What does it mean to “age well”?
First, to age well is to maximize the probability that you’ll live a long time.
Second, aging well isn’t just about living to 120. It’s also about maximizing physical and mental functionality as late into those years as possible.
The age you’ll die at depends on your lifestyle plus your luck (like rare genetic mutations, or freak accidents). Since we don’t control luck, these strategies all focus on lifestyle choices that increase our probability of a long, functional life.
Here I’ll go through the major lifestyle categories that have either proven or suspected effects on the aging process.
Being fat kills you. Although BMI and body fat percentage are useful to track. In terms of aging, a better metric of how fat you are is waist circumference to height ratio. It’s better because the fat that does the most damage through inflammation is visceral fat in the torso, not arm or leg fat.
What’s a good waist circumference to height ratio to maintain?
It needs to be under 0.5, ideally under 0.45.
So, if you’re 5’10” (70”) that means a waist under 35”, ideally under 31.5”.
Removing inches from your waist is probably the most important thing you can do to improve your aging process.
Not exercising kills you. However, there are diminishing returns. Exercising a little is way better than not exercising at all. But if you already exercise 15 hours per week adding another 5 hours may not make a difference (could be worse).
On a similar note. It’s not clear if being extremely fit vs kind of fit makes much of a difference for aging. Whereas being overweight vs being kind of fit clearly makes a massive difference.
Moderate intensity cardio is important for getting blood to the brain and staving off Alzheimer’s. Getting 60-90 minutes per week of cardio at 60-70% max HR seems like a very good idea.
Consistent light exercise also looks like it has a lot of benefits. 30 minutes of walking per day is a reasonable number. Another quantity I’ve seen thrown around is 2 minutes of light exercise per hour of work/sitting. Light exercise can be done all at once or interwoven throughout the day (i.e. taking the stairs, quick stretching, or if you work at home like me try putting a chin-up bar in your home office doorway to hang from occasionally).
Strength training keeps bones and muscles strong. Also, it’s very good for flushing out inflammation (since your combined muscles are the largest organ in your body). We should strength train somewhere between 2 x 30 minutes to 4 x 60 minutes per week.
Exercise in and of itself is important. Even independent of body fat, it’s a major factor in the aging process and doing a little (anything!) is much better than doing nothing.
Recovery, Mindfulness, and Relaxation
Also appears to be important. But it’s hard to say how much is needed in combination with other exercise. Walking for example is kind of a recovery exercise. With meditation, benefits start between 10 and 20 minutes per day. I’d assume that’s also beneficial for aging.
Also, relaxation, from what I understand is beneficial when’s a long walk in nature, a hot bath, a massage, etc. Not so much when it’s a beer and tv. It’s a shutting down of the mind, not a low intensity numbing of it.
These recommendations are being pieced together from multiple sources but in addition to walking 30 minutes per day I think it makes sense to meditate at least 10 minutes and do a larger recovery exercise like a long walk in nature or a massage at least once per week.
Don’t smoke. It kills you.
The data is not as clear as the exercise, smoking, and fat data. But it looks like cold exposure does two things. It induces hormesis and lowers inflammation. Hormesis is when our bodies react to difficulty by over strengthening whatever system is being taxed. This appears to be a good thing in many areas. Lowering inflammation also appears to be good because it decreases aging rate. It seems like anything that lowers inflammation is good for aging. Aging in some sense is pushed along in relation to your level of chronic inflammation.
Injuries and Sickness
In a similar sense, being injured and/or sick all the time pushes along aging because of the inflammation. So, you know, don’t get sick or injured.
There’s quite a bit of data to suggest that having strong close relationships extends life (as well as increases its quality). There’s a multi-decade Harvard study that is often cited for this. As another example, I analyzed the CDC United States death data a few years ago. In that data single men died an average of 11 years younger than married men. Obviously, lots of other factors there but that’s a big difference.
Sleeping 7-8 hours per night appears to be good for aging. Less than this you age faster. For some reason, more than this also appears to be correlated with faster aging. Although the causality isn’t clear.
Because there are so many confounding factors it’s always a challenge to draw causality in studies on eating.
And when it comes to eating and aging things are even more difficult.
So, let’s just stick to the very basics.
Most importantly, eat in a way that gets you to a waist circumference to height ratio of 0.45. That probably means a lot of vegetables and not a lot of sugar and processed foods.
Fasting and calorie restriction appear to be good. Both practices extend lifespan in rats and other mammals, although it’s not clear whether they extend lifespan in humans. However, it’s highly likely they increase health span (functionality into old age), so are therefore recommended anyway.
Eating large quantities of meat (especially when grilled at high temperatures making that delicious sear, we all love) appears to be bad. On a similar note, anything cooked at high temperatures (fried, grilled at 400F, etc.) appears to be bad.
Eating raw or low temperature cooked foods appears to be good.
Organic is probably good.
So, my recommendations are to pay more for organic, eat a shit ton of different veggies, no sugar or processed foods, eat meats in reasonable quantities. Prefer to eat raw when possible. Limit your delicious BBQs. And probably do a 16-8 fasting regimen. But most importantly keep the waist to 0.45x of height.
There are probably some other lifestyle factors, but from my research these appear to be the main ones.
Also, remember that even doing all of this you may still die young. Aging is a game of probabilities. Changing your lifestyle just drastically increases the chances of living long and well.