Don’t try this at home
Let’s explore the opposite. If you wanted to reduce your longevity, to age faster or increase your chances of dying what would you do? There are some very simple ways to accomplish this very reliably.
These are unfortunately the habits done in most of the red zones. We suggest not doing these at home, but we can learn from studies and observations when people have done this in the past.
Eating processed foods
Ultra Processed foods like hot dogs, soda, chips, breakfast cereals, fake meats and thousands of other food items can increase your risk for inflammation, weight gain, gut-microbiota alterations, and many other problems associated with aging. You should avoid highly procesed foods in your daily life, and just enjoy them on special occasions.
Eating processed foods or following the latest marketing may not seem like a big deal because everyone does it, but that is possibly why so many people also seem to be suffering from the same diseases. Those blue zones listed above are possibly the only remaining places in the world where processed foods are not the default option at every store or restaurant.
Telomeres are the caps at the end of chromosomes that protect your chromosomes from DNA damage. Longer telomeres are associated with better health. Telomere length naturally shortens with each cell cycle but an unhealthy diet, especially of processed foods and sugar speeds up the damage, speeding up aging in your body!
Other dietary factors correlated with processed foods and high disease risk:
- Diet high in omega 6 fatty acids and low in omega 3 fatty acids
- Diet high in sugar and toxins
- Diet high in trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils
- Eating unbalanced meals which causes a spike in blood sugar
Most of these dangerous habits can be avoided by setting up Food XRAY and getting insights on your meals.
Being sedentary is associated with a shorter life span. Taking more steps per day is generally better for your health. Studies show the benefit in terms of mortality risk levels are between 6,000 to 8,000 for older adults and 8,000 to 10,000 for younger adults. While there is nothing magical about the “10,000” number, if your steps are closer to 100 or 1,000 than 10,000, that should be a worrying sign that means your body is simply not moving enough.
Unfortunately, these days it is quite easy to never leave the house, or only accumulate a few dozen steps going from your couch to your fridge and back. Conveniences like food delivery, ride-sharing, and working from home can save a lot of time and energy, but can also make it dangerously convenient to fall into a sedentary lifestyle. *, *
While only walking 10,000 steps every day will not make you live longer or fix all your problems, moving frequently every day is an essential part for your physiology, especially your muscular systems.
Being in a constant state of high stress exacerbates diseases like heart disease or diabetes, but also has its own negative effects on aging.
Stress was originally used as a short-term tool. You’re being chased by a tiger, and need some cortisol and adrenaline to fight it off or run away. Unfortunately, now we can be stuck in that fighting state for days, weeks or even our entire lives. One email or instagram comment or text message can trigger the same response in our body and mind as being chased by a tiger would have a thousand years ago.
Mentally you know (in your prefrontal cortex, at least) that one is not as dangerous, but from the perspective of your liver or amygdala or other organ systems, it is almost the same state of emergency. Even though the risk of death is essentially none, our body and mind still react with the same intensity. When this is happening constantly, night and day, it can cause a significant strain on our bodies and reduce our longevity.
Stress affects metabolic health by increasing appetite, increasing inflammation, and driving weight gain. Stress upregulates hunger hormones, alters gut microbiota, and increases insulin resistance —all processes that are involved in unhealthy aging!
Stress-related inflammation is a major factor in aging and developing aging-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, cognitive decline, late-life depression, and even insomnia. As you age, inflammatory markers (such s cytokines or acute phase proteins) in your blood also increase. Participating in inflammation-lowering behaviors can be an extremely useful strategy to slow the process of aging. *, *
What does this mean? Does this mean you need your life to be perfect, and that nothing can go wrong in your work or relationships? Not at all. Everyone faces stress and problems in life, but the main factor here is how we manage that stress. Tools like exercise, meditation, breathwork, therapy and other ways of resetting the chronic stress response are essential here.
Stress affects sleep quantity and quality
Stress makes it more difficult to fall asleep, stay asleep, and get the high-quality, restful sleep that your body needs to promote healthy aging. Stress reduces your HRV and increases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which all work against your ability to get a good night’s sleep. This is especially worrying, since not being well-rested can then further increase stress and all the other unhealthy behaviors mentioned.
Poor Sleep Habits
Why is sleep important? Sleep is where our body and mind can recover and prepare themselves for another day’s work. Without enough sleep, important maintenance gets skipped, and eventually this damage causes health issues.
Good sleep is not simply getting a certain number of hours with your eyes closed, but also depends on the alignment with your circadian rhythm (sleeping at the same time all your cellular clocks are expecting sleep) and getting high-quality sleep free from disturbances, with low resting heart rate.
Low quality sleep and sleep deprivation are associated with many aging-related factors such as increased inflammation, increased oxidative stress, mitochondrial decline and cellular deterioration. A disrupted sleep-wake cycle and chronic sleep restriction are all too common in our modern society. Focusing on getting higher quality sleep is a great tool to slow aging.****
Maintaining slow-wave sleep and setting a regular sleep schedule seems to be the most helpful tip for better sleep, but many other experiments are available in Gyroscope Labs that seem to improve sleep quality.
Sleep is a complex topic, and we have many guides and experiments for sleep that you can find in the Health Academy.
Low Muscle Mass and High Bodyfat percentage
Being overweight with excess bodyfat clearly contributes to a shorter lifespan through risks like diabetes and heart disease, but being underweight also comes with it’s own set of risks. People who are underweight tend to have less muscle mass, which increases the risk of injury and diminishes bone strength.
Being at an optimal body composition (not too much bodyfat, not too little muscle) is a good goal for anyone interested in longevity and avoiding diseases. Looking at body composition rather than just weight is a much more nuanced and reliable way of optimizing longevity. *, *
Weight can tell part of the story, but more insights can be gained by measuring bodyfat with a scale, most of which cost less than $100.
Your waist circumference is even cheaper and easier to measure, and may also give more insights than simply a weight number. An increase in waist circumference is associated with higher mortality. If you’re curious to know yours, you can check your waist to hip ratio without needing any wearables or complex devices. *, *
Fat tissue around the abdomen is especially detrimental to health and increases inflammation and other markers of aging more than fat found on other parts of your body. *
For more details into this topic, and an exploration of the function of bodyfat and optimal ranges for men and women, check out the free bodyfat.guide
These dangerous but common habits — eating highly processed foods, being sedentary, chronic stress, poor sleep, and high bodyfat — are 5 of the most dangerous risk factors for the leading causes of death seen above. Under the hood, complex and exotic things like telomere shortening, insulin resistance or glycation may be occuring, but these are the leading indicators that you have control over to manage those.
Managing all of them will let you start to reduce your chance of disease or early death. It is likely you are doing great at one or two, but may have trouble with others. The area where you will probably get the most benefit is likely the one you are least excited about or don’t think matters very much.