Alright, now we have a better idea of what ageing is and how science might put an end to it. However, is there anything you can do in the meantime to slow down your own ageing?
That’s a perfectly legitimate question, especially when you think it’ll take two or three decades at least before the first rejuvenation therapies reach clinics and hospitals. The answer is yes, you can do something to slow down your own ageing (or at least avoid making it worse), but don’t expect miracles, ’cause there won’t be any.
First and foremost, your genetics play a big role and set limits to the results you can obtain without rejuvenation biotechnologies. That being said, the following is a brief discussion on what you can do to stay healthy as long as possible, so that your chances to live to see the dawn of rejuvenation and benefit from it will be higher. (Not to mention that being healthy is a rather worthy goal aside from any longevity benefits you may get…) Especially if you’re very young (for example, a teenager, or in your 20s), you’ve got a long time ahead and your chances are looking good already. Don’t waste them doing anything stupid.
Let’s start from the most obvious things you can do and work our way up to the least known ones.
NOTE: Remember none of this is to be considered medical advice; the information here presented is for illustrative purposes only. Before making any change to your diet or your exercise routine, talk about it with a doctor or a personal trainer.
- Don’t be an idiot. Smoking or alcohol and/or drug abuse are terrible ideas—not only if you want to live long enough to see the defeat of ageing, but more generally if you want to live, period. Smoke and alcohol in particular may increase your risk of cardiovascular diseases and/or cancer and/or liver problems and/or assorted catastrophes, and are perfectly capable to ruin your life well before they put an end to it. Drugs aren’t any better.
- Have a healthy diet. If you type ‘Aubrey de Grey’ on Google’s search box, ‘aubrey de grey diet’ will be among the first suggestions given by Google Instant. The reason is, a lot of people look for it, but spare yourself the trouble because what Aubrey de Grey always says is that there is no such thing as an ‘anti-ageing’ diet. We’re all different enough from each other that any possible dietary generalisation is pointless, with few, well-known obvious exceptions: cut the sugar and saturated fats; avoid trans fats like the plague; eat abundant fruit and veggies (and nuts and seeds as well, unless you’re allergic); try to maintain a healthy weight, because obesity increases your risk of cardiovascular diseases. If you’re unsure about what diet would work best for your, or want to make sure your present diet is a good one (not so much to combat ageing, but rather to be healthy in general), ask your doctor.
- Avoid unnecessary stress. Prolonged, continuous stress has a range of negative effects on health.
- Exercise. If done properly, exercise has a number of positive health effects, for example: it can reduce the risk of some diseases; it’s good for your heart and your mood; it can help to lose weight. Nowadays especially, given all the time we spend with our arses glued on a chair in front of our computers, jogging, hitting the gym, cycling, etc, are excellent ideas.
- Calorie restriction may help (but I don’t recommend it). Calorie restriction is basically a diet where your daily caloric intake is somewhat less than optimal. This means eating less than is necessary, but not so much less to suffer from malnutrition or starve. It has been known since the 1930s that calorie restriction slows down ageing in simple organisms (such as worms) and nearly all animals, including mice and primates. Animals in a calorie restriction regimen don’t just live longer; they are healthier for longer. (This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since it is rather difficult to live longer if you’re not healthy enough to do so.) The reason why this works is essentially an evolutionary one.
For modern humans, famines are a rather rare event, but it is not so in nature, nor was it aeons ago, when the most fundamental mechanisms of living creatures were first evolving. In case of famine, a creature that slowed down its own metabolism in response to the diminished calorie intake would have an edge compared to a creature that didn’t. Switching to ‘power saving mode’ during a famine allows a living creature to increase its chances of pulling through the imposed diet; consequently, such creature has higher chances of reproducing than other creatures that stick to the ‘high performance’ power plan. A side effect of metabolism going low gear is that ageing is slowed down, since as we have seen it is metabolism that causes ageing in the first place. Thus, evolution favoured creatures who evolved this mechanism, so that today we observe it in nearly all living things.
In the lab, calorie restriction has yielded amazing results. In some cases, researchers manage to extend the total lifespan of test animals up to 300-400%. Unfortunately, they were microscopic lifeforms, which hints where the catch is: Studies have shown that the longevity benefits of calorie restriction diminish as the animals’ size increases. The smaller the animals, the more the benefits; the larger the animals, the smaller the benefits. Aubrey de Grey suggests the reason for this is also evolutionary in nature. Slowing down your metabolism is one thing, but living off thin air is another and it is not especially feasible. Tiny and microscopic animals can tighten their belts and survive very short famines, so short that larger animals don’t really have a problem with them and don’t need to develop any survival mechanisms in response to them. Longer famines would certainly wipe out smaller animals (who surely can’t tighten their belts indefinitely, let alone switch to braces), but they would also push larger animals to adapt and evolve a mechanism to slow down metabolism in response to the food shortage. The lifespan of small animals is generally short, and the smaller the animal, the shorter the lifespan; the lifespan of some small animals can be even shorter than short famines, thus pushing these animals to slow down their metabolism to the point they manage to live longer than they normally would. In order for larger animals to evolve a similar mechanism, longer and longer famines should have happened throughout the history of the planet; this probably didn’t happen for a very simple reason, i.e. that long famines are more unlikely to happen than short famines.
It is not clear what kind of benefits calorie restriction might have for humans; de Grey thinks it may add one or two extra years of healthy life in a best-case scenario, whereas other researchers say it might add up to ten or twenty years. The point is, we don’t know for a fact, but there’s no real reason to think humans should somehow be an exception to the clear downward longevity trend observed as the size of the animals goes up. Besides, counting calories at every meal and successfully maintaining a healthy, balanced diet under a calorie restriction regimen is no cakewalk, and I would advise against it. Anyway, some researchers are trying to develop drugs able to mimic the effects of calorie restriction—the so-called CR-mimetics— so that you wouldn’t need to actually practise it to reap its benefits. If the topic interests you, have a look at this post on Fight Aging!; the topic is discussed on Ending Aging as well, which is where my explanation comes from.
- Some supplements/drugs might help. There is a number of substances that are suspected to have geroprotective effects (i.e. they protect against the effects of ageing). The suspicions are legitimate, as they arise from clinical studies, but in general we’re not talking about established facts; besides, there’s no guarantee that taking these supplements or drugs is free from risks and side effects, especially if you don’t know what you’re doing. Just like caloric restriction, this isn’t really my cup of tea and I’d rather wait until rejuvenation biotechnologies are developed. Being prescribed a rejuvenation treatment by your doctor feels much safer than pushing your luck with supplements and risking possible unwanted interactions with other substances. Be as it may, if you’re into this kind of stuff I recommend you to take a look to the free ebook Aging Prevention for All by the MMTP team. The book discusses all known potential geroprotectors, calorie restriction, and more, and it goes into quite a bit of detail. As the book itself repeats ad nauseam, before you start taking anything, talk about it with your doctor. The ebook isn’t out yet as of this writing, but it will be soon. (I know because I proofread it.)