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Fundamental biology of health span/aging process

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

In this health-conscious generation, most adults realizing the changes that aging has caused to their once vibrant bodies and mind would wish to live an extra number of years added to the lifespan and the younger ones even additional decades, as long as these years are spent in a relative optimal state of health. This is perhaps the most essential desire for humans as they get older.

Researchers in the past 50 years have made tremendous advances in understanding the aging process and its molecular basis of it, but also ways to slow it down and in the process, also reduce the debilitation of chronic disease conditions like Diabetes, Hypertension, Cancers, and neurodegenerative brain diseases and all their complications.

A group of researchers led by Carlos López-Otin, a Professor of Biochemistry from the Universidad de Oviedo in Spain, eventually narrowed down the biological processes that lead to aging, and published a landmark study called the 'Hallmarks of Aging.'

These hallmarks include genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication. Which are elaborated and explained >>here are essential for understanding the actual points that could be modified, modulated or altered, to reverse aging and improve healthspan.

After casulating the fundamental cellular mechanisms and their implication to the process of aging and ultimately the quality of health span, it became easy to create a concept of the Mouth, the muscle and the mind as the tripods of optimal health.


The Mouth

One of the hallmarks of aging is deregulated nutrient sensing, and its primary significance is that caloric restriction is proven to be essential in improving healthspan and reversing the aging process. Hence restricting diet or fasting, either prolonged or intermittent fasting extends lifespan by improving healthspan, lowers mortality, and changes the cellular processes involved in aging. While prolonged fasting may be challenging, intermittent fasting done in any form is easy to do and cheap.

Plant-based diets, often referred to as vegetarian diets, including fruits like berries, are predicted to improve lifespan for up to 7 years or even longer. Though research methodologies and results vary considerably, it achieves this by reducing the cellular and molecular aberrant mechanisms that lead to chronic disorders like hypertension, diabetes, and Alzheimer/s disease.

A meta-analysis published in the Journal of American Medical Association Internal Medicine by Yokohama et al. in April 2014 explored data from 39 studies. It concluded that people who followed a strict vegetarian diet had lower blood pressure on average than those who had meats as well. Also, evidence from Okinawa and other Blue zones establishes the same paradigm.

In addition to fasting and plant-based diets, high fiber, which by a proxy maintains a healthy gut flora and improves bowel movement, has a direct positive effect on healthspan. Also, other mechanisms that positively affect the colonic microbiota are known to improve healthy living for maximal life expectancy.

Another important thing to emphasize regarding food is that sugar and high glycemic index food intake has to be significantly reduced because of its effects on one of the component pathways that improve cell repair and regeneration called the Insulin- Insulin-like growth hormone pathway (the IIS).

So continual consumption of high sugar food accelerates aging and may lead to obesity and metabolic syndrome.

The Muscle

The suggested recommendation based on research is that to improve optimal health, a person needs to 'move.'

To move involves getting out of the comfort zone of work or home and stimulating the tropomyosin proteins fired by the oxidative phosphorylation and oxidative chains of mitochondria in a 'different way' other than the routine activities.

For instance, a security guard with lots of walking and rounds at work must change that routine so that the muscle's mitochondrial machinery can 'sense a difference.' So for this individual, climbing, swimming, or intermittent short runs are recommended. It is also the principle that forms the basis for High-Intensity Interval Training HIIT.

Therefore, the exercise routines considered adequate for maximum impact on health values have to be 'something different' outside of individual comfort zones but are made simple enough not to seem like an excessive 'drill,' often leading to noncompliance and demotivation. Moderate exercise is any physical activity in which the individual can talk but cannot sing. It is also the reason why 'group-based' exercise may not be beneficial for everyone because exercise must be designed to be individualized based on physiological and metabolic status.

Individuals over 40 years of age should include exercises involving isometrical contraction of muscles (strength exercises) as part of the regime for 30% of the exercise period.

The total period should be a minimum of 150 minutes but up to 300 minutes weekly (minimum of 30 minutes daily for five days or 45 minutes daily for three days).

The overall benefits of exercise are translated into improving cardiopulmonary function by optimizing the heart rate variation, leading to maximum efficiency in mitochondrial oxidative capacity and brain oxygenation.

This also increases muscle tone and improves residual metabolic efficiency leading to the activation and tuning of the Insulin-IGF 2 downregulation. These epigenetic factors create the environment for enhanced healthspan with delayed aging.

The Mind

The brain and its functional modulating component- the mind, is perhaps the most critical aspect of beneficial lifestyle modification. It creates the bedrock on which the mouth and the muscle must rest to make healthy lifestyle modifications both comfortable and sustainable.

Healthy lifestyle changes must also create a mindset and trigger the development for a mind space to include spiritual and social requirements that have also been identified by scientific studies for a longer, happier, healthier life.

One of the most contemporary concepts of the mind is the so-called 'mindfulness,' mainly through meditation. This concept often feels abstract, especially to persons not opposed to the scientific and philosophical imperatives that drive it. Another factor is that meditation is also challenging to evaluate; hence, data is unreliable for similar reasons.

However, in reality, it is just a process of 'relaxing our conscious state to the present,' eliminating all the interjecting stimuli from competing for sensory input that keeps our emotions and nervous system continually stressed from our experience in an attempt to cleanse the subconscious. Hence, a minimum of 15-minute meditation at the end of every working day is recommended for the average person to 'de-stress.'

There is a long-held consensus that love and companionship are essential components of a mindset that leads to improved longevity. Science now correlates it to the hormones the brain releases during 'love emotions.' Men who are married or in close relationships tend to have lower mortality than singles, and research shows similar results for women.

The death of a partner in a long-term committed relationship, according to observational studies, often leads to deterioration in the health of surviving partners. A study finds that loneliness increases mortality by 50%, corresponding to almost five years of life.


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