Four keys to healthy aging

by Dr. Mercola

senior man and woman on a beach• If you had a choice and could either age well – enjoying your “golden years” with energy and vigour, free from disability and illness – or age poorly and be straddled with health issues that keep you from fully living the later years of your life, which would you choose?

You do actually have a choice or, at least, can choose to use strategies that will greatly sway your chances in one direction or the other. And I’m sure most everyone reading this would rather experience healthy aging than the alternative.

Research has found four key behaviours that lower your risk of disability, chronic disease and mental health problems as you age: 1) Not smoking. 2) Moderate drinking. 3) Exercising regularly (at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate activity or 1 hour a week of vigorous activity). 4) Eating vegetables and fruits daily.

Now here’s what’s interesting. While each of these was moderately beneficial on its own, increasing the odds of “successful aging” by up to 50 percent, the best rewards came from following all of themsimultaneously. Those who practised all four of these tripled their chances of avoiding disability and disease over a 16-year period and experienced good cognitive, mental, physical, respiratory and cardiovascular functioning. “Although individual healthy behaviours are moderately associated with successful aging, their combined impact is substantial,” the researchers said.

Six additional healthy aging strategies

The bottom line is the more healthy habits you embrace, the higher your chances of aging successfully become. And while the strategies listed above are all important, there are several others I believe can benefit most people greatly as well.

1. Avoid sugar/fructose: Limiting sugar in your diet is a well-known key to longevity. Of all the molecules capable of inflicting damage in your body, sugar molecules are probably the most damaging. Fructose, in particular, is an extremely potent pro-inflammatory agent that creates toxic advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which are associated with the development of chronic degenerative diseases associated with aging.

Excess fructose consumption also promotes the kind of dangerous growth of fat cells around your vital organs that are the hallmark of diabetes and heart disease. In one study, 16 volunteers who ate high levels of fructose produced new fat cells around their heart, liver and other digestive organs in just 10 weeks.

Sugar/fructose also increases your insulin and leptin levels and decreases receptor sensitivity for both of these vital hormones and this is another major factor in premature aging and age-related chronic degenerative diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. Keep in mind that while it’s perfectly normal for your blood sugar levels to rise slightly after every meal, it is not natural or healthy when your blood sugar levels become excessively elevated and stay that way.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what will happen if you’re eating like the average American, who consumes a staggering 2.5 pounds of sugar a week on average. And when you add in other low-quality carb foods such as pastries, cookies, candy and starchy “complex carbs” such as bread and pasta, which also break down to sugar (glucose) in your body, it’s not so difficult to see why so many Americans are in such poor health.

Further, according to professor Cynthia Kenyon, whom many experts believe should win the Nobel Prize for her research into aging, carbohydrates (glucose) directly affect the genes that govern youthfulness and longevity. So you may actually be able to extend your life and stay fit throughout your old age with a simple dietary change that switches on your “youth” gene.

Kenyon’s research with C. elegans roundworms showed that decreased carb intake can lead to significant life extension and improved long-term health. One of the most interesting details of her findings is that not only did the roundworms live up to six times longer than normal, but they kept their health and youthful vigour until the end – and isn’t that what “healthy aging” is really all about?

As a standard recommendation, I strongly advise keeping your total fructose consumption below 25 grams per day. However, most people would be wise to limit their fructose to 15 grams or less, particularly if you have elevated uric acid levels, which can be used as an indicator of fructose toxicity.

2. High intensity “anti-aging” exercise: Even if you’re eating the healthiest diet in the world, you still need to exercise to reach the highest levels of health and you need to be exercising effectively, which means including high-intensity activities into your rotation. A study published in the journal Mechanisms of Aging and Developmentconfirmed the “anti-aging” effect of high-intensity training, such as Peak Fitness. High-intensity interval-type training also gives a natural boost to your human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigour.

3. Stress reduction and positive thinking: You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional component of your health and longevity, as your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease – from heart disease and depression to arthritis and cancer. It’s simply no coincidence that many centenarians mention positive thought and emotional wellness in their advice on how to stay healthy. As 114-year-old Walter Breuning said before his death, “Tell yourself that every day is a good day and make it that way.”

Effective coping mechanisms are a major longevity-promoting factor, in part because stress has a direct impact on inflammation which, in turn, underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely every day. Meditation, prayer, social support and exercise are all viable options that can help you maintain emotional and mental equilibrium.

4. Take high-quality animal-based omega-3 fats: Animal-based omega-3 fat is a strong factor in helping people live longer and many experts believe it is likely the predominant reason why the Japanese are the longest lived race on the planet (as their diets are naturally high in omega-3s). In the US, many are deficient in omega-3 fats.

According to Dr. William Harris, an expert on omega-3 fats, those who have an omega-3 index of less than four percent age much faster than those with indexes above eight percent. Therefore, your omega-3 index may also be an effective marker of your rate of aging.

5. Optimize your vitamin D levels: In one study of more than 2,000 women, those with higher vitamin D levels were found to have fewer aging-related changes in their DNA, as well as lowered inflammatory responses. Additionally, people with low levels of vitamin D have been found more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure and diseased heart muscle and are three times more likely to die [prematurely] from any cause compared to those with normal levels.

We have long known it is best to get your vitamin D from sun exposure and if at all possible, I strongly urge you to make sure you’re getting out in the sun on a daily basis. If you can’t get out in the sun, a safe tanning bed is the next best option. It is also important to make sure you get enough vitamin K2 to balance your vitamin D levels. The best way to get the vitamin K2 is from fermented vegetables that are created from special starter cultures that use bacteria that make vitamin K2.

6. Intermittent fasting: There’s a growing body of research showing that fasting has a beneficial impact on longevity in animals. There are a number of mechanisms contributing to this effect. Normalizing insulin sensitivity is a major one as insulin sensitivity is critical for the activation of the mTOR pathway, which plays an important part in repairing and regenerating your tissues, including your muscles, thereby counteracting the aging process. The fact that it improves a number of potent disease markers indicates that fasting can have an overall beneficial effect on your general health. For example, modern science has confirmed fasting can help you: Normalize your insulin sensitivity, which is key for optimal health as insulin resistance (which is what you get when your insulin sensitivity plummets) is a primary contributing factor to nearly all chronic disease, from diabetes to heart disease and even cancer; normalize ghrelin levels, also known as “the hunger hormone”; promote human growth hormone (HGH) production, which plays an important part in health, fitness and slowing the aging process; lower triglyceride levels; reduce inflammation and lessen free radical damage.

On intermittent fasting, the longest time you’ll ever abstain from food is 36 hours, although 14-18 hours is more common. You can also opt to simply delay eating, for example skipping breakfast, or stop eating earlier in the day. The issue of fasting is a major shift from my typical recommendations. I’ve not been a major advocate for it in the past, but… I am always learning. To that end, I’ve now revised my personal eating schedule to eliminate breakfast and restrict the time I eat food to a period of about six to seven hours each day, which is typically from noon to 6 or 7PM.

One caveat: the same genes that promote human longevity also appear to suppress female reproductive capacity. Hence, fasting and intense exercise protocols, both known to promote longevity, also lower estrogen levels, thereby modulating body composition in women and suppressing female reproductive capacity. So this may not be an ideal strategy for women of reproductive age who wish to have children.

Healthy aging is a “package deal”

DrMercola There is no “quick fix” or magic bullet when it comes to aging well. Generally speaking, the better you treat your body throughout your life, the better your aging experience will be. Most people do not revel in the thought of getting older because for many “aging” is synonymous with aches and pains, forgetfulness and loneliness. It certainly is inevitable that you’re going to get older, but I can tell you from personal experience that this does not have to be a bad thing.

Now, in my late 50s, I am the fittest I have ever been in my life and I also live out every day to its fullest potential. I may have been able to run faster when I was younger, but I would never trade that for the muscle strength, flexibility and knowledge that I have today. You too can achieve wellness on both physical and mental fronts and you can do so at any age. In fact, in many respects, life only continues to get better as the years go by.

© Dr. Mercola. For more research information, visit

beach photo © Monkey Business Images

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