Fit For You: How Lifestyle Affects Aging
Humans have always been in search of a fountain of youth. We enjoy the wisdom age brings, but are not so enamored with the physical breakdowns that come along with it. And, many have come up ways to try to reverse, or at least stall, the ageing process.
For decades, doctors thought that how you age or which diseases you develop are linked to your DNA. However, recent studies show that 90% of the impacts of aging are from daily lifestyle choices and the environment created by your lifestyle - not genetics.
"When I went through my medical training 25 years ago, I was taught that your genes are your destiny," says Dr. Sara Gottfried. "It turns out that you're stuck with the genes you have, but you can change the way your genes are expressed, which is known as epigenetics. You can turn on and off certain genes with you lifestyle decisions - not all of them, but a significant number."
Gottfried is a functional medicine specialist in the San Francisco Bay Area who has authored a number of books - including The Hormone Cure and The Hormone Reset Diet. Her newest book, Younger, doesn't claim to stop aging, but it does outline some specific ways to slowdown the process while improving overall health.
Her interest in epigenetic techniques is what influenced her current book, which actually started with a test she failed.
"I got interested in testing my patients for telemeres (little caps on your chromosomes that are a marker of biological aging, as opposed to chronological aging) so that I could see how fast or slow they were aging," she explains. "So I took the test myself, which is something I always do before I test my patients, and I was shocked with the results. At age 44, I had the telemeres of a 64-year-old woman."
Gottfried says muscle, brain, hormones, gut and toxic fat lead to accelerated aging. And, she says, the key is finding out what works for your body to optimize all of those systems to work together.
Some of the most basic ways to control your environmental factors is through how you move, how often, what you eat and drink, and how you handle stress.
Adjusting your daily habits when you are relatively disease free in your prime, Gottfried says, will ultimately lead to a longer health span.
"I’m not interested in extending old age," she says. "I don’t want to be in my nineties with a walker and not able to recognize my family. I want to take that feeling of being in your prime, which is what I have now at age 50, and I want to extend that as long as possible."
Gottfried notes that chronic diseases are a failure of the modern medical system, which devalues functional and preventative medicine.
Although the time many start thinking about aging is typically around 40, she stresses that it is never too late and it is never too early to think about how your health impacts your aging. "Many of the factors that accumulate over time to lead to a problem like Alzheimer's Disease begin in your 20s, 30s and 40s. So we want to care about these decades before symptoms begin."
One way to approach aging, Gottfried says, is through increased emphasis of self-care. "We're changing the way we dance with stress, and so self-care to me is the way in."