Aging Reversal May Work in Mice, but Still Far Off for Humans
Scientists have reversed some of the effects of aging in mice, restoring the sense of smell, brain function, and fertility in test animals that were transformed from the physiological equivalent of frail 80-year-olds to strapping young adults, the Wall Street Journal reports. But the findings, published in the journal Nature, may not hold the key to the fountain of youth for humans: The process of tweaking a gene to halt aging could cause cancer, and it's not yet known whether the technique would even work in people. In the experiment, scientists took genetically-engineered mice—that aged prematurely and had atrophied organs—and injected them with a drug to activate the anti-aging enzyme telomerase. This enzyme makes DNA units called telomeres, which function like caps at the end of chromosomes to keep them from unraveling. Low levels of telomerase is thought to be one factor in what makes people age, so reactivating telomerase could potentially "turn back the clock" on some side effects of aging, the Journal reports. By the end of the experiment, the mice's telomerase levels increased and their telomeres lengthened, which could explain why they regained so much of their function.
Though these findings do not have immediate implications for humans, there are simple ways for you to increase your chances of living longer, perhaps even to 100.
1. Don't retire. "Evidence shows that in societies where people stop working abruptly, the incidence of obesity and chronic disease skyrockets after retirement," says Luigi Ferrucci, director of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The Chianti region of Italy, which has a high percentage of centenarians, has a different take on leisure time. "After people retire from their jobs, they spend most of the day working on their little farm, cultivating grapes or vegetables," he says. "They're never really inactive." Farming isn't for you? Volunteer as a docent at your local art museum or join the Experience Corps, a program offered in 19 cities that places senior volunteers in urban public elementary schools for about 15 hours a week, U.S. News's Deborah Kotz writes.
2. Floss every day. That may help keep your arteries healthy. A 2008 New York University study showed that daily flossing reduced the amount of gum-disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. This bacteria is thought to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation in the arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease. Other research has shown that those who have high amounts of bacteria in their mouth are more likely to have thickening in their arteries, another sign of heart disease. "I really do think people should floss twice a day to get the biggest life expectancy benefits," stresses Thomas Perls, who studies the century-plus set at Boston University School of Medicine.
3. Move around. "Exercise is the only real fountain of youth that exists," says Jay Olshansky, a professor of medicine and aging researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It's like the oil and lube job for your car. You don't have to do it, but your car will definitely run better." Study after study has documented the benefits of exercise to improve your mood, mental acuity, balance, muscle mass, and bones. "And the benefits kick in immediately after your first workout," Olshansky adds. Don't worry if you're not a gym rat. Those who see the biggest payoffs are the ones who go from doing nothing to simply walking around the neighborhood or local mall for about 30 minutes a day. Building muscle with resistance training is also ideal, but yoga classes can give you similar strength-training effects if you're not into weight lifting.
4. Eat a fiber-rich cereal for breakfast. Getting a serving of whole-grains, especially in the morning, appears to help older folks maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, according to a recent study conducted by Ferrucci and his colleagues. "Those who do this have a lower incidence of diabetes, a known accelerator of aging," he says.
5. Get at least six hours of shut-eye. Instead of skimping on sleep to add more hours to your day, get more to add years to your life. "Sleep is one of the most important functions that our body uses to regulate and heal cells," says Ferrucci. "We've calculated that the minimum amount of sleep that older people need to get those healing REM phases is about six hours." Those who reach the century mark make sleep a top priority.
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