Living Longer 101: Getting Started
by Nils Osmar. Updated April 12, 2022
What can we do to increase our odds of living long, healthy lives – perhaps decades or even centuries longer than people have lived in the past — and possibly even reaching “escape velocity”, the point at which improvements in medical technology will have removed the aging process as a cause of death?)
Key things to consider:
There’s evidence that it may be helpful to:
- Eat healthy, high-nutrient diets ––– focusing on the nutrients needed by both our cells and mitochondria
- Get enough exercise (such as resistance training, HIIT, Zone 2, and aerobics)
- Do intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating
- Do occasional prolonged fasts or fasting mimicking diets
- Optimize our sleep
- Optimize our blood sugar (which for most people would mean lowering it)
- Clean senescent cells (aged and decrepit “zombie cells”) out of our bodies
- Support the growth of new, healthy stem cells
- Take care of our mitochondria
- Take care of our telomeres
- Find ways to deal more effectively with stress
- Clean accumulated debris from our cells and blood
- Prepare meals in ways that help lower our AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products)
- Balance mTOR (the growth pathway) and AMPK (the longevity pathway)
- Protect our brain health, with the aim of preventing Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.
- Avoid environmental pollutants, including micro-plastics (Using air and water filters)
- “Live more safely.” This could include buying safer cars. Wearing seat belts. Wearing motorcycle helmets. Not driving under dangerous conditions.
- Restore some key compounds which decrease as the years go by, to youthful levels. These nutrients include NAD+, glutathione, phosphatidyl serine, AKG, nitric oxide and several others, I call this “restoring our renewables”, and discuss it in more detail below.
Eating for longevity
People talk a lot about “eating right”, but can have differing ideas about what this means.
To me, it means eating a good balance of macronutrients (healthy fats, proteins and carbohydrate), while also getting enough micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and other compounds) that are needed to support health and longevity.
- Our brains and bodies need DHA, found in algae and fish oil and also in some types of meat. (Our brains are largely made up of DHA. If we’re low on it, our mood, memory and mental clarity may suffer.)
- We need B vitamins, whether we’re obtaining them from vegan sources such as nutritional yeast or from eating animal organs. Recent evidence suggests that they’re most beneficial when eaten at the same time as omega 3 fatty acids.
- We need ample amounts of vitamin D (available in food and supplements) for our immune systems to function properly and protect us from viral and bacterial infections.
- We need high-quality, nutritionally complete proteins (including all of the essential amino acids) to build and maintain muscle and prevent sarcopenia (age-related muscle wasting).
- There’s evidence that some very specific foods (in particular, anchovies and the herb rosemary) may greatly multiply our chances of living to the age of 100, 110 or longer. See article.
Lots of options
In my own case, I’m eating an omnivorous diet which includes foods from plant, animal and fungal food sources, and food from the land and the sea. In recent months I’ve increased the animal foods in my diet, and have been focusing on phasing out plants that are high in toxins such as oxalates and lectins. I buy meat products from small family farms in which the animals are treated well, have access to pasture, and are slaughtered in human ways. Those are my current dietary choices, but there obviously many different diets to choose from.
Whether we’re omnivores (who eats food from both plant and animal sources) – or carnivores (who eats only foods from the animal kingdom) –or vegans (who eats only plant-based foods) – or lacto-vegetarians (who eats plants in combination with small amounts of eggs and dairy) – or pescatarians (who eats a vegetarian diet plus fish and shellfish) – or are eating a ketogenic, low carb, high carb, or ancestral (paleo) diet – we all need certain nutrients.
Whatever diet you decide to follow, it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients. If you don’t, you may be building up deficiencies over time. Micronutrient deficiencies can be invisible at first, then become manifest and visible when we reach our forties, fifties or sixties.
The protein question
Some anti-aging researchers (such as Dr. Valter Longo) have suggested that diets which are low in protein, leucine, and/or calories, and exclude most animal-based foods, are the best choice for longevity. (Longo recommends around 45 grams a day.)
Others, like Dr. Rhonda Patrick recommend about twice as more protein as Dr. Longo.
Still others (such as Dr. Peter Attia, Professor Don Layman, and Dr. Gabrielle Lyon) recommend eating three or four times as much, i.e., around one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day, to support immune health and prevent sarcopenia, and that animal-based foods can be a healthy choice.
They can all cite studies in support of their recommendations.
In my opinion, it’s too early to conclude who’s right or wrong on the protein question. It’s true that low protein/low calorie/low leucine diets activate AMPK (the longevity pathway). But so do other interventions such as fasting. One point of agreement is that the older we get, the more protein we appear to need. Another is that if our goal is to build muscle, we need more than the base line recommendations for protein in order to do so.
Fasting and Time Restricted Eating
What we eat is important. But having stretches during which we’re not eating appears to be equally important because it promotes autophagy (clearing debris from our cells and blood) and apoptosis (clearing aged senescent cells from our bodies). If we never fast, these key anti-aging processes, which are absolutely essential to health and lonvegity, will never happen.
Animals that are either fed low calorie diets or fasted in laboratory experiments both experience significantly longer lifespans than those who were free to eat whatever they want, whenever they feel like it. Intermittent fasting and time restricted eating are both associated with both health and longevity.
Occasional prolonged fasts or fasting-mimicking diets of 3-5 days or more also appear to have profound health benefits from a longevity point of view.
Restoring our “Renewables”
Eating a balanced and nutritious diet are key to health and longevity. But growing evidence is suggesting that supplementing with certain nutrients in a much more concentrated form than we can obtain them from food may also be essential. Ones that many people are focused on include
- raising NAD+ levels (by exercising; cold showers; saunas; and/or taking precursors such as NMN or NR)
- raising glutathione (by eating whey or taking GlyNAC, i.e, taking glycine along with NAC)
- raising nitric oxide levels (they actually increase when we raise glutathione)
- raising AKG levels (alpha ketoglurate) (I take Ca-AKG most mornings and AAKG in the afternoons)
- restoring our sex hormones (such as testosterone, estrogen, pregnenolone) to youthful levels (some people do hormone therapy; I’m raising testosterone with exercise and supplements)
- restoring hGH to youthful levels (which, again, I’m doing with supplements, not injections)
Optimizing our NAD+ levels
NAD (or NAD+) is an essential compound responsible for mitochondrial functioning and DNA repair. NAD levels drop as we age. There are both activities and nutrients that appear to help with maintaining high levels of NAD as we age.
Doing regular, ongoing vigorous physical exercise increase NAD. So does taking cold showers or contrast showers.
Taking pre-formed NAD as a supplement doesn’t appear to do much (in most people) because the body just digests it without utilizing it. But there’s growing evidence that taking NAD precursors such as NMN, NR or immediate-release Niacin is an effective way of restoring our NAD+ levels to those of healthy young levels.
Eating parsley, which is high in apigenin, or drinking chamomile tea, both lower levels of an enzyme in our body which suppresses NAD, can also help raise it to more youthful levels too.
Boosting our glutathione and nitric oxide Levels
Glutathione levels drop as we age. Raising it also raises levels of nitric oxide, another important compound. Ways of doing so include taking supplements such as:
- NAC (N. Acetyl Cysteine) and Glycine. When taken together they work synergistically to increase glutathione in the body.
- Sulforaphane. Found in mature broccoli, broccoli sprouts and broccoli seeds. Raises levels of glutathione in the plasma and the brain.
- Selenium. All forms of selenium raise glutathione levels. Foods rich in selenium such as onions and garlic may be more effective than the supplement.
- Milk thistle. Boosts glutathione and also lowers blood glucose.
Getting enough exercise
Getting the right kinds and amounts of exercise to keep our muscles strong and our cholesterol and triglyceride levels at a good balance. This may mean walking, jogging, running, bicycling, doing weight training, and getting both aerobic and HIIT exercise, all of which can slow down the aging process when done in the right way.
Optimizing sleep – and dealing with stress effectively
Quality of life matters as much as quantity. Aim to sleep for 7-8 hours/night if possible. (I know this may be easier said than done!)
Looking for ways to get out from under stress is also important. This might include:
- Taking walks in the woods.
- Getting fresh air and exercise.
- Making a list of things you love, and finding ways to do all of them at least once a week.
- Giving yourself the space you need to process things emotionally. Feeling sad? Don’t hold it in. Research has shown that there actually are benefits to having a good cry.
- Feel like laughing? Watch a funny movie. (See Norman Cousins’ amazing article about how he “laughed his way out of cancer“) (The laughter may or may or may not be what “cured his cancer”, but he had fun doing it.)
- Need a hug? Hugs can strengthen your immune system. Find a safe way to get (or give) one, even during these pandemic times.
- Learn more
Optimizing our blood sugar and insulin
High blood sugar is associated with early aging. Lowering it appears to be one of the key things we can do to extend out health-spans.
We can do so by eating diets that are low in carbohydrates; avoiding sucrose and fructose; exercising; taking medications such as metformin; or taking supplements such as berberine, a form of thiamine called benfotiamine, or milk thistle – or using natural sweeteners such as allulose. Learn more
Balancing mTOR (the growth pathway) and AMPK (the longevity pathway)
AMPK is a fuel-sensing enzyme that can be activated by our behaviors, our supplements, and the foods we eat. It’s one of the most crucial enzymes to be aware of. When it’s activated, we’re on the longevity pathway. AMPK can be activated by fasting or eating diets low in leucine, or by restricting protein (at least some of the time).
mTOR is in some ways the opposite of AMPK. It’s an enzymatic reaction which helps build muscle and support our immune systems. We need some mTOR activation as we age, but for most people, mTOR is activated too much of the time by eating constantly, eating too much protein, or too many sweets and carbs. On the “plus” side mTOR activation is associated with muscle growth and strong immune systems. But it’s also associated with bigger and fatter, or in cancer growing in our bodies.
Both processes are “good” and are essential to health. But current evidence suggests that we want AMPK activated most of the time. (In my own case, I try to have AMPK activated at least 3/4ths of the time. I eat animal-based proteins mainly after exercising, because that appears to be the healthiest time to activate mTOR.) Learn more
Cleaning debris out of our cells and blood
As we age, waste products build up in our cells. When we fast, our body responds to the lack of nutrients by going into our cells and emptying the waste bins (looking for debris to turn into amino acids, since none are coming in through our diet).
If we fast long enough (3-5 days minimum), this gives way to apoptosis, a process in which old, decaying zombie cells called “senescent cells” are cannibalized by the body, again to create amino acids. Some supplements can increase both processes. Learn more
A recent study suggests that donating blood removes toxic “forever chemicals” from our bodies. See article
Protecting our brains from aging
Protecting our brains from problems like strokes and dementia, and knowing what to do if we do start experiencing either problem. For example, a nutrient called PQQ helps with stroke recovery, and so does the B vitamin niacin. And a nutrient called PS, or phosphatidyl serine, found in lecithin, can help fix short term memory problems, depending on what’s causing them. Learn more
Getting rid of senescent cells
Deleting zombie cells from our bodies. Fasting is one way of doing this. If you don’t like fasting, you might try taking the supplements fisetin and quercetin . Learn more
Supporting the growth of new stem cells
Supporting the genesis of new stem cells. Again, this happens naturally at the conclusion of a 3-5 day fast or fasting mimicking diet. Taking nutrients such as taurine can help fuel stem cell regeneration when our fast is over. Learn more
Taking care of our mitochondria
Supporting the health of your mitochondria, and supporting mitochondrial biogenesis. Once again, one solution is fasting. 3-5 days fasts not only kill senescent cells, they kill senescent mitochondria, triggering the creation of new mitochondria at the end of the fast.
This process can be increased by taking cold showers (which triggers mitochondrial biogenesis) and by red light exposure. Learn more
Taking care of our telomeres
Telomeres are the end caps on our cells. As we age they get shorter. We can lengthen them by fasting; eating certain nutrients; and taking supplements such as ashwagandha and astragalus. Learn more
Switching on our longevity genes
Stressing the body in ways that promote a strong hormetic response. Cold showers, hot saunas, and HIIT exercise are examples of healthy hormetic stressors that actually appear to reverse the aging process. See article: “Stress-Response Hormesis and Aging: “That which Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Stronger” Learn more
Advanced Glycation End Products can be harmful to the body. They’re created by cooking and by consuming some types of food.
This one’s a little tricky though, because some diets can be high in AGEs, yet people who eat those diets can have low levels of AGEs in their bodies. For example, people who eat raw vegan diets are consuming very low AGEs; yet the AGEs in their bodies are much higher than those who eat omnivorous or even carnivorous diets.
Dealing with emotions effectively
Physical stressors actually appear to be anti-aging. But emotional stressors, particularly if they build up over time, can be triggers for the aging process. So dealing with emotional issues can be key, in my opinion.
This can range from doing things like getting out of toxic relationships, to meditating or taking walks in the forest regularly, to remembering that it’s okay to have feelings, and letting ourselves cry hard when we’re sad rather than keeping the feelings jammed up inside. Learn more
De-stressing our lives
We can’t avoid all stress, and it wouldn’t be good to do so; but we need some breaks from it. Do what makes you happy. Go hiking; do meditation; take trips to the ocean; have a good cry when you’re sad; or whatever else works for you. Learn more
Having access to health care
There’s a clear relationship to having access to health care and our life expectancy. How much access we have depends on where we live and (in some countries) our income.
Some countries regard access to health care as a basic human right. Others, such as the United States, ration access to health care based on peoples’ incomes. This creates obvious issues when some groups have higher incomes than others. Learn more
Creating an environment supportive to health and extreme longevity
If we do figure out ways to extend our lifespans, we’ll need clean air, clean water, and good food. I’m not trying to force anyone to agree with me, but to my mind, supporting environmental regulations aimed at reducing people’s exposure to toxic pollutants is a sensible step in those directions. Learn more
To learn more, click the links in this article or the ones below:
- Eating Genuinely Healthy Diets
- Meal Timing and Fasting
- Taking Supplements
- Physical Activity and Exercise
- More Sleep – Less Stress
- Optimizing our NAD+ Levels
- Optimizing our Blood Glucose
- Optimizing mTOR and AMPK
- Cleaning Debris from Our Cells
- Protecting Our Brains from Aging
- Managing our Senescent Cells
- Supporting our Stem Cells
- Taking Care of our Mitochondria
- Taking Care of our Telomeres
- Utilizing Hormesis
- Lowering our AGES
- Dealing With Stress Effectively
- De-stressing Your Life
- Having Access to Health Care
- Taking Care of the Environment
- What Worked for Me
Not medical advice
This article is not intended as, and should not be taken as, medical advice. I’m not advising that people eat any particular diet or take any particular supplements, just reporting on what I’m doing. All supplements can have side effects; I would encourage people to research both possible benefits and side effects before starting on any supplementation regimen. See full Medical Disclaimer
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Love the article. I’ve also been interested in extending healthspan and this article sums up pretty much what I learned in 300+ hours of looking into it.
I’d like to add that you chose the perfect words. Maybe you knew what was coming and that’s why you avoided using them but Restoring, Optimizing, and Balancing were perfect. For example in “Optimizing our blood sugar and insulin” I was in the camp of you want to minimize insulin and glucose throughout the day as I was in the Keto mindset. But more recently I have changed my mind slightly. My previous mindset was inflammation bad, stress bad, mTOR bad, and so on. Now, I think about it in a different way. I think more in pulses, chronic vs acute. We don’t want to avoid inflammation, we want to have short high bursts of it and then recover (in this example I think eat once or twice a day in a short period and the rest of the day fasting). We don’t want to avoid stress completely, we want short bursts of stress followed by relaxation periods. We want to activate the mTOR pathway. But we want to do it in bursts, and then like you said most of the time activate AMPK.
So I really liked your wording because I’d say that subtle difference is what separates binary terms like good and bad from a balance between the different processes, which although might sound more ambiguous to a beginner that doesn’t know what optimize means, it is the perfect when you go further into it