“Aging is a reality of the living.” What a thought-provoking statement by Dr. Elizabeth Yurth, co-founder and medical director of the Boulder Longevity Institute. We often consider the process of aging as we pass certain upper milestones of age – is it 40? Is it 50? Is 60 the new 30?
Shifting the paradigm to consider longevity at a younger age is imperative to increasing our health spans. The process of aging indeed begins in the womb. An interesting study found that giving pregnant mothers antioxidants seemed to slow aging for the offspring as they entered adulthood.
We tend to think about health at a younger age only when influenced by some negative event. Major illness, weight gain, poor appearance, or a death in the family will spur us to action early on. Otherwise, the common perspective is that worrying about how we age is for “old people.”
It would behoove us to note that ongoing damage to our cells occurs from birth. This damage can accumulate over time and is spurred by genetics, errors in cell reproduction, and free radical production brought about by lifestyle choices and other environmental factors.
The slow, often unnoticeable accumulation of damage can lead to chronic disease. These chronic diseases of aging can act undetected in the background well before symptoms become visible.
Fortunately, much of this damage is preventable with better behaviors while young. While positive behaviors in adolescence like a good diet and consistent exercise are certainly beneficial to setting appropriate foundations for healthy aging, it is especially important to begin focusing on health in our earlier 20s.
Consideration for health in our early 20s can help prevent much age-related decline and helps avoid playing “catch up” in older age. Indeed, this is the paradigm shift we are aiming for: Understanding that behaviors that impact our longevity are working long before we begin to notice signs of poor aging.
There are plenty of examples that show the importance of taking steps early to prevent chronic disease and poor aging.
Healthy lifestyle during young adulthood (the aforementioned diet and exercise) is strongly associated with a low cardiovascular disease risk profile in middle age. The vice versa is also true, poor health choices during young adulthood are associated with a higher cardiovascular disease risk profile as you age.
Physical activity when young provides lifelong benefits to cortical bone size and strength. Starting ahead of the curve with load-bearing exercise can prevent bone loss and/or fracture in older age.
Inappropriate sleep leads to immune system disruption which leads to disrupted sleep which leads to a chronic disease state. Sleep is vital to young individuals because you cannot “catch up” to the damage done by inappropriate sleep. Creating a healthy, intentional sleep process early can prevent the devastating cycle of immune disruption.
We can also approach healthy aging at a younger age with an optimization approach. We know hormones begin declining early (melatonin in teenage years, growth hormone in the 20s, DHEA (anti-aging hormone) in the mid to late 20s, and testosterone in the early 20s). We can begin testing for deficiencies and modulating these hormones appropriately early on.
75% of people have lower than optimal Vitamin D levels which can lead to immune dysregulation, cancers, and further disease. Chronic nutrient deficiencies can be corrected early to help avoid damage.
Understanding hormone metabolism and the system of pathways (some bad, some good) is another key to preventing damage. Modifying the process of metabolism and accelerating the adequate mechanisms of detoxification in hormones like estrone can prevent them from becoming free radicals, damaging DNA, and potentially causing cancers in women and men.
We know that aging begins at birth and the impacts of aging can begin in the womb. Generally, we start with a “clean slate” of cells. Looking at all the pieces that can impact these cells early on – hormone regulation, diet, exercise, sleep, immune system function – can direct us toward how we can prevent frail, unhealthy aging.
It is time to change the perspective on when we should begin taking our longevity seriously. Start early. Making positive choices with our diet, exercise, and sleep, while seeking the help of experts to assess and address the state of our endocrine system, can help guide us to a healthy, strong aging process.