In the last few years, the study of aging and extending the longevity of life has gained widespread attention.
While aging is fundamentally inevitable and beyond our control that doesn’t mean you can’t influence it. In fact, there are simple lifestyle choices you can make that may add years to your life and, more importantly, life to your years.
To learn more, we spoke with Brittany Kearney, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Bachelor of Science in Genetics from UC Davis. Brittany specializes in the fields of nutrigenomics and epigenetics, how our genes determine what nutrients we should consume, and how we can modify our gene expression (and even our biological age) through lifestyle and nutrition modifications.
Here’s what she taught us.
The basics of longevity
The concept of longevity refers less so to lifespan extension and more so to healthspan extension.
What exactly does that mean?
It means keeping your body as young, healthy, and high-functioning as you can–for as long as you can–rather than simply adding more years to your life.
On a genetic level, every human body is equipped with mechanisms required for greater longevity.
But you begin to experience a triage issue as you age: supercharged inflammation, metabolic disease, mitochondrial dysfunction, DNA damage, and oxidative stress begin taking a growing toll on your body.
When you couple that with the fact that NAD+—an important cofactor for energy production in the body—decreases with age and age-related conditions, your body is forced to allot more of its limited energy toward dealing with these new stressors than to maintaining proper function and homeostasis.
This is where our lifestyle choices come into play through a concept called nutritional epigenetics.
The concept of nutritional epigenetics refers to your ability to use diet and healthy habits to modify your gene expression to support longevity. It involves looking at those epigenetic markers on the genome that change as you age, how you can modify them, and how you can get those markers back to a younger state.
And while it might all sound complex, it doesn’t have to be.
How to optimize your nutrition to support longevity
You can do many basic things to help downregulate your body’s natural aging processes, in turn keeping it at a younger state by optimizing its function.
Focusing on basic nutrition is one of the simplest places to start.
Understand your body’s circadian rhythms
The first concept to become familiar with is the circadian rhythms–your body’s natural clocks–and their effects on your hormones and metabolism.
Here’s how it works:
- Cells and circadian rhythms: Every single cell in the body has its own circadian rhythms that provide cues to regulate every aspect of our lives.
- The impact of melatonin on circadian rhythms: Melatonin is a key driver of circadian rhythms. It peaks about one hour into sleep and starts to decrease about two hours after waking up.
- How light and dark impact our circadian rhythms: Melanopsin receptors in our eyes sense light and the absence thereof. In response to light, melanopsin down-regulates the release of melatonin, in turn making us feel more alert. And in the absence of light, melanopsin up-regulates the release of melatonin, making us feel sleepy as a result.
- The effects of melatonin on insulin production: It has also been shown that melatonin slows the production of insulin in the pancreas. Insulin helps our body process and utilize glucose, so if you eat foods containing glucose (like carbohydrates) before bed when melatonin is high, you’re unable to process that glucose. In turn, the glucose stays in the bloodstream and can do damage to many areas of the body including your nerves, kidneys, eyes, and even your brain.
This bodily routine has a direct impact on not only what you should eat during the day but also when you should be consuming those nutrients.
Practice time-restricted eating
Time-restricted eating is theoretically similar to intermittent fasting. But where intermittent fasting generally speaks in generic terms that allude to broad time windows, time-restricted eating offers ultra-specific parameters rooted in science.
With time-restricted eating, your “eating window” is based directly on your body’s circadian cycle.
During daylight hours, especially in the first half of the day, your body is primed for growth. But during the evening and dark hours, your body is primed to clean out damaged cells–a process called autophagy.
The proper balance of growth and autophagy promotes optimal body function and slows the aging process by creating younger, healthier cells.
Here’s how your day might look while practicing time-restricted eating:
- 6:00 a.m.: Wake up but avoid eating for the first two hours. Your body is still filled with melatonin from the night before so your metabolism isn’t ready to process food yet.
- 6:45 a.m.: Take some time to expose yourself to light, such as going outside for a 30-minute walk. Outdoor light is significantly better at kick-starting your metabolism than indoor light and, during a walk where your eyes are tracking back and forth, your light intake is even higher than it is when you’re stationary.
- 8:00 a.m.: Begin your eating window with a good breakfast, but try to consume your food before you have your coffee. When you wake up, your body has been fasting and in autophagy for most of the night, so it’s primed to use the nutrients from breakfast to jumpstart the growth of new and healthy cells.
- 8:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.: During this time, your body is in its “build” mode. Consume healthy, well-rounded meals (more to come on this topic). And if you encounter a midday slump, it’s natural: this is circadian as well and is caused by a build-up of adenosine which makes you want to sleep. Try going on an afternoon walk to promote better blood flow and attention.
- 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.: Science has shown that late afternoon and early evening are beneficial times of the day to exercise. Your body temperature peaks, your cortisol levels are lower, and your body produces more testosterone in response to exercise in the late afternoon. Your reaction times are also the fastest then, and working out in the afternoon or evening has been shown to increase aerobic capacity and strength output. Just remember, the best time to work out is the time you can consistently do so. Anytime is better than never.
- 6:00 p.m. onward: From this point on, avoid consuming any food or drinks with the exception of water to promote the transition into a restful sleep and trigger autophagy.
By following a time-restricted eating regimen, you’re ensuring that your body is able to utilize everything you consume throughout the day and extract every bit of nutritional value it can get from it.
Eat the right foods at the right times
Choosing the right foods to incorporate into your diet can seem daunting. And it’s easy to go down a rabbit hole of diets and food philosophies.
But ultimately, the best thing you can do is keep it simple. As Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, writes:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
The food he refers to is unprocessed and in its original form, offering the nutritional composition, fiber, water, and concentrations your body needs, exactly how you were made to digest them.
Simple tips for building a well-rounded meal
Eating well doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact, simplicity is your greatest ally when it comes to creating well-rounded meals that can support longevity by way of nutritional genomics.
Each meal you eat should include:
- Primarily vegetables (if you need a quantifiable goal, try for a variety of colors and a target of 30 different plants per week)
- High-quality proteins with healthy fats, limiting saturated fat to around 15 grams per day
- High-fiber starches and fruits (once again trying for a variety of colors with a goal of 40 grams of fiber per day or more)
- Fermented foods with the goal of increasing the biodiversity of bacteria in your gut, promoting optimal immune function, reducing inflammation, improving gut function, and enhancing your mood
If your goal is to get more proactive in prioritizing your nutrition, there are a few steps you can take to make it less daunting:
- Create a shopping list of real food in its original form. Think of things that can be found in nature instead of made in a factory.
- Pre-cut and pre-cook the components, such as meats and vegetables, so you can simply assemble them when you need them.
- Look for products made with limited ingredients that you can pronounce, trying for five ingredients or less when possible.
- Avoid added sugars and artificial sweeteners, limiting to 5 grams of sugar per serving or less.
Your body is your vessel that will carry you through your life. When you prioritize caring for it proactively instead of responding to symptoms or waiting for a disease diagnosis you can extend both your lifespan and your healthspan significantly.
If you’d like to learn more about everyday diet and lifestyle changes you can implement to downregulate the aging process, get in touch with Brittany Kearney for a personalized consultation.
Your workplace can also have an impact on your health and well-being so it’s wise to spend your days in a place that prioritizes personal and professional wellness. If you’re interested in a professional workspace and community that supports the well-being of you and your team, we invite you to take a tour of your local CANOPY location and learn why it might be the right place for your business.