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Living Independently Blog

Still Searching for the Wonder Drug for Healthy Aging?

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Exercise is the clear winner when taken daily.

Predictions and calculations on human longevity continue to fascinate scientists, statisticians and everyday seniors alike. Consider that the maximum human life expectancy has increased by about 35 years since the mid-1880s. While that trend can be explained by fewer early and midlife deaths, some experts do find it likely that someone will set a record for human longevity by the end of this century.

Only time will tell who’s right regarding the life span of our species. What’s clear is that certain lifestyles help individuals live longer than they otherwise would – including the genetically blessed. Harvard researchers found that healthy habits add nearly 15 years of life expectancy. Recent research across academia and health care professionals points to interventions in diet, exercise and mental outlook that could slow down aging and age-related diseases, without risky biohacks such as unproven gene therapies.


One noted driver of longevity is long-term, loving relationships. In a nearly 80-year study, researchers found that the most important factor in a long, healthy life was having a close partner. An additional protective factor is optimism, as proven by research published by a Boston University psychologist in 2019.

But it’s not all long-stem roses and rose-colored glasses keeping our flames alive.
Interestingly, many scientists believe that a certain amount and type of stress can help with longevity, thanks to the evolutionary phenomenon known as hormesis. Hormesis is a process in which various stressors – such as those related to diet and exercise – seem to activate genes that slow down cell growth and aging.

Exercise simulates our ancestors’ stressful environments, some experts say, which can dupe your genes into extending your span of health. Cardio workouts may extend longevity by multiplying mitochondria, the “powerhouses” within cells. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, may be especially effective in adding to longevity. A Mayo Clinic endocrinologist found that 12 weeks of HIIT reversed many age-related differences in how older people synthesize proteins, buffering their mitochondria. Strength training may also partially reverse aspects of aging.

How Exercise Does Battle
By now, you’re familiar with all of the studies showing that exercise is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, several forms of cancer, depression and dementia in older adults.

A study in JAMA Internal Medicine of 1.4 million U.S. and European participants over 11 years determined that physically active people had a lower risk of developing 13 different types of cancer, including esophageal, liver, lung and colon cancer, in addition to leukemia and myeloma.

Exercise may also help to ward off or alleviate depression, as Harvard Medical School Professor Craig Miller said exercise “spurs the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes you feel better.”

Another study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded that “aerobic exercise training is effective at reversing hippocampal volume loss in late adulthood, which is accompanied by improved memory function.”

Government health agencies and medical societies agree that people over 65 should do 150 minutes a week of moderate-intense activity or 75 minutes a week of high-intensity activity.

But this can be easier said than done, especially as the cold and dark days of winter approach. Luckily, exercises performed in the comfort of your own home can help to keep you active until the spring thaw:

  • Wall Squats: Sit with your back flat against the wall. Your feet should be shoulder width apart. Bend your knees until you reach a sitting position, hold for up to 20 seconds, then come back to standing.

  • Planks: Lie face down on the floor. Bend your elbows until they are under your shoulders, then raise your legs with the tips of your toes. Hold that position with your core tight for as many seconds as you can, up to 30 seconds.

  • Wall push-ups: Straighten your arms all the way out in front of you, then place your palms flat on a wall. Lean towards the wall by bending your arms, then straighten them. Do up to 5 repetitions.