Aging is a fact of life. However growing old is a matter of choice.
Although aging is still a process we know precious little about, a growing body of science is devoted to it, because the age pyramid seems to be inverted. As such, it has become a growing social concern. Add our quest of eternal youth, and it is easy to understand why anti-aging is one of the most rapidly expanding fields in medicine and health science. Even though we are only beginning to have a general picture of aging in the biological sense, we do know that it is a multi-factorial phenomenon. It blends genetics, lifestyle, and many metabolic processes that all interact together in ways we do not yet understand.
Science has shown however, that some key factors are major influences. The most common culprits we have control over are: inflammation, stress, and blood sugar dysregulations. Here are how they play out, as well as lifestyle hacks you can implement to keep them in check if you want to age strong and healthy.
1st Pillar of Aging – Stress
Stress is omnipresent nowadays. It is a trope to say that our forebears had levels of stress 100 times lower than ours. We live in a more complicated world, and our attention for a signal is grabbed at every turn. Remember that a signal needs be treated by the brain and interpreted, in order to produce a response. This maintains our alertness levels high most of the time. On the other hand, situations in nature tended to be resolved quickly. In a flight of fight situation, you were either alive and well, or a meal to something bigger, faster and stronger. Once danger was out of the way though, stress levels went down and everything was fine. A lot of situations created by modern life produce stressful conditions that linger over time.
Those two aspects of our lives, increased stress signals & lingering stressful situations, will manifest by increased cortisol levels. And make note: those stress signals are not necessarily bad/unhappy situations. A marriage is just as stressful as a divorce, for example.
A quick word on cortisol
What you need to know is that the stress hormone cortisol has a major impact on a lot of other hormonal cascades. It affects, among others, insulin regulation, sex hormones production and thyroid health. It is also a major player in other very important functions such as microbiome regulation, cognition, memory, digestion and absorption and immune function. Those are just a few key functions that can be affected by cortisol, especially if it is chronically elevated.
Cortisol is a master hormone that as the potential to affect every other system in the body. Feel bloated when stressed out? Or maybe you have trouble making decisions or remembering what you did just minutes ago? Can’t go to sleep at night? Maybe you can’t see someone coughing 20 feet away without catching it, too. All of those are either directly or indirectly related to stress. It can be a cause or at least a factor in virtually every health issues we have.
2nd Pillar of Aging – Inflammation
Inflammation comes in two broad categories: acute and chronic. It is a part of wound healing and diseases. If you get a bruise, the redness and swelling are caused by local inflammation. This the acute form. It will cause blood vessels to dilate, thus explaining the redness. It will also draw fluid from the blood, which you notice as the swelling.
But inflammation can also be a systemic phenomenon, meaning it affects the whole body. This is usually associated with the chronic type. The silent sub-clinical inflammation type in particular is a kind of inflammation that can cause damage in the long run. It can stem for a variety of causes, from poor sleep to smoking, to food intolerances or toxicity in the body. But the “sub-clinical” part means it hasn’t reached levels where it’ll cause problems right now. The operative words being “right now”
The major concern though, is that it can do major ravages in the body if left unchecked over a long time. Chronic subclinical inflammation has been associated with every major degenerative diseases known today. We’re looking at the heavy hitters here, such as: diabetes, obesity and cancers. It is also related to things like Alzheimer’s, asthma and arthritis, for example. This is not an exhaustive list, but it should make you take inflammation seriously.
3rd Pillar of Aging – Blood Sugar Imbalances
Do you deserve to have your carbs? No? Then put the donuts down!
Although carbs are not evil, they do have to be earned! It caused him a lot of backlash the traditional nutritionists. But it is a good thing that science caught up. It has now been shown that carbohydrates are not all sugar and spice and everything nice as they were depicted for the longest while.
So what does happen when you eat carbs you don’t deserve? Your blood sugar will turn spike too much and your insulin levels will be all over the place. Over the long term, this has several important implications for your health. First your energy levels will crash down, causing you to run to the nearest coffee machine. In turn, this will make you crave sugary foods a lot more. Then, if you have too much carbohydrates later in the day, it will negatively impact your sleep because cortisol will rise to combat the high insulin. The poor sleep will then negatively impact your insulin sensitivity and thus create a vicious cycle. This is one of the main causes of the issues associated with aging.
A word on insulin resistance
Spikes in insulin level have their consequences, too. The more insulin you produce over a long period of time, the more your cells will become resistant to it. Think of it this way: have you ever have to deal with a disturbing background noise? At first, it will be a disturbance and you will react to it. But after a while, you become accustomed to it and you will stop noticing it. Constantly producing high levels of insulin is the same thing. Insulin is a signal, just like the noise. If it’s presented too often, for too long, your cells will become desensitized. Hence, for the same amount of carbohydrates ,your body will need to produce more insulin to get the same result.
Insulin resistance will then facilitate fat gain and eventually diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular diseases. It will negatively impact health markers such as triglycerides, cholesterol (HDL to LDL ratio) and, more importantly, HbA1C.
HbA1c – Gumming up your metabolic engine
Glycated hemoglobin, otherwise known as HbA1C, can best be described as caramelized proteins in your body. In this case, red blood cell proteins. And I mean this quite literally. Glycation is the interaction of carbohydrates with protein that ends up producing molecules that “gum up” your body structures such as capillaries, nerves and eyes. It is thought that they are a major cause of the damage related to diabetes. They do so by getting caught in the small vessels in the extremities, eyes and kidneys, amongst other nasty things.
There is a saying that says: “insulin is the hormone of aging”. So producing more to function normally is NOT good news.
Solutions you can use to prevent this
Most of those solutions should be self-evident if you are already health-conscious. Others might be new, but are still big building blocks of a healthy lifestyle and will contribute to make you age more gracefully.
Regular resistance training (aka lifting weights) is one of the best form of activity there is. Why? First, because you have total control on your routines and the execution of the exercises. Also because any goals can be attained with lifting. Want to look great naked? Lift! Want to lose fat? Lift! Want to be stronger? Lift heavy stuff! Want better conditioning? Lift faster! Want to live longer? Lift… your ass off the couch! Sedentary lifestyle is one of main cause of death nowaday
The many benefits of resistance training
Thus, if you want to stay strong as you’re aging, you need to LIFT! People think about cardio for aging, but at age 80, you will need strength to go about your daily activities. Playins with the grand-kids. Gardening. Lifting your grocery bags. Quite simply, for increased health and wellness, if exercise could be put in a pill, it would blow every other pharmaceutical compounds out of the water. It has dramatic effects on your physical health. It is simply that effective.
Not to mention that it is the more potent than most anti-depressants in the case of light and moderate depression. It has been shown that lifting improves cognition and mood. It increases sex drive. And it is also a great stress reliever and will increase your testosterone levels. There are entire books written on the topic, but this is just a short list of course. Keep in mind that training can help combat the natural natural decline in muscle and bone density.
It should also be said that exercise will mobilize the anti-inflammatory systems of the body, which is, bar none, the greatest factor to improve insulin sensitivity. Being active is the best way to relax for all the stress you have. It’s also worth mentioning that lifting will have a positive impact on your health and hormonal status, contrary to cardio.
But whatever you do, ex-er-ci-se. The real enemy here is a sedentary lifestyle. In fact, it’s actually better to get off your ass and walk than eating an apple if you want to keep your doctor away. So be active if you want to live longer and healthier.
This should also be self-evident, so I’m only going to insist on two major points, besides the already mentionedf carbohydrates management in your diet. And that is the eating of healthy fats and consuming antioxidants.
Indeed fats are good for you! Even the saturated ones, as they have been rehabilitated after decades of being pointed as the villain in your diet. Fats play a key role in the production of many hormones, and are an integral part of a healthy cell membrane. They make up about 40% of the weight of your brain and are essential to proper nerve function. It should also be pointed out that they are the favored fuel of the aerobic system. This is the system we use for everyday activities and, you know, just plain being alive.
So go ahead and eat plenty of fatty fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, olives and a variety of healthy oils. It will make you healthier and age more gracefully.
Rust-Proof Your Body
Antioxidants are molecules that protect your cells from oxidative damages. We naturally produce free radicals, molecules that cause your body to rust, just like iron. Ok, not quite like iron, but the damage is pretty similar. When you cut an apple in two, it browns after a few minutes of being exposed to oxygen in the air. This same phenomenon happens in your body, albeit more slowly. Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables of different colors, different spices and herbs will provide a wide spectrum of antioxidants. Those will not only add flavor to your meals, but also offer a great protection from free radicals.
In addition, having an wider food selection helps to prevent food intolerances. Better food choices, more variety and nutrient-dense foods is also a great way to help bring down your inflammation and control your blood sugar.
Just like nutrition and exercise, sleeping is one of the big rocks of life and aging well. It is literally invaluable to your health in many ways. It will help regulate the hormonal cascade throughout the day. Sleep is also the best way to quickly improve your insulin sensitivity and control the urge to overindulge in foods, especially carbs.
For trainees, it’s been shown that poor sleep is one of the most frequent hurdles in gaining mass. So if you eat right and in enough quantity, train hard and still haven’t gained an ounce of muscle since the Reagan administration, try improving your sleep.
Be aware of electromagnetic pollution
We are surrounded by different kind of electromagnetic waves. Wi-fi is now everywhere and with the new 5G coming up, this is not going to get better. We are plugged 24/7 on devices that emit radiations from cell phones to TV to tablets and laptop. But this electomagnatic environment has an effect on our health. One of the biggest one is that in certain individuals (studies suggest up to 35% of the population) who are sensitive, electro-pollution can increase insulin resistance.
Hence standing next to a machine or device that emits an electromagnetic field for a long time can worsen diabetes symptoms. It can also speed up fat gain or prevent fat loss.
Avoid Blue Light
This factor is directly related to the technological environment mentioned in the previous point. Most of the electronic devices that have a screen use blue light technology. This wave length of light will affect the brain and stimulate the pineal gland. This gland regulates our daily activity, a phenomenon known as circadian rhythm. This helps explain why people who spend a lot of time on their computer or reading on a tablet late at night before going to bed have either more problem falling asleep or report poorer sleep quality than those who don’t.
The typical recommendation for people who don’t sleep is to avoid watching a screen three hours before going to bed. If you like reading before bedtime, use an old-fashioned book. See if that does improve your sleep. Avoiding blue light will help master inflammation that comes from disrupted sleep pattern and messed up circadian rhythms. If you need to watch a screen, a large number of companies offer apps that do block blue light. Those have been found to enhance quality of sleep.
Many factors that cause rapid aging are entirely under your control. Simply putting those tips in application will go a long way in making sure you age well and remain more youthful for a longer time.
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