Ageless is a book by science writer Andrew Steele. Most of the book goes into the physiology of how we age and how we can potentially stop that from happening.
In one of his final chapters he does have some recommendations on what we can do or not do to give ourselves a statistically better chance of living longer. Here they are:
- Don’t smoke. No real news here, smoking is really quite bad for you. If you’re under 30 and stop smoking, it’s likely that your life expectancy can recover back to normal. If you end up smoking most of your life, you can probably expect to take as much as ten years off your life compared to if you never smoked a single cigarette. Not only does smoking increase your chance of lung cancer, it also increases incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and dementia – so basically all the main causes of death (apart from maybe a certain virus…). Smoking also makes you look older too, thinning the skin, causing baldness, wrinkles and greying hair.
- Don’t eat too much. I once heard that you age at the rate that you produce insulin – so basically at the rate that you eat. Steele sort of backs this up. Being obese can definitely shorten your life. But it’s actually visceral fat that’s the most dangerous – the fat that can build up around your organs that can screw with your physiology and health. Subcutaneous fat around your butt and legs are less dangerous. What this basically means is: Avoid a beer belly as much as possible, since that’s an indication that fat is building up around your innards. What you eat can matter too – there’s evidence for vegetarianism and eating fruit and vegetables being good for you (who knew?). Meanwhile, sugary, processed, fatty food and alcohol should probably be limited. To sum up, look in the mirror and see if you could do with losing some weight – it could extend your life.
- Get some exercise. I bet you’re learning tons of new stuff today! Yes, whenever we’ve been told that exercise is good for you, they were probably right. Both cardio and resistance training is good for longevity, and generally the sweet spot is about 30 minutes per day. There is some evidence suggesting that you can exercise too much, but that problem probably won’t be applicable to most.
- Get seven to eight hours of sleep a night. Data suggest that those that live longest sleep not too little and not too much. Even so, it’s hard to conclude that sleeping the right amount causes you to live longer, since there’s a chance that people who are more prone to sickness and illness have to sleep longer or have their sleep disrupted with pain or other symptoms. Nevertheless, sleep is a rejuvenative process for the body and especially the brain, so it probably should be treated with respect.
- Get vaccinated and wash your hands. Never before has this been better advice than right now, with people dropping like flies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Usually we have to contend with the flu season which can leave us bed-bound for a few days each year – this is especially bad for the elderly who can even die from flu. That’s why vaccines are recommended to people over the age of 65, so they can be protected from infections that could wipe them out. There’s a case for the rest of the population to be vaccinated too, since flu in itself is a nasty illness that can wipe out health and productivity, and spread to unvaccinated people too. Infections like flu and HPV are implicated in other more serious diseases like heart disease, stroke, and cancer, so it makes sense to limit the number of infections that we have to overcome in our lives.
- Take care of your teeth. Steele highlights some research linking the lack of mouth hygiene with diseases as serious as dementia and heart disease. We’re not sure how or why this can be, but it’s a good excuse to brush effectively and frequently.
- Wear sunscreen. As annoying as it can be to apply, sunscreen can stop our skin from getting smashed by damaging ultraviolet rays from the sun, thereby preventing dangerous DNA mutations that could lead to cancer. Not only that, the sun can age our skin quicker by causing discolorations and wrinkles.
- Monitor your heart rate and blood pressure. High blood pressure can lead to events like stroke, heart disease and vascular dementia. The seriousness of these events mean that we should keep an eye on our blood pressure. Investing in a blood pressure cuff and periodically measuring our blood pressure is the only way we can know what our figures are, since there’s no other way of feeling that our blood pressure is high in the way that we can notice how fast our hearts are beating. Targets that we should aim for are blood pressures of less than 120/80 mmHg and around 60 beats per minute. The best way to lower these figures? You guessed it: Good diet and exercise.
- Don’t bother with supplements. As popular as they are, Steele doesn’t see the benefit of dietary supplements, and some like beta-carotene and Vitamin E could even increase the risk of mortality. It could be better to invest the money spent on supplements instead in a gym membership, or some healthier foods.
- Don’t bother with longevity drugs – yet. Most of the book covered treatments that are currently being developed to increase human longevity. But Steele advises not to seek out stem cells, metformin, rapamycin or low-dose aspirin just yet. Even though evidence from animal studies may look promising, in humans it could be different and as with taking any type of drug there are unwanted side-effects.
- Be a woman. Although there’s nothing you can really do about this, it’s true that women live longer than men on average. It might be due to men having fewer genes because of the slightly shortened Y chromosome, where women have two X chromosomes. Another possibility is that male sex hormones reduce lifespan – there have been observations that castrated males and eunuchs live much longer.