15 Jun 2023 News in English 8 min. to read

Enjoy Life

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.)

Youth is a wonderful time, but it has a significant drawback: it passes quickly. And for most of our earthly journey, we are already middle-aged, mature, senior citizens, “older adults,” and so on – quite a few euphemisms are used trying to avoid a simple and honest definition of growing old.

And what is growing old, after all? It’s not only about wrinkles or less elastic muscles. It is primarily about getting more sickly, frail, and vulnerable to all sorts of diseases and mishaps than we used to be. Most of us thing that deterioration of physical and mental health accompanying the onset of old age is inevitable. However, scientific research conducted within the framework of the program on the history of longevity at The Boston Medical Center refutes this conventional wisdom. Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, cancers, and other serious diseases, if not determined by genetics, are not caused by age per se but by certain traits of our lifestyle, such as sedentary way of life, unhealthy diet, smoking, environmental hazards, etc. In fact, many people aged 85 and older are as healthy as those who are 20-30 years younger. Their biological age may be 20 years lower than their calendar age.

In order to celebrate your 110th anniversary, according to the apt expression of Professor Vadim Gladyshev from Harvard Medical School, you need to win the genetic lottery, but living healthy and happy to 85-90 is quite realistic. What you need to do for this, how to change your daily habits and your attitude to the world – read about this in our article.

Living to 100 years or more is fully realistic

Let’s start with the good news: in general, our planet has experienced a considerable increase in life expectancy in recent decades. Since 1990, people have been living longer on average by eight years. In the US, the median age for men is just over 76 and for women over 81.

In today’s world there are about 1 million people who are over 100 years old. Scientists believe that by 2050 there will be about 3 million.

And now, the not-so-good statistics: most of the elderly suffer from physical ailments, depression, and low income. But there are those who are a living denial of the saying “old age is no fun.” How do they pull it off?

Research shows that you can be just as productive at 70 or 80 as you were at 50

Thomas Perls, professor of medicine and geriatrics at the Boston University School of Medicine, is founder and director of the New England Centenarian Study, the largest study of centenarians and their families in the world. He is also a principal investigator of the NIA-funded Long Life Family Study. According to Prof. Perls, the findings obtained as a result of geriatric research can help prevent or at least delay the onset of diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, stroke, heart disease, and cancer. It is unlikely that it will be possible to achieve that most people live to be 110 years old, but it is quite possible to live fully and even work up to 85-90.The Louis Nunn Center for Oral History at the University of Kentucky Library has more than 10,000 recorded stories of active centenarians. For example, 103-year-old rheumatologist Ephraim Engelman was still seeing patients in his office at the University of California, San Francisco in 1915. Dr. Walter Gamewell Watson, a gynecologist from Augusta, Georgia, continued to work almost until his death in 2012; he lived for 102 years, taking about 15 thousand births over the years of his medical practice.

Moby Dick’s “Elixir of Youth”

Aging is not an inevitable outcome of earthly existence, but it remains a leading cause of human suffering and death, says Jay Olshansky, professor of public health at the University of Illinois. He and his colleagues are trying to identify specific genes responsible for longevity. Through natural selection, many animals have already acquired ways to prolong life. Their “elixir of youth” could give people the key to understanding how to live longer and stay active. The object of attention of scientists – genetics professor Vadim Gladyshev and his colleague Juan-Pedro Magalhais from the University of Liverpool – was the white whale, the prototype of the novel Moby Dick (the plot of this book partially unfolds on Nantucket Island in Massachusetts). They investigated its natural protection against age-related diseases and understood some of the clues why the animal might live up to 150 years.

During research on whales, scientists found changes in the ERCC1 gene, which is responsible for the restoration of the genome and acts as a clamp, preventing malignant cell mutations.
Figuratively speaking, this gene itself “repairs” the DNA helix if unwanted mutations suddenly appear in it. Scientists have suggested that such a transformation provides the animal with healthy cell renewal, eliminating the damage inherent in aging and delaying death.

Now their task is to grow human tissue with the same favorable mutations, which itself would restore DNA. The ultimate goal of the researchers is to reprogram the human body so that it can block the growth of cancerous tumors on its own.Prof. Gladyshev argues that old age should be treated as a disease. (Live Longer and Leave Later). It is quite realistic to engage in its prevention, and if it does happen to a person, it can and should be treated.

Why are we growing older?

One known aging marker is a decrease in the length of the telomeres of our chromosomes. At the end of each chromosome are bundles of DNA – telomeres, which, like tips on shoelaces, do not allow it to “disarray.” However, with each division – and cells divide constantly – the telomeres become shorter and eventually shorten so much that the cell, having lost its protection, ceases to function normally, and dies. The body becomes more vulnerable to disease. Some scientists even claim that the length of the tips of chromosomes can predict the time of death with an accuracy of several years.

Biomedicine focuses mainly on risk factors for the elderly, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes. But how to explain the fact that some people have them, while others do not, and these lucky ones fully enjoy their maturity. In second place after genetics, environmental impact is an important factor, Prof. Gladyshev believes. From birth, all body molecules are constantly exposed to toxic chemicals and radiation, which leads to cellular mutations and tumors. Another factor is metabolism. Cells, like ovens, need regular cleaning. The waste products formed in them during the burning of fats and glucose accumulate over time, and if purification does not occur, important biological processes of the body fail sooner or later.

Biological age vs calendar age

Biological age, unlike calendar age, determines the state of health of body systems.

A modern person needs to keep the above parameters under control and undergo an annual medical examination – a health check, which includes a visit to a primary care physician, a cardiogram, a complete blood count, determination of lipid and hormonal profiles, etc. You can start with self-monitoring: regularly measure blood pressure, heart rate, and blood glucose levels. One must also be on the alert for such phenomena as a sharp decrease or increase in weight, weakness, dizziness, and the presence of pain. Now we hear more and more often about the need for regular psychological counseling for the elderly. Not infrequently, it is difficult for a person to determine on your own whether you have a depressive state or any mental deviations. It is recommended that you check your psychological state at least once a year by visiting a neurologist or at least doing self-tests for anxiety and depression (they can be easily found on the Internet).

Geroprotectors or anti-aging pills

As such, there is no cure for aging, but there are certain drugs that scientists consider promising geroprotectors. Alternatively, gene therapy for certain conditions is gaining momentum: it includes introducing new genes to a person or changing existing ones, but this therapy is still under active study. The future also belongs to regenerative medicine, which deals with growing new organs from the patient’s stem cells and then substituting them for worn-out parts of the body. But the widespread use of this technology is still far away.

The keys to longevity – here and now

But this does not mean at all that after a certain age you should become a regular in doctor’s offices – this is something that may cause hypochondria. Doctors say that our health and longevity is only 20% dependent on genes, and the rest is in our hands. So, what do scientists who study the problems of longevity advise? Studies show that it is possible to extend one’s active life for 14 years or more: what should be done to achieve this? Health recipes are simple, but it is important to follow all of them in a complex:

  1. Let yourself get hungry – eat only when you are really hungry; avoid sweets, eat protein, more vegetables.
  2. Walk more: even 10 minutes of vigorous walking improves the condition of the brain, heart, skin, mood, metabolism; gradually speed up.
  3. Build and maintain muscle strength – up to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week is recommended.
  4. Get enough sleep: you need to sleep at least seven hours a day.
  5. Keep optimism and satisfaction with life, get positive emotions, laugh.
  6. Control your weight.
  7. Train your brain. Studies have shown that changing activities after age 40, learning new skills and unusual mental activities (e.g., left-handed writing for right-handed people) significantly reduce the risk of dementia.
  8. Get rich: the wealthy live an average of 15 years longer than the poor.
  9. Admire: a sense of beauty, admiration for beauty normalizes the level of cytokines – molecules that strengthen the immune system.
  10. Find a calling: having a job or hobby you love prolongs your life by an average of seven years.
  11. Communicate with people – first of all, with those with whom you are “on the same wavelength”, with whom there is mutual understanding. Personal, rather than virtual, communication is particularly effective in increasing your lifespan. (Although virtual communication also has some value – provided it is positive). Avoid angry, obnoxious, aggressive people.
  12. Read good, interesting books, watch good movies, and beware of depressing news: you can’t completely isolate yourself from it, but you need to limit news consumption.
  13. Avoid stress.

Nota bene. Similar article: “Biological Age Rolls Back after Stress Ends”

Centenarians’ diet: small amounts of protein, fish a couple of times a week, legumes, nuts, vegetables, olive oil, little bread and pasta, a minimum of sugar, two meals a day. Drinks: water, green tea, coffee. A 2015 Harvard study showed that those who drink 3-5 cups of coffee a day have a 15% lower risk of premature death.

No wonder the famous long-livers – the Japanese say: “It’s better to live a week without rice than one day without tea.”

Loneliness is worse than smoking

The main factor in physical and mental health and longevity, according to a study launched as far back as 1938, is not career achievements, not a healthy diet or exercise, but healthy, positive human relationships.

The large-scale study, The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which lasted 84 years, involved 700 people. It showed that loneliness increased the risk of death by 26%. By age 80, those who were satisfied with their relationships felt healthier and happier than those who were physiologically healthy but experienced a lack of communication or dissatisfaction with their relationships with other people. The authors cite statistics: meetings with friends once a week for one hour between the ages of 40 and 80 will add up to 87 days; this is a very modest amount of time compared to the additional 15 or more years it can add to your life expectancy.

The bottom line: while scientists are working on a therapy that can significantly extend a healthy period of life, we ourselves can contribute quite a bit to this objective. Join the discussion, share your experience: we are interested to know your opinion.

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Summer has arrived – let it be warm and enjoyable. Live long and happily – now you know how to.

Author: Helena Savinova
Scientific Consultant: Maja Barbalić, PhD, Scientific Director of the Henome project.
Editor: Ilia Baranikas

An authentic article of our partner, Henome.com, a media project about the human genome. Based on Science Direct. WelcomeToMA© and Henome.com™. All Rights Reserved. 2023. The use of text materials without modification online for non-commercial purposes is permitted with the mention of the name of the projects “Henome.com™”, “Welcome to MA©” (or the news feed “ILike.Boston™”) and an active link to the original material on the website or on one of the social networks of the publication.