Anti-aging is one of those terms that is open to the charm of charlatans, preying on our desire to stay young and attractive. We’re always searching for viable bio-hacks in a world that increasingly values youth and beauty over wisdom and grace. But let’s not get maudlin. We can do this better.
Let us first define our universe. No, we can not reverse time. We can’t look twenty-five when we’re fifty-five, despite what some cosmetics ads would like us to believe. However, we can live longer and healthier. Anti-aging is really about making the best use of all that’s available to us to live optimally—to flourish, rather than languish.
As we age, as I age, I recognize that I’ve lost a step, lost speed, some quickness, mobility and agility. That’s the bad news.
The good news is we can define anti-aging differently. We can put off debilitation, torpor and early decline. We can have a more active life expectancy, remaining virile, strong, mobile, alert, curious and excited well into those twilight days. Prior to what science has discovered over the last decade, those would have been the years we spent waiting for death. Now they can be fun.
We can increase longevity, but simply living longer is not so attractive if it means drifting away in an extended care facility or hooked up to a machine. What we want, and can have, is a healthful, vibrant longevity. The sciences of physiology, biology and neuroscience have made great advances in understanding how our bodies work and what we can do in terms of lifestyle, diet and supplementation to help ourselves out. The NIH has a readable and comprehensive report, available here: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/can-we-prevent-aging
There are few, if any, supplements that can rework the aging process, but as we age, our bodies require a different nutritional profile. Supplementing helps. Adjusting what we eat and how we train can have dramatic effects. Older adults tend to be deficient in protein, the B complex, magnesium and D vitamins. As I’ve discussed here before overdosing these supplements won’t supercharge your lifestyle, but if you are deficient, adding these things thru diet and supplementation can help your body function better, which makes you more productive and helps you feel better. Activity matters—feeling better will naturally incline you toward greater activity and a virtuous cycle ensues.
Or the parts I can share. I’m 56 years old and have been active most of my life. As a police officer I found it necessary to stay fit because you never knew when you would be forced to run after someone or fight when you caught them. Looking fit in the uniform was actually the first line of defense. These days I train with lighter weights and focus on stamina and mobility. I try to avoid injury because not only is the recovery time from injury longer, but the getting back into shape takes longer as well. For example:
- I still do pull-ups, but I don’t kip (CrossFit style) because the motion can be jerking to the shoulder girdle, especially if fatigued and technique is not perfect.
- I still deadlift, but I again don’t do it CrossFit style, because as we get older, doing strength moves for time increase your chances of getting injured.
- I do seated rows, but more slowly, under control, focusing intently on locking my entire body down as I pull the weight, so I prevent getting off balance and injuring my lower back.
- I run for distance only once a week or so and at a slower rate, to minimize the impact on my joints. My cardio comes from supersets with minimal rest time, Tabata workouts and HIIT training on the treadmill for roughly twenty minutes at a time.
- Every day I take the label-recommended servings of whey protein, collagen hydrolysate, taurine, creatine, glutamine, BCAAs, citrulline malate and theanine (for mental clarity). I also take a B-complex, Vitamin D, Myprotein Alpha Men and salmon oil capsules.
- Eating beets or supplementing with beet powders can relax blood vessels and reduce pressure. This means less hypertension, fewer strokes, better cardio function. Hey, you’ll live longer.
Our protein requirements increase as we age. This can be tricky because our doctors steer us away from meat over concerns about heart disease. But our lean body mass decreases without adequate training and protein. To find balance we must investigate alternative means for ingesting protein, such as from whey/casein shakes and other vegetable-based protein supplements.
Our metabolism slows as well, so we must maintain or increase it with exercise, including, it’s critical to note, resistance training. Note that metabolism is different from diet-induced thermogenisis (DIT), which is increased energy expenditure. Metabolism includes digestion and other organ processes which may increase if say, you are on a high-protein diet. Metabolism covers an array of functions; it’s not as simple as saying increased metabolism equates to weight loss.
The calorie-restriction conundrum. While there is evidence here: http://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-study-finds-calorie-restriction-lowers-some-risk-factors-age-related-diseases that calorie restriction can have a profoundly positive impact on our overall health, those of us who enjoy resistance training struggle with the desire to eat more calories to feed & grow muscles balanced against the attractive idea that reducing calories increases health and longevity, aka anti-aging. From the study “Although the expected metabolic effects were not found, calorie restriction significantly lowered several predictors of cardiovascular disease compared to the control group, decreasing average blood pressure by 4 percent and total cholesterol by 6 percent. Levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol were increased. Calorie restriction caused a 47-percent reduction in levels of C-reactive protein, an inflammatory factor linked to cardiovascular disease. It also markedly decreased insulin resistance, which is an indicator of diabetes risk. T3, a marker of thyroid hormone activity, decreased in the calorie restriction group by more than 20 percent, while remaining within the normal range. This is of interest since some studies suggest that lower thyroid activity may be associated with longer life span.”
Which Supplements Don’t Work
There are other supplements touted as anti-aging, such as, CoQ10, that I don’t recommend. Here’s why: https://examine.com/insiders/3-popular-supplements-that-are-a-waste/ – evidence from a trusted source. I also don’t take DHEA as it has been shown to increase estrogen, although most of the studies have been done on women. There are more studies that show the harmful effects of DHEA supplementation than any significant benefit. But, it’s well covered so more studies will come out that may change my opinion.
The field of nutraceuticals, where science meets nutrition, is growing rapidly. Nutraceuticals fit in a broadly defined field that includes super foods, targeted supplements, coffees and other functional foods. You can go broke trying everything on the market but it does appear there are more efficient ways to get the nutrients we need to not just live optimally but extend the better years.
How About Nootropics?
I’m very curious about nootropics but I’ll need much more research before I post about them. It’s a fascinating pocket industry, bolstered in part by the entrepreneurial minds of Silicon Valley. Nootropics are taken for their alleged effects on brain function; alertness, mental stamina, clarity and cognition. The science is still more hype than proven, but it is intriguing.
Apart from the legendary drug use among tech founders, these big-brained investors are increasing their stakes in promising start-up ventures, with the hope of bringing the dream of anti-aging closer to reality. Peter Thiel, the billionaire Stanford grad and one of the founders of PayPal, has stated he thinks he can live to over 120. He doesn’t plan on spending the final twenty-five of those years being fed oatmeal by a nurse. He plans to be productive well beyond the average life span.
An interesting company to begin your nootropics and anti-aging quest is Elysium Health, which boasts a team of six Nobel Laureates who are “redesigning wellness” along with others on the company’s impressive roster of neuroscientists, geneticists and doctors. If you want to play a better round of golf, seek advice from Danny Willett; if you want to track the leading figures in the science of anti-aging, bookmark Elysium’s website. Their launch product, Basis, combats aging on the mitochondrial level, where age seems to manifest its ugliness.
What Can We Do?
Lifestyle changes are important. Most of the readers of this site are already concerned with fitness and training. Perhaps you can remind your non-gym friends (if you have any) that there are almost always choices, limited as they may be. It’s up to them to make the healthier ones. Bacon or salad? Elevator or stairs?
So yes, we can look age in the face and laugh, at least for longer than we ever thought possible. Eventually father time has the last laugh, but we will have enjoyed a much longer, more productive, healthful and vigorous life because we stayed active, controlled our diet and supplemented our deficiencies.