What if humans could match the lifespan of Ming, the world's longest-living animal?
Ming was an ocean quahog – a type of clam – who holds the current record at 507 years old.
That's more than seven times longer than the average 71-year life expectancy of humans.
And take the American lobster. It's more similar to humans than a mollusk... but it belongs to a group of organisms that is considered "biologically immortal."
As long as a lobster doesn't fall victim to a predator or outside injury, its cells don't seem to deteriorate with age.
Humans aren't that lucky. According to recent research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, human life expectancy isn't rising anymore. In fact, in some countries – mostly those with lower life-expectancy rates to begin with – folks are expected to have shorter lives than before.
So how does a lobster live so long while humans can't?
Lobsters have a certain enzyme in all of their organs that helps lengthen the protective caps at the end of their DNA.
Those caps, called telomeres, may be the key to extending human lives...
Human DNA is also protected by telomeres, which play an important role when your cells divide to make new cells. But these caps wear down each time your cells divide, so they disappear as you age.
Think of telomeres as those plastic tips on shoelaces that prevent the laces from unraveling. With each cycle, a little bit of telomere DNA gets lost, but the important coding DNA is still protected.
Shorter telomeres are associated with dead and dying cells. Short telomeres also suggest a person is susceptible to age-related diseases and even early mortality.
Many stressors shorten telomeres, including inflammation, psychological stress, and insufficient sleep. But there are ways to protect and even lengthen your telomeres.
Today, I'm sharing one of my top ways to slow the aging process so you can live a longer, healthier life...
Many people dismiss anxiety as a typical sign of aging...
You've probably done it. Think about the last time you visited your parents or another loved one in a senior-living community. Did you notice changes in appetite, poor sleep, or trouble concentrating? Did they hoard food or avoid participating in any social activities?
It turns out, these are all markers for generalized anxiety disorder ("GAD") – the most common of all anxiety disorders. And people 65 and older are more likely to suffer from it, often without help.
One reason for concern with anxiety in older folks is the connection to Alzheimer's.
Alzheimer's is a form of dementia that slowly erases your short-term memory, and eventually wipes out the memories of family, friends, and even how to perform day-to-day tasks like bathing or eating.
It happens when your brain cells start to function improperly.
One theory is that the brain loses the ability to filter out debris and damaged proteins. That can lead to things like plaques. Plaques are clumps of proteins that stick to the brain's nerve cells and damage them.
For years, we assumed anxiety was only a byproduct of Alzheimer's. And that makes sense... As our brains change, neurotransmitters, like those responsible for moods, don't work properly.
Now we know that anxiety isn't just a byproduct... It's also a precursor.
The research starts with a study out of the Washington University School of Medicine. Scientists looked at the connection between high stress levels and Alzheimer's progression.
They found that high stress triggers the release of a signaling chemical in the brain called corticotropin-releasing factor ("CRF"). CRF releases compounds called amyloid-beta peptides, which form those plaques we see in Alzheimer's.
A study out of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston took this idea further... Researchers looked at 270 adults aged 62 to 90. Participants had brain scans every year for five years to measure levels of those compounds. Researchers also tracked anxiety and depression.
What they saw was that participants who had higher levels of anxiety over those five years also had more amyloid-beta in their brains.
What's more, the researchers believe that testing folks for anxiety early on may help them catch Alzheimer's sooner. That means starting treatment sooner.
Even better, given the role of CRF and its relation to stress, treating anxiety early might also help slow Alzheimer's. It's a novel idea to treat anxiety as a way to alleviate and possibly prevent dementia symptoms.
We're still waiting for more studies to confirm these findings, but in the meantime, fighting anxiety and stress is crucial to your overall health. As we know, stress causes a host of diseases as it lowers your immune system and ramps up inflammation – one of the major causes of shortening telomeres. And the sooner you start to take care of your mental health, the better.
One of my favorite ways to alleviate stress is through meditation.
Meditation triggers the "relaxation response," which helps our bodies naturally let go of anxiety and stress.
There are many types of meditation, but the one I recommend the most is Transcendental Meditation ("TM").
When I was a freshman at Carleton College in Minnesota, my roommate introduced me to TM. He swore by it. So one day, I took a bus up to the Twin Cities for a weekend class. I came away with the basics: a mantra (a phrase I say to myself to help me focus), and an appreciation for how meditation affects my physiology. I consider it my first "boots on the ground" research for improving my health... or in this case, my "Birkenstocks on the ground" research.
TM involves focusing on your breath and a mantra. Your mind may wander to other thoughts, but you acknowledge them and return your attention to your mantra. It's soothing and peaceful. With enough practice, you'll experience physical changes in addition to feeling happier, more rested, and less stressed.
I recently released a report where I shared four more ways you can start to slow the aging process right now. Current Retirement Millionaire subscribers can read it here.
If you're not already a subscriber, click here to get started.
What are your tips for reducing stress? Let us know at [email protected].
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- Something different: Here's how to see next week's 'ring of fire.'
Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
June 3, 2021