How You Can Extend Health and Lifespan By Enabling “Cell Talk”
There’s a 100 things you can do to extend health and lifespan, but science says the two most important are caloric restriction and exercise because they help keep up “cell talk”. Here’s what to do.
WE ALL do it, but the reasons why defy explanation. Or perhaps I should say instead, the science on the matter hasn’t settled on a time-tested, peer-reviewed, integrative theory that explains it conclusively.
I’m referring to aging.
What I’m not going to do in this post is beat you over the head with dense science stuff about the origins of aging. (I did that last week).
What I am going to do is first present a quick look at how aging theories are organized, then delve into the few ways that aging is actually expressed in our bodies and what you can do to slow down the process.
Turn out, there are two fundamental, proven, basic interventions you can use to age slowly and health and lifespan, at least your healthy lifespan — those cumulative years over which you’re healthy, as opposed to filling the drool pot nested in your lap.
The sooner you start, the better off you’ll be, so let’s get started.
Here’s what we’re going to cover:
- A quick look at the two main categories of aging, Programmed and Error.
- Why keeping cells talking to each other is essential to extend health and lifespan.
- Pharmacologic strategies to extend health and lifespan.
- Why Exercise and caloric restriction is essential to extend health and lifespan.
Let’s dig in…
There are many theories that explain bits of it. Sometimes they’re two categorized under “Programmed” Theories and “Error” Theories. (1)
Assertion: The human body is designed to age and there is a certain biological timeline that our bodies follow.
These three are typically nested under Programmed Theories:
- Programmed Longevity — Aging is caused by certain genes switching on and off over time.
- Endocrine Theory — Changes in hormones control aging.
- Immunological Theory — The immune system is programmed to decline over time, leaving people more susceptible to diseases.
Assertion: Aging in humans is caused by the gradual accumulation of damage to our body’s systems, which accumulates over time.
- Wear and Tear — Cells and tissues simply wear out.
- Rates of Living — The faster an organism uses oxygen, the shorter it lives.
- Cross-Linking — Cross-linked proteins accumulate and slow down body processes.
- Free Radicals — Free radicals cause damage to cells that eventually impairs function.
- Somatic DNA Damage — Genetic mutations cause cells to malfunction.
If you’d like into deeper waters on this topic, read my two-part series about the hallmarks of aging and what to do about it.
As mentioned, while multiple theories of aging exist, there’s no broad consensus on this issue at this time. What contributes to the uncertainty and confusion is the amazingly complex ways these proposed theories interact with each other.
And perhaps there’s no greater complexity than “cell talk”.
Cell Talk Is Necessary To Extend Health and Lifespan
Your cells are not simple building blocks, unconscious and static as bricks in a wall, but rather seemingly conscious organisms that can detect what’s going on around them, and respond in real-time to intercellular and environmental signaling. At this very moment, your cells are sending and receiving millions of messages in the form of chemical signaling molecules. (2)
Yes, indeed, your cells can “talk”, and they have a lot to say.
There’s so much they “say” that parsing out the important stuff that’s no longer being communicated as we age is overwhelmingly difficult, as you can see for yourself by taking a peek at the Journal of Cell Science’s article, Recent insights into the cellular and molecular determinants of aging, Torcis’ Signaling Pathways, or Cell Signaling on Wikipedia.
One aim of the book I’m currently researching and writing — apparently, a 100 year project at this point — is to understand the complexity and relevance of cell talk well enough to explain it to a lay audience, and suggest interventions that don’t need you to spend thousands of dollars at some stem cell lab, or getting a blood transfusion from a teenager.
Thankfully, there’s that old Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 Rule) that is liberally applied to everything. It states that for many events roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes; for instance, that old bromide that “80% of sales come from 20% of clients”.
This might be the case with cell talk. From those many hundreds of different cellular pathways, perhaps only a very few matter the most.
Calories (less), Pulse (more) and Pharmacologic Strategies
In 2016, Dr. Derek F. Huffman of the Departments of Molecular Pharmacology and Medicine and Institute for Aging Research, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and his research team published a study that asserts two basic conclusions:
(1) You need both CR and exercise to extend health and lifespan
Caloric restriction (CR) and exercise are well established to improve indices of health and aging. For instance, CR potently detains the onset of age-related diseases (such as cancers, diabetes and heart disease), and improves lifespan to a greater extent than exercise in a variety of models. That said, exercise has proven more consistently beneficial to one’s resilience against a broad array of stressors, including infections, surgery, wound healing and frailty.
(2) Some pharmacologic strategies may be helpful to extend health and lifespan
The pursuit of pharmacologic strategies to treat aging, which has resulted in several candidates that predominantly target energetic and metabolic pathways (i.e. AMPK, mTOR, sirtuins, insulin/IGF-1 signaling, mitochondrial metabolism etc), have demonstrated effects on lifespan and disease onset, but less is known about their impact on resilience. These pharmacologic strategies include resveratrol, rapamycin, metformin and senolytics.
The second set of anti-aging strategies (pharmacologic) supports the first set — CR and exercise. Both (1) and (2) work through the cell talk required for the above mentioned “energetic and metabolic pathways” to be activated.
And (2) is far less effective on its own, which returns us to the Pareto principle. Applied here, this 80/20 rule suggests that you can get 80% of the way to extend your health and lifespan by doing CR and exercise, a relatively more simple feat than to undertake all the pharmacologic strategies that give 20% of the benefits.
Let’s address these two conclusions, beginning with the second.
In this case, “pharmacologic strategies” means those drugs and nutraceuticals (supplements) that give beneficial effects on various energetic and metabolic pathways that pretty much rely on the cell talk addressed above. Such beneficial effects mainly are derived from mimicking the benefits of CR.
I’ve written about all the pharmacologic strategies mentioned, except resveratrol:
Can 4 Natural Compounds “Eliminate Senescent Cells” and Prolong Your Healthy Lifespan?
Can New Senolytics Drugs Delay Aging? Part 1: Human Trials Are Coming
Can NAD+ Precursors NR and NMN Make You Young Again?
Do These 2 Anti-aging Pills Really Work? (Part 1, Rapamycin)
Do These 2 Anti-aging Pills Really Work? (Part 2, Metformin)
In the case of resveratrol, there has been a limited number of human clinical trials that have so far reached a consensus that it’s generally well-tolerated, but has poor bioavailability, and so does not perform as ably in humans as it does in other organisms tested. (4, 5)
Pterostilbene is a compound similar to, but more bioavailable than resveratrol. If memory serves, that’s the reason Elysium Health chose to substitute resveratrol with pterostilbene in the mitochondrial enhancer supplement, Basis.
The CR and Exercise Dynamic Duo
Now to the two best interventions available to you now that can improve your health and lifespan:
- Caloric Restriction, and
Perhaps it’s surprising that this is the best science has come up so far is something your grandmother could have told you. What grandma may have lacked, however, was deep insight and authority.
The science on this is clear — for significant gains in health and lifespan, you need to regularly practice some form of caloric reduction and exercise in a way that sustains/improves lean body mass (muscle) and cardiovascular function (aerobics and anaerobic).
The following graph depicts the relationship between CR, exercise and healthy aging. Examine it for a few moments and then read my interpretation.
Energetic Interventions to increase resilience and extend healthspan
The graph comes from the Energetic Interventions for healthspan and resiliency with aging study.
The Blue Line shows that either CR or exercise enables greater “physiologic function” (your body’s physical capabilities), greater stress tolerance (from disease, basically) and resiliency (bouncing back from disease, basically).
The Dotted Blue Line indicates that CR does help with resiliency but not as much as exercise does.
The Red Nutrition Excess Line shows that too much food (excess nutrition) contributes to damage (speaking to the “Error” group of aging theories mentioned above) and functional decline that winds up leading to chronic disease, disability and frailty.
The pharmacologic strategies have been itemized, so let’s turn to some things you can do on the CR and Pulse side of the coin, which as mentioned provides 80% of the benefit.
CR Strategies That Extend Health and Lifespan
It’s pretty incontrovertible that chronic (long-term, consistent) caloric restriction of about 30% of normal caloric intake will improve health and longevity outcomes for all organisms studied, from yeast up to monkeys. Human trials which at this point have lasted up to 20 years show that chronic CR is also working to improve the various biomarkers associated extended health and lifespan.
The problem with chronic CR for humans is that it’s too hard to do. Few of us could sustain the 30% caloric reduction over our (longer) lifetime. Most of us would rather die young.
Turns out, there’s some good evidence that various CR strategies give the same benefits as chronic CR, such as:
- Dr. Valter Longo’s Prolon Mimicking Diet,
- Various forms of Intermittent Fasting, and
- Circadian rhythm eating.
Click any of the links above to read more about each.
Pulse Strategies That Extend Health and Lifespan
Now to exercise, which I’ve referred to as “pulse” from time to time. The reason for this that the exercise you do to extend your health and lifespan must incorporate at least two things, and preferably three:
- Increase your pulse (heart rate), both for short spurts (anaerobic) and longer sustained periods (aerobic),
- Build muscle, and
- Mobilize your joints through their full articulation.
Naturally, I’ve written about all of this. If you want some guidance on how to do these three types of exercise, read:
Get Biologically Younger With A Fast HIIT Feast-Famine Program
Why You Must Exercise for Longevity and How To Do It
The Functionally Fit Fast Workout (a six-part series)
The Minimum Exercise That Adds Years To Your Life
If you’ve never really exercised much and abhor the thought, consider:
- The Buddy System
Can you walk a block?
Grab a friend and walk two blocks. Then three. Soon, walk up hills. Do it most days. Try to make it fun enough so there’s no resistance to doing it.
Can you ride a bike?
Grab a friend and ride a mile. After a week or so, challenge each other in sprints to get your heart heaving. Do it most days.
Can you squat and do a push-up?
If you can’t squat below parallel (thighs parallel to floor), go as low as you go. Slow and rhythmically. If you can only do 5, do them, rest a minute and do the 5 again for several sets. Can’t do a regular push-up? Then do them with your knees on the ground or against a wall.
My point here is that there are ways to introduce exercise to your life. Find a regimen you’re willing to do and then do it. A buddy will help make it fun, keep you doing it consistently and challenge you to progress in ability.
Exercise and periods of caloric restriction (and timing) are essential to extend your health and lifespan. No one wants to be feeble or restricted during the last two decades of life.
Both exercise and CR activate cellular signaling pathways that typically erode as we age. Various drugs and nutraceuticals (resveratrol/pterostilbene, rapamycin, metformin and senolytics) do the same thing for the same reasons, and are complementary to, but not as effective as exercise and CR.
Grab a buddy and go exercise.
Read the various links I’ve provided to my various “how to” articles on exercise and CR strategies.