So how does longevity tie in with living the Adventure Life?
Well, in the simplest terms, it would be really nice to live an adventurous life for as long as possible. It would be a real bummer to just start hitting your stride only to be struck down with lung cancer, heart disease, or any number of other lifestyle related illnesses.
But, the really cool thing is that most of the things that you can do to extend your lifespan are the very things that will extend your healthspan. And in doing so, you not only create more years, but you create even better years. It's an AND not an OR. You can live better now AND live longer. In fact, by living better now, you will live longer!
What is aging and why does it have to happen to me?
The biological “tipping point” where the damage of aging has begun to outpace the ability of our body and our mind to repair themselves.
Two of the major diseases of aging - cardiovascular disease and diabetes - are largely avoidable, and even reversible in some cases. A third, Alzheimer’s disease, may be up to 50% preventable.
Running The Gauntlet
As humanity extends the human lifespan through cleaner living standards and the advent of new medicines, it just exposes people to a gauntlet of new killers that they never had to worry about because they didn't live long enough to get them.
So what is healthspan?
It's not necessarily about living longer, but about living better for a longer period of time. Let's focus on extending the number of years in our healthspan and the number of years in our lifespan will surely increase as well. But, who cares? My goal is to live a strong, healthy, fit life for as long as I can and then go out quickly (hopefully in a blaze of glory), happily, and without any regrets.
The Science - Here are the key areas of aging and what you can do about them:
- Mobility (or lack thereof) - As a person ages, they begin to experience a loss of balance, which in turn leads to a widened stance (reducing movement efficiency). As a result, we waste energy and slow down even more in a continuing downward spiral.
- Solution - Build strength in your hips (glutes, hamstrings, and the smaller support muscles) via squats and dead lifts. Also, trail running creates a natural imbalance that forces those muscles to get stronger.
- Cholesterol (LDL) - There are two kinds of cholesterol, the stuff you produce and the stuff you absorb from your diet. The gloopy LDL particles tend to get stuck in tiny fissures in the artery walls, creating “plaques” that then capture more cholesterol and other cellular junk as it passes by in the bloodstream. Those plaques can then harden and constrict blood flow, a condition called atherosclerosis.
- Solution - Oat bran fiber absorbs cholesterol in the gut and escorts it out of the body.
- Telomeres - the caps at the end of chromosomes, serve as a sort of sacrificial barrier, protecting more important information-carrying DNA as it is copied. With each successive cell division, the telomere “caps’ are chipped away slightly.
- An enzyme called telomerase helps maintain the caps of our DNA.
- Endurance athletes seemed to have rather long telomeres, relative to the average person.
- Solution - Exercise.
- Interleukin-6 (IL-6) - A chemical messenger that is supposed to help fight off infections and heal wounds, which it does as part of the body’s inflammatory response. But in older people, IL-6 and other inflammatory cytokines seem to be hanging around all the time, in ever-higher levels, for no apparent reason.
- IL-6 is deadly and it correlates directly with mortality rates.
- Constant exposure to IL-6 makes cells more likely to turn cancerous.
- Solution - Exercise (see why below).
- Senescent Cells - When cells stop dividing they either become cancerous, or they enter a state called replicative senescence.
- Senescent cells ooze a harmful brew of inflammatory cytokines.
- When a cell becomes senescent, it starts to secrete molecules that cause chronic inflammation.
- Inflammation causes or is a major contributor to virtually every major age-related disease that we know of.
- The most powerful pockets of senescent cells are found in one particular kind of human tissue: fat.
- Reduce visceral fat through exercise.
- Fat - Over the last decade, they have come to recognize that fat is in fact a huge endocrine gland, and it wields powerful influence over the rest of the body. But not all fat is bad.
- Subcutaneous fat - produces the hormone adiponectin, which appears to help control metabolism and to protect against certain kinds of cancers.
- Subcutaneous fat - also produces the hormone leptin, which tells the brain when you have stored enough energy.
- As we age this "Sub Q" fat turns to “visceral” fat which produces very little leptin.
- Exercise - people who kept a normal weight and exercised moderate-ishly, lived an average of seven years longer than the non-exercisers.
- Exercise generates huge amounts of IL-6, but in that context it actually has beneficial effects, such as signalling the liver to start converting fat to fuel. “In exercise, it’s actually anti-inflammatory.”
- The short bursts of IL-6 were sending messages to other organs, like the liver and the gut, telling them to switch to “exercise” mode.
- exercise produces a hormone called irisin, which tricks plain old white fat, which is most of our fat, into acting like “brown” fat, a far more rare form of fat tissue that is dense with mitochondria and actually burns energy.
- Solution - Exercise.
- Calorie Restriction - Seems to have an effect on lab rats, but not yet proven in humans. The down-side is it could leave a person too weak to fight off infections.
- Solution - There are proven benefits to periodic fasting (even just for 8 hours).
- Stress - The basic idea of hormesis is that certain kinds of stress or challenges - even some poisons - can actually elicit beneficial effects in the right doses. Stress is strengthening, even essential to life.
- Psychological stress can give rise to biological stress: One way is by triggering the release of stress hormones, like cortisol, which helped our paleolithic ancestors engage in fight-or-flight survival response and store more calories as energy for long, hungry journeys into exile.
- Exercise and lack of food - which in evolutionary terms means we are hunting or undergoing famine - actually shift our mitochondria into a different state altogether, which he terms mitohormesis, in which they produce more free radicals, which in turn triggers our bodies’ own health-promoting responses to stress, like DNA repair, glucose scavenging, even killing potential cancer cells.
- Expose yourself to short-term bouts of stress via strength training and intense physical activity.
- Anti-oxidants - The best anti-oxidants are the ones produced by our own bodies.
- By taking supplements we allow our native antioxidant defenses to grow weak and lazy, leaving us more vulnerable to damage from ROS. Adding a little bit of stress, like exercise, helps keep our own antioxidant defenses in tune.
My Advice (in order of importance and ease of implementation) - for living a longer, stronger, healthier, and happier life:
- Exercise (intense exercise) - In almost every study on aging, exercise is either, directly or indirectly, the treatment, or a viable alternative to the medical prescription. Moreover, it is the only prescription that has no negative side-effects and actually makes you feel better.
- Nutrition - Limit carbohydrates and protein to just what the body needs, take in good fats, and get as much fiber as you can handle. Avoid anti-oxidants - your body produces its own and what it doesn't, you will get from eating healthy.
- Stress your body, but only temporarily through intense workouts and maybe some adventures that force you out of your comfort zone (just my personal preference).
- Fast once in awhile ( I am still working on this one) - start small by skipping breakfast or dinner and leverage your sleeping hours. Intermittent fasting can slow the aging process.
- Keep Moving! Always keep moving! Don't let anything keep you from moving. Whatever the injury or ailment, you must find a way to keep moving!
My Personal Thoughts
I have never and will never utter the words - "I am too old for this", ever! I know the day will come when my body is just not capable of performing a requested task, but I hope my body tells me this in the form of a broken bone or ripped muscle. I want to make sure it is my body talking and not my mind. The day you say, "I am too old for this" is the day you are, and you have started down the path to old age. Don't take even one step down that path!
Remember - "The mind quits before the body."
A Little More on Longevity
- Nutrition and Longevity
- Strength and Longevity
- Fitness and Longevity