Reversing Aging AND Living Longer: Approaches That May Help Us Do Both

by Nils Osmar. Updated 11/10/2023. Medical Disclaimer

Life extension is about adding years to our lives. Anti-aging is about reversing the symptoms of “old age”, such as weak muscles, brittle bones, and a predisposition to heart disease, cancer and diabetes. So they’re not always, or necessarily the same thing.

(We can live longer without reversing aging, and some interventions reverse aging without adding years to our lives.)

Life extension really isn’t anything new. There are medical interventions which extend lifespan by hooking elderly people up to machines that keep their hearts beating or kidneys operating, while letting their minds and muscles wither – the result often being a miserable “extended lifespan” in a nursing home: not an approach that most of us would find desirable. What’s new is the possibility of reversing aging at the same time as we’re extending life.

What is aging, anyway?

In one sense, we might say that “aging” begins at conception. A two year old is a year older than a one year old, chronologically speaking, and a ten year old is obviously older than a nine year old.

But at those ages, we’re still maturing, gaining strength and functionality with each passing year. This is very different from the process of decay and collapse that we refer to as “the aging process” , which kicks in when we’re in our early 30. This “downhill process” leads to weak bones and muscles; poor eyesight; poor memories; muddled thinking; weak immune systems (related to atrophied thymus glands); and vulnerability to cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Reversing aging

Reversing aging would involve strengthening our bones and muscles; improving the smoothness and resilience of our skin; improving eyesight; restoring our immune systems (while rejuvenating our thymus glands); no longer being vulnerable to the “diseases of aging”” and restoring our memories and cognitive abilities to those of young adults.

Extending lifespan

The terms “life extension” can have different meanings depending on who you ask about it, and can refer to increasing either the median or maximum number of years we have on Earth.

One person’s image of life extension might entail living to 100 instead of dying at 70. Others have the goal of reaching 120 (the supposed maximum human lifespan) while still feeling and looking young. For some people, the goal is living to 200, 250, 500 or more in a state of vibrant health.

Extreme longevity

There’s no single intervention (yet) that will get us to a 500 years lifespan; but there are some which can (I believe) optimize our chance of reaching 120 in great health. Even if we just keep ourselves healthy and fit for the next 20 or 30 years, by that time medical interventions are likely to exist to help us live for another 50 or 100. As time passes, more advances in medicine will very possibly get us to “escape velocity”, a point at which medicine can fix the health problems caused by the aging process faster than they can pile up, and we might possibly be able to live forever. (This is pure speculation at this point, but many researchers in the field do view it as a possibility.)

Exercise and fasting

Exercise is an example of an intervention that reverses several of the markers of aging (such as brittle bones, weak muscles, and vulnerability to diseases such a cancer, diabetes and dementia), resulting an improvement in quality of life.

But does it actually extend lifespan?

Recent studies suggest that it does, at least in lab animals. (There is no way yet to verify life extending effects in humans; we’d need more than a typical human lifespan to do so.)

One type of exercise that increases both lifespan and health-span in animals is aerobics. In a recent study, the rats that were exercised living more than seventy days longer – a significant increase in the lifespan of a rat. See study: Aerobic exercise-stimulated Klotho upregulation extends life span by attenuating the excess production of reactive oxygen species in the brain and kidney

Another type of exercise, resistance training, is associated with an improvement in all-cause mortality. In a recent study, researchers at the Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Japan examined seven previous studies and found that strength training for 30-to-60 minutes a week correlated with a reduction in the risk of death from these conditions by 15 percent. And in a 2021 review of sixteen different studies, researchers found that just the same amount of resistance exercise increased life expectancy by 10 to 17 percent.

Like exercise, fasting has been found to increase both median and maximum lifespan in lab animals, and reverses at least some of the symptoms of aging. Recent studies have verified that it can promote cellular repair; activate genes which increase longevity in lab animals; support hormonal changes, including lower insulin levels; and can lower inflammation and protect against oxidative stress; and, if done thoughtfully, help us to lose abdominal fat, which may help prevent chronic diseases that can shorten our lives.

Both fasting and exercise tend to activate an enzymatic process called AMPK, which scientists have defined as the longevity pathway. One key factor is that fasting activates autophagy, which cleans debris from out bodies — which also improves our general health in a number of ways. See video

Fasting does have dangers, if it’s not done thoughtfully. Most of us are in no danger of running short on calories; a single pound of body fat has 3,500 calories, which the body accesses when food stops coming in. So we don’t “need” to be constantly eating in that sense. There can be a danger, though, of creating nutrient deficiencies if we do too much fasting. Fasting mimicking diets, like the one designed by Dr. Valter Longo, are a way of keeping some nutrients coming in while our bodies are still getting most of the benefits of fasting.

Other interventions which (might) do both

If our goal is both anti-aging and life extension, fasting and exercising are (to my mind) a key foundation. There’s evidence that all or most of the following may also be useful:

  1. Eating to support optimal health. Of course, this may be easier said than done, since dietary recommendations vary widely depending on which “expert” you listen to.) . (“Eat vegan!” “Eat vegetarian!” “Eat carnivore!” “Eat keto!” “Eat Mediterranean!”) Whether you decide to base your die on plant foods, animal-based foods, or both, it’s clear that we need certain nutrients to maintain health. For my thoughts on the matter, See this page.
  2. Eating a healthy amount of protein. Protein, and in particular the amino acid leucine, are essential to human health. I’m currently emphasizing animal-sourced proteins, though I also eat lots of protein from plants. I’m aiming to eat about a gram of protein per pound of ideal body weight, which for me is around 160 grams a day. (Dr. Peter Attia, Dr. Donald Layman, Dr. Ted Naiman and Dr. Gabrielle Lyon would approve of the amount I’m eating; Dr. Valter Longo maintains that we need far less; but they all agree that protein is essential to life and health.) For some interesting discussions about protein, see this page.
  3. Eating healthy fats, with an emphasis on omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Eating lots of fish, including wild Pacific salmon, sardines and mackerel, is a good foundation. More info
  4. Going to bed early. Recent research suggests that going to bed early and getting up early puts us on better synch with our circadian rhythms, resulting in improved all-cause mortality, Learn more
  5. Donating blood – and supporting blood health in other ways, such as taking GLA and other key nutrients. One interesting intervention is to clean protein fragments out of our blood by taking proteolytic enzymes such as serrapeptase. Learn more
  6. Taking care of your telomeres. Telomeres are the end caps on our cells. As we age they get shorter. They were once thought to “drive” aging, but this appears to be untrue. But in theory, lengthening them could give “us more cell divisions “turn back the clock” See this Stanford Medicine article. A recent study suggests that we can lengthen them by fasting; eating certain nutrients; and taking supplements such as ashwagandha and astragalusLearn more
  7. Raising your NAD+ levels. NAD+ helps with DNA repair and supports the activation of our sirtuin genes. Young children, who have very high levels of NAD+, are far less likely to succumb to respiratory diseases like Covid, or to succumb to cancer. We can increase NAD+ levels by exercising; cold showers; saunas; and/or taking precursors such as NMN or NR. Supplements can help. Learn more
  8. Raising your glutathione levels – by eating whey or by taking GlyNAC, i.e, taking glycine along with NAC in roughly equal amounts. Ten ways to boost it
  9. Raising nitric oxide levels (they actually increase when we raise glutathione) (Humming in certain frequencies has also been found to raise N.O.) Nitric oxide boosters
  10. Raising AKG levels (alpha ketoglurate) (by taking supplements such as AKG, CaAKG and/or AAKG) More info
  11. Restoring your sex hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and pregnenolone to youthful levels (some people do hormone therapy; we can also reset our hormones with a combination of exercise and supplements. Taking the probiotic L. Reuteri 6475 and supplementing with fish oil both dramatically increase testosterone (and testicle size) in males. More info
  12. Restoring hGH to youthful levels. Trying to increase hGH has gotten a bad rap in the anti-aging community, but was shown in the TRIIM trial to reverse epigenetic age. It can be risky if done with injections, but it’s also possible to raise it naturally with exercise, fasting and supplements, which some evidence suggests is safer. More info
  13. Taking care of your brain by eating a high nutrient diet, eating green leafy vegetables, taking supplements such as creatine, lithium, fish oil, and other supplements, and eating purple berries and other key foods. Learn more.
  14. Activating the sirtuin 6 gene. (I’m taking fucoidan and cyanidin to do so.) The sirtuins are “survival genes”.

What I’m doing

I’m doing all of the above: Eating a diet rich in the nutrients needed to support physical and mental health, taking supplements; taking cold showers and saunas, and finding ways to incorporate both fasting and exercising in my life. I do HIIT, Zone 2 exercise, and resistance training. I’ve tried various approaches to fasting, including:

  • Doing 4:20 fasting (having all of my meals within a 4 hour eating window; fasting the rest of the time)
  • ADF (eating breakfast, lunch and dinner on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, while eating no meals on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday)
  • Modified ADF (eating just one meal on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday).
  • I do some water fasting, and also sometimes do fasting mimicking diets.
  • If you’d like more information about my approach and how it’s been working, see this page:

Related articles:

Related study: Aging and Longevity: Why Knowing the Difference Is Important to Nutrition Research

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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Other resources

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