Aging is the greatest risk factor for many chronic diseases, including cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Aging is of course inevitable, but that does not mean that we are doomed to become ill once we reach old age.
Delay the onset of chronic diseases beyond the age of 80
For example, a study recently showed that healthy 50-year-olds live an average of 23 years without developing chronic diseases. On the other hand, if these people do not smoke, maintain a normal weight, are physically active, eat an abundance of plants but few meats and processed foods, and consume moderate amounts of alcohol, this healthy life expectancy jumped 12 years for women and 8 years for men. In other words, instead of suffering a loss of physical or mental functions around age 70, it is possible to delay the onset of these chronic diseases after age 80 and thus compress the period of illness or disability at the end of life to a minimum. . Adopting a healthy lifestyle can therefore slow down biological aging and thus add years of healthy life to make the most of our brief existence.
Why do we get sick more often as we age?
As we age, several changes are introduced into our genetic material and alter the expression of certain genes. These modifications, which are called “epigenetic”, often take the form of methyl groups (CH3) which are added to a base of DNA (cytosine) to either prevent or increase the expression of a gene. It has been observed that the degree of methylation of certain regions of DNA is strongly correlated with aging. Analytical techniques (DNAmAge) have been developed to estimate a person’s biological age by specifically measuring the methylation levels of these regions.
Ingredients for a long healthy life
A randomized clinical study used this approach to visualize the impact of lifestyle on aging. People aged 50-72 in good health were separated into two groups, a control group, with no change in lifestyle habits, and an intervention group subjected to a program advocating an increase in the dietary intake of plants. , regular physical activity (30 minutes a day, 5 days a week), stress management (breathing exercises) and at least 7 hours of sleep per night. Saliva samples were collected from participants at the start of the study and after 8 weeks of intervention and used to measure DNA methylation.
Take charge of aging
The results are quite spectacular: the participants subjected to the experimental protocol show a reduction in the DNAmAge score of almost 2 years compared to that measured at the start. This finding suggests that lifestyle can very quickly reverse biological aging, as measured by the degree of methylation of certain regions of DNA. The health benefits of good lifestyle habits are therefore not an abstract or theoretical concept. On the contrary, they can manifest themselves concretely, at the very level of our genes. The secret of people who live long and healthy lives is therefore not a question of genetics, but rather of epigenetics. That is to say, all the factors associated with the way of life which, collectively, modulates the expression of our genes. This is encouraging, because it means that our destiny is generally not fixed at birth and that we can really take control of our health by changing our lifestyle.
Li Y et al. Healthy lifestyle and life expectancy free of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2020
Fitzgerald KN et al. Potential reversal of epigenetic age using a diet and lifestyle intervention: a pilot randomized clinical trial. Aging 2021