We all want to live longer. And thanks to improvements in healthcare, nutrition and lifestyle, we’re living for longer than ever before. In the UK that’s an average of 81.77 years.
Still, the quest for longevity never goes away. And like so many things in health and fitness, this too has its own ‘trendy’ name. This time it’s biohacking.
Luckily for all of us, the research shows that the quest for a longer, healthier life is simple. It’s all about getting back to the basics of our health.
At the scientific end, biohacking includes some pioneering treatments. Gene editing (using a technique called CRISPR that allows genes to be cut and spliced) is one of them. Young blood transfusions is another.
But at the lesser end of the spectrum, biohacking can be as simple as taking a vitamin supplement. It means looking after your health. Biological DIY. Making small changes that will improve your health. And potentially extend your life.
Most of us are biohackers already. Taking vitamin D or probiotic supplements is a form of biohacking. Or using wearable technology like Fitbit and step trackers. Serious biohackers also use mindfulness and meditation, cold water therapy, sleep, plant-based diets, and nutrigenomics (using your genes to optimise your diet).
It’s easy to get lost in a term. Call it biohacking. Call it being healthy. Call it what you like, the markers we use to predict longevity are the same. Vitamin D. Cholesterol. HbA1c (diabetes). And cortisol (stress).
So what do they all mean? How are they measured? And how can we improve them?
Let’s get into it.
Diet is key to our overall health, so here are some ways you can supplement and improve yours with longevity in mind. By diet here, we mean broadly ‘what you consume’, rather than a diet for weight loss or gain.
Vitamin D is vital to our overall wellbeing. It supports healthy immune system function and keeps both our bones and muscles strong. And it’s bone density and core strength that help keep us fit and healthy into old age.
It may also help us improve mood and fight depression, and decrease the chance of us developing conditions like heart disease and multiple sclerosis.
So, if we want to stick around for a long time, vitamin D is vital. But most of us are probably deficient.
We get vitamin D naturally from sunlight, and foods like oily fish and eggs. But more often through fortified milk and cereals, and by taking supplements.
The risks associated with sun exposure, and the lack of vitamin D rich foods in our diets mean that most of us, even if we’re really trying, are deficient in vitamin D.
Vitamin D deficiency can lead to weak bones, a poor immune system and muscle fatigue.
The sweet spot for vitamin D is usually 400–800 IU/day or 10–20 micrograms. Getting this level of vit D through sun exposure and diet alone is really difficult (and sun exposure is something we have to be wary of).
A daily supplement is the best way to go. Make sure you get your levels checked by a professional, and go with their recommended dose.
Cholesterol is a type of blood fat made by the liver. It’s present in some foods too.
Cholesterol has been used as a marker for general health, and risk of cardiovascular illness, for years. Having low cholesterol levels will limit the buildup of fat in the cardiovascular system, lowering the risk of heart disease as you age.
High cholesterol is caused by a diet high in saturated fats and a lack of activity. It’s a simple thing to change. Cut the saturated fats from your diet and move more. In most cases, your cholesterol will go down to a healthier level.
The sweet spot for cholesterol is 3.5.
Cholesterol is easy to test for, and tests are widely available.
HbA1c is the marker used to predict average blood glucose levels. It indicates the risk of diabetes and pre-diabetes.
The key to reducing your blood glucose levels can be in your waistline.
Carrying excess fat (especially around your waist, known as ‘visceral’ fat) leads to a buildup of fat in the liver. Excess fat in the liver causes higher levels of inflammation, which can lead to insulin resistance, and an increased risk of developing diabetes.
Losing any excess weight will improve your insulin sensitivity, and your HbA1c levels.
Look at Low GI foods. They will prevent your blood sugar levels from spiking. Lean meat and fish, green vegetables are great. Avoid white bread, white rice, cereals. And anything containing added sugar.
Strength training with added cardio is always good to reduce excess fat so long as you’re eating less calories than you expend.
Add in more strength training to your workouts to help make a difference to your HbA1c levels.
It goes without saying. Fitness and regular training are essential to a healthy life, especially when it comes to staying fit into older age.
It’s the foundations that count. Developing, and then maintaining, core strength and muscle density will help you stay strong, balanced and stable going into later life.
Resistance training will help build those foundations now that will carry you into older age.
Researchers have found that just 30 to 60 minutes of resistance exercise a week increased life expectancy by 10 to 17 per cent.
You put the hard work in now, it will pay dividends later on.
A strong heart will help lead to a longer, healthier life. Cardiovascular exercise is important to keep your heart working hard.
Adding regular cardio to your workouts will keep your heart strong. Running is the obvious one.
But even going for a brisk walk once a day can improve your heart health. And can be easily maintained as part of your exercise routine as you age.
It’s easy to focus on our bodies when it comes to living longer. But if our head’s not in the game, then our bodies won’t be either. It’s important to look after both.
Sleep is one of the most important things we can do to maintain our bodies’ health. It’s also something we don’t focus on or value enough as part of our lifestyle.
Getting enough sleep is key to our bodies’ healing process, cell regeneration and mental wellness. Insufficient sleep opens us up to increased risk of developing conditions like heart disease and depression. And can literally speed up the ageing process.
The ideal sleep range for adults is said to be seven hours a night. But this depends on age, lifestyle and activity levels. And for lots of us who are shift workers or have young families, it can be impossible.
Try improving the quality of the sleep you’re getting instead. Avoid fragmented sleep by creating a distraction-free bedroom environment. Switch off phones and tablets half an hour before bed. Avoid caffeine in the afternoons, and stick to the same bedtime every night.
Cortisol is known as ‘the stress hormone’. It has a huge effect on our health. Being under stress can increase the likelihood of conditions like heart disease. It limits our sleep. It affects our mood. Our motivation to exercise and socialise.
Avoiding stress completely is impossible. And we all deal with stress differently. But there are ways that we can manage it.
Again, it comes down to foundations. Eating a healthy diet and getting out and exercising can massively help with the low mood and lack of motivation that comes with stress.
Or just sitting down, taking a break, and talking to someone can help lift the burden and improve our mood.
Life is a bit of a lottery. But following these simple steps (or biohacks) will mean you’re doing everything you can to improve your chances. Plus, you’ll feel stronger and healthier now. It’s win, win.
In the next fifty years, life expectancy in the UK is projected to increase by 6.6 years for men and 5.5 years for women. That’s massive. We’re living in a time of huge medical advances. With services like Thriva and wearable technology like Fitbit, we know more about our bodies than ever before.
We’re in the best position to live long and prosper. So let’s make the most of it.
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