent and productive old age.”
If you’re enjoying sweet, fatty and processed foods at the expense of fruit, veg, lean proteins and oily fish, you could be ageing faster. One of the ways ageing is measured is by the length of DNA structures in your body known as telomeres, which shorten as you get older. “Better choice of diet has great potential to reduce the rate of telomere shortening,” said Dr Masood Shammas, lead scientist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, “leading to delayed onset of age-associated diseases and increased lifespan.” Telomeres shorten in response to oxidative stress, so try eating more foods found in a Mediterranean-style diet – an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition report shows it helps reduce free-radical damage.
We know lack of sleep impacts mood and concentration the next day, but research shows it also affects the way your cells age, particularly as you get older. One study at University College Los Angeles found just one night’s poor sleep (four hours maximum) made participants’ cells age quicker, which can eventually increase the risk of cancer and heart disease, according to the American Academy of Sleep medicine. Another study, by scientists at Duke- NUS Graduate Medical School in Singapore, found poor sleep makes your brain cells age faster, too. It looks like you could be getting less than optimal rest at night, so prioritise your sleep by getting 30 minutes of natural daylight within an hour of waking, cut down on caffeine in the evening and avoid blue light for an hour before bed.
Since the pandemic, we’ve all come to appreciate the value of staying in touch with our loved ones, and it can help you age better, too. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that loneliness can lead to a heightened sense of stress, which could have implications for heart disease (lonely participants had higher blood pressure than those who weren’t lonely). “Loneliness acts as a fertiliser for other diseases,” says UCLA School of Medicine’s Dr Steven Cole, whose research studied the physical and mental impact of loneliness. “The biology of loneliness can accelerate the build-up of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.” Sounds like you know the value of good relationships, so keep at it – you’re already doing your best to stay happy and healthy into old age!
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