beat disease

Beating the Disease of Aging

If you’ve been following along over the previous few weeks, you’ve had quite a ride through understanding aging as a disease. We started our conversation 2 weeks ago by talking about the importance of cellular function and, more specifically, how mitochondrial dysfunction and cellular senescence play a huge part in how we age.

Last week we dove deeper into cellular senescence and learned how those senescent cells, AKA Zombie Cells, can disrupt the function of other cells around them, thereby causing us to “age” faster. We also introduced the idea of genetics VS epigenetics. Genetics, as we’ve seen, is our body’s underwriting. It is the recipe for how we can potentially develop as we get older.

If genetics is the recipe for the body, epigenetics is the instructions. It tells our bodies how to put the recipe together. So, while the recipe lays the groundwork, the instructions dictate the outcome. Which means, while we can’t change our underlying recipe (AKA genetics), we can change the outcome of the recipe by giving it better instructions (AKA epigenetics). And since biological processes that increase aging, such as cellular senescence and mitochondrial dysfunction, are impacted by the instructions we give them, all we have to do is follow a few fundamental principles throughout our lives so that our bodies receive the instructions needed to build a thriving, healthy structure.

In order to make sense of what we can do to refine our instructions, we’ll take the 3 major factors that impact epigenetics and break them down into potential strategies to use for a healthier lifestyle…

Your Environment is Aging You Faster than You Think

Up until a few hundred years ago, our environment and surroundings progressed at a pretty slow rate. Heck, it took our ancestors 1.5 million years to figure out the process of farming. At this slow pace, our biology is able to adapt and change. However, more recently our environment has been changing at a rapid and rampant pace.

Every time you turn around we have a new piece of technology that’s meant to make our lives better, easier, safer, or more luxurious. With these rapid changes, our bodies have a much harder time adapting biologically. Food is available in abundance. products clean and sanitize us to death, and Electro-Magnetic Fields (EMFs) pass through us (literally) every second of every day, none of which our bodies know how to deal with.

Now, since this isn’t an essay on the downfalls of modern living (which may be coming in the future), I won’t go into detail about how your deodorant contains aluminum (which stops perspiration) which accumulates in the body and is linked to the development of Alzheimer’s, or how high EMF exposure (which you get when you sit close to a wireless router as well as when you put a phone to your ear) has been shown to increase brain fog, short-term memory loss, and, yes, Alzheimer’s. I won’t even go into detail about how most laundry detergents contain a compound called 1,4-Dioxane, which is a known carcinogenic (cancer-causing) compound.

Instead, I just want to cover some basic ideas that you can utilize to improve the environment you live in, as well as how you can get into the environment humans were made to thrive in.

Making Your House a (Healthy) Home

When it comes to improving your home environment to help your body age better, there are a few basics to follow. It’s important that the air you breathe is as clean and clear as possible. Basic home filters only reduce dander levels a little and they certainly don’t impact the levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which increase respiratory issues and have been linked to certain cancers. These VOCs also clog up our cells, causing them to function less effectively.

One simple, easy, effective, and free, way you can better filter the air you breathe, both in your home and out, is to teach yourself to breathe 100% through your nose. When you breathe through your nose, air passes through tiny hairs in your nose and nasal passage called cilia. These tiny hairs alone have the ability to filter significantly more damaging particles than any home air filter. Nasal breathing also activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is your rest and digest system, making you calmer and more relaxed throughout the day. A win-win in many ways.

A few other no-cost or low-cost ways to improve the air in your home is by letting nature in…literally. Keeping your blinds open and, when it makes sense, opening your windows will improve the air quality in your house significantly. Also, keeping LIVE plants in your home is a great idea. There are certain plants that have the ability to absorb toxic air pollutants, acting as natural air filters. A few examples include Boston fernsEnglish ivy, and areca palms.

Cleaning the air around you, and, more importantly, getting into your natural habitat, allows your cells to function as they should. Your mitochondria can produce the energy needed to help keep your cells functioning at a high level, keeping them living better for longer.

Nature…Your Body’s True Home

While these few basic strategies will slow your aging down by improving the air quality in your home, your body is still locked in a cage of your own making. As we’ve talked about in previous essays, the body is meant to be exposed to hot and cold temperatures, not be in a highly controlled environment set at 72 degrees. It’s also meant to be exposed to the trials and tribulations of nature.

Doctors and other healthcare practitioners tell us to stay inside to avoid allergy issues. Yet this is the exact reason allergy issues persist. Makers of sanitizers and hand soaps tell you to wash your hands of outdoor dirt and grime as soon as possible, yet it’s this exact dirt and grime that builds our immunity.

As quirky as it sounds, nature is literally man’s best friend. And the more often you can find yourself in and around nature, no matter if it’s 100 degrees or -10 degrees, the better off you’re going to be. You’ll feel better. You’ll move better. And, most importantly for our purposes, you’ll age better.

As a general rule, shoot to get outside for AT LEAST 60 minutes total every day. It doesn’t have to be 60 minutes at a time. Just 60 minutes TOTAL. For maximal effect, shoot for 120 minutes. Your body will thank you.

Your Behavior Dictates Your Health

When it comes to correcting behavior, society spends most of its time on kids. When kids misbehave, they need to be straightened out so that they learn their lesson. Ironically, though, the perceived misbehavior of kids is usually just non-conformity to society’s set of socially acceptable rules. These kids are showing us what nature looks like, and society doesn’t like it.

As adults, though, we think we have it under control. We behave as society deems “correct” and feel accepted because we follow along with the crowd. However, the crowd is unhealthy, unhappy, and unfulfilled. The behaviors deemed acceptable by the crowd lead us to obesity, hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Yet, for some reason, we’re too concerned with correcting little Johnny for running around the house (which is natural) and not at all concerned with correcting ourselves for being glutinous, slothful, and selfish (which are not natural).

Now, I understand that the previous passage was a bit…direct. However, if you’re going to have an impact on your health in any significant way, it starts with acceptance. As an addiction therapist might put it, fixing an addiction begins with admitting that you have an addiction. In the same way, changing unhealthy behaviors to behaviors of health and vitality begins with admitting that some of the behaviors you’re currently participating in may be killing you (literally).

There are many, many behavioral components that go into giving your genetics healthy instructions. However, most of them can be broken into 3 categories: movement, nourishment, and recovery…

Move Well…Move Often

Call me bias, but I believe that the most important attribute of a healthy lifestyle is movement. As we’ll see soon, proper nourishment and recovery are imperative for optimal living, but movement is the foundation that brings the most juice to your body.

To help you understand the importance of movement, let’s talk about lack of movement. Most people think of lack of movement as only inhibiting the physical body. For instance, if you don’t exercise often, you get weak and lose muscle. If you don’t stretch and mobilize, you get stiff and tight. These things are true, of course. However, lack of movement also impacts the body on a biological level. When you don’t move, the body’s natural drainage system, the lymph system, slows down. This causes your immunity to lower, increasing your chances of getting sick.

Lack of movement also means that your cells don’t have to function at a high rate. This slows down the mitochondria in the cell, slowly leading to mitochondrial dysfunction. So, as you see a sedentary lifestyle is not only a physical movement problem, it is also a cellular movement problem. Without cellular movement, the biological processes that keep you healthy and happy slow down.

Of course, the natural thing for me to say is to get more exercise. Which is certainly true. Generally speaking, you should get about 150-200 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week. At least 120 of those minutes should include some sort of strength training. Without it, the body will become weak and frail.

The other area of movement that is less talked about is NEAT movement. NEAT stands for Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis. Essentially, NEAT is all of the calories you burn from movement that is NOT exercise-related. As you can imagine, this type of movement makes up much more of your day than exercise ever will. So, increasing your NEAT will go a loooong way to decrease your aging. A simple way to do this is by developing a Movement Hygiene Practice.

Set your watch or other timer for 25 minutes. When the timer goes off, get up and MOVE for 3-5 minutes. This movement can include exercises or stretches you enjoy, walking around the yard, or doing some quick household chores. Whatever it is, it should NOT involve carrying a phone, laptop, or other device. It should only involve moving the body. Building in a Movement Hygiene Practice gives your body, and your cells, the movement they need to survive and thrive.

Nourish the Body to Banish Aging

A sad fact about health and fitness is that most of what you’re sold by the industry has more to do with looking good naked and less to do with living a long healthy life. With nutrition, the story is much the same. Most people think of “meeting clean” as a form of punishment only to be done in order to lose weight or get ready for pool season. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with feeling good in your own skin (and looking good naked, for that matter), having these outcomes as your primary driver will lead to burnout 100% of the time.

That’s why, at Thriveology, we talk about nourishing the body. Because when you nourish the body, you’re focused on feeding what it needs and wants in order to survive and thrive. Plus, nourishment has to do with more than just nutrition. There are 3 aspects to nourishing the body: nutrition, hydration, and supplementation.

If you want a healthy lifespan AND healthspan, it’s important that you optimize all 3 of these areas. And while we certainly don’t have time to dive deep into these areas, there are some fundamental rules you can follow to help build a body that works FOR you instead of AGAINST you.

  1. For nutrition, follow the 90/10 rule – The easiest rule to follow in nutrition, which overrides almost ANY other rule available (including counting calories, low sugar, low fat, or any other non-sense like that) is the 90/10 rule. The rule states that, 90% of the time you should eat meals made of whole foods. That means nothing out of a box. As Dan John likes to say, it’s time to stop eating like a television commercial and start eating like an adult. Also, high sugar intake (which almost ALL boxed products have) has been shown to increase cellular senescence. Not good if you’re wanting high-functioning cells. The other 10% of the time (which is usually 2-3 meals a week for most of us) you can eat what you want, as long you don’t overeat. Allergies and intolerances aside, it’s literally that simple.
  2. Only drink water, black coffee, or unsweet tea – Yet another nutrition fallacy is the fallacy of juices. Fruit juice manufacturers like to tout the benefits of the vitamins and minerals found in their juices. Which is true. Orange juice has vitamin C, which your body needs to fight inflammation. Grape juice has quercetin, which is a strong antioxidant. However, these juices also have 15-20 grams of sugar per serving. Sure, it’s “natural” sugar. But so is table sugar (which comes the sugarcane plant). Actually, in an ironic twist, the sugar found in fruit juices is called fructose, while sugar from table sugar is made primarily up of sucrose. Sucrose is broken down and metabolized in the intestines and stored mostly in muscle and other organs. Fructose, on the other hand, is metabolized and stored in the liver, which has a much small storage capacity than all the muscles in your body. High levels of fructose lead to fatty liver disease which can lead to liver failure. So, no, that vitamin C does not make up for the 20 grams of sugar in that glass of OJ.
  3. Supplements should only be taken if you’re following the 90/10 rule – I a big fan of supplements. When used correctly, they can enhance your energy, optimize your brain function, and boost your strength and endurance. Of course, this only happens when they’re used as they were intended…as a SUPPLEMENT to your nutrition. Can taking supplements override a bad diet? To a small degree, yes, it can. Fish oil supplementation, for instance, has been shown to lower inflammation (thanks to its powerful Omega 3 fatty acids) regardless of diet quality. But that’s about the only supplement that has shown resistance to junk food. Until you start following the 90/10 rule, keep the supplements on the shelf.

Sleep to Cleanse the Mind and Body (Literally and Figuratively)

From an evolutionary standpoint, the act of sleeping makes zero sense. When you sleep soundly, there are periods of time when you are literally paralyzed, unable to move or respond to the world around you. If our ancestors found themselves in a paralyzed sleep state and suddenly a tiger pounced from a bush, they would not bode well.

So what good does deep sleep do if it seems so unusual from an evolutionary standpoint? Well, there are many factors that go into the importance of sleep. However, from our perspective, the most important factor has to do with garbage.

If you recall from the first essay on Aging as a Disease, human cells die over time. They can also become senescent cells in which they don’t necessarily die, but become dysfunctional and have a negative impact on the healthy cells around them. Both of these types of cells, dead cells and senescent, zombie cells, can be thought of as biological trash. And just like the trash in your house, if you don’t take out the biological trash regularly, it becomes stinky and rotten, lowering the quality of the environment around it.

So how do we take out our biological trash? Well, one effective way is exercise. High-intensity exercise creates an internal environment that cleans out dead and senescent cells to make way for new ones. However, the most effective way to take out our internal garbage, and one reason why deep sleep is imperative for optimal living, is to get good, quality sleep.

While we sleep, the body literally cleans up the garbage. It cleans up the senescent and dead cells roaming throughout the body and cleans out the unwanted build-up in the brain. This is important because, when it comes to the body, the accumulation of these types of cells drastically increasing the symptoms of aging. Also, from a brain standpoint, lack of adequate sleep can lead to the build-up of amyloid plaque, which has been highly associated with the risk of Alzheimer’s (are you starting to see a trend here?).

So, yes, sleep makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint because, without it, we would age and die much more quickly. When it comes to cleaning out the most garbage as you sleep, there are 2 factors to focus on:

  1. Sleep QUALITY – While it’s certainly important to get the necessary 7-9 hours of sleep to function properly, it’s more important that you focus on improving the quality of your sleep to clean out the biological garbage. One of the best ways to improve sleep quality is to reduce/eliminate light exposure at least 2 hours before bed. That means no phones, laptops, tablets, TVs, or even regular overhead lights.
  2. Nutrient timing – One reason your body is able to take out the trash while you sleep is that it’s not spending time on other metabolic processes, such as digesting food. This is why, if you want to really clean up the biological garbage overnight, you should also strive to eat no closer than 2 hours before bed. That means no snacks, ice cream, juices. If your body is spending time digesting food overnight, that means there’s less time to clean up the cells that cause disease.

Develop a Mindset of Mastery to Mitigate Aging

If you ask most people what they fear most about getting older, the most popular answer you’ll hear is the fear of losing your mind. While nobody wants to be physically dependent on others and unable to take care of themselves, the last thing anybody wants is to be mentally incapacitated.

And since society tells us that we’re going to lose our marbles in our later years, we develop hyper-awareness of our memory lapses as we get older. For instance, how often have you or somebody you know forgotten something or misplaced something and said “well, that’s what happens when you get my age?”. I’m pretty sure I hear this daily.

The TRUTH of the matter is, that’s not what happens as you get OLDER…but that is what happens as you AGE. The problem is, as we age we don’t challenge our brains enough to keep them fresh and sharp. We quit moving, we quit coming up with new, fresh ideas, and we start relying on others (or other THINGS) to tell us what to do. This combination of events is like poison for the brain.

First of all, the brain’s primary function is movement. It’s meant to help you coordinate your body, help it feel its way through space, and help navigate the terrain set before you. But what do most people do when they retire? Sit. They sit and don’t move. This act alone deteriorates the mind to a significant degree. So, goal #1 is always, always, always keep moving. No matter what. Got an injury? Keep moving. Stubbed your toe? Keep moving. Been diagnosed with a chronic disease? Keep moving. Your body and brain were literally built for it.

Another, much more recent event that has happened that is abolishing our memories is technology. In his book, Limitless, Jim Kwik shows us how our digital addiction is killing our brains. One impact they’re having, as he says, is what he calls Digital Dementia. While the name may sound funny and made up, short-term memory loss from the overuse of technology is a very real thing.

How does your phone cause memory loss you ask? Well, if you’re near my age or older (I’m 37 BTW), then you remember the times when you had to remember all of your friend’s and family’s phone numbers, as well as their addresses, birthdays, and anniversaries. We also used to have to (GASP!!) THINK about the answer to a question. Now we have phones.

For those of you who haven’t used a phone lately, they store every bit of information you’ll need about all of your friends and acquaintances…phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, and so on. Also, our phones are connected to this thing called the internet which has the answer to anything and everything. Can’t remember the name of that character from Friends? Google knows. Need a reminder on how to use a power drill? Ask YouTube. Having trouble remembering the name of that song you liked in 7th grade? The interwebs have the answer.

Relying heavily on our phones and other technologies means that our brains aren’t being used to their capabilities. If we aren’t regularly testing our memory, it will go away. So, for goodness sake, put that phone down the next time you’re trying to answer a question! Take some time to sit and THINK on it! Dig deep and try and figure it out on your own. Make your brain work. That’s what it’s meant to do.

Sure, technology has helped us progress in many ways. But we’ve also gotten to the point where we rely too much on it. We let technology use us instead of us using it. And until you start to take back control, your technology, your phone, will become your mind. And your mind will leave you sooner or later.

Hard words, I know. But sometimes we just need a little awakening to know what we have to do. As a great philosopher once said, you should not leave a teaching session feeling happy and gitty about yourself. You should leave it questioning your current actions and beliefs. And if you’re not feeling that way now, then I’ve not done my job.

So, take action. Improve your life. And beat the disease of aging. You can do it. You just have to ignore the detractors and have faith in the process. 1% at a time, each day, every day, for as long as you shall live.

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