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Is your lifestyle aging you?

Poor diet and lack of exercise impact how quickly you age

Are your lifestyle choices making you age faster?

We all know that unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles are factors that have been driving the obesity epidemic. But a new study out of the Mayo Clinic has also linked them to the biology of aging. That’s right, what you eat and how physically active you are directly influences how quickly you age.

A LITTLE BACKGROUND

The study starts with senescent cells.

Cells are continuously experiencing stress and damage from a wide variety of sources (for example: UV radiation, environmental chemicals, adverse physical stimulus, inflammation). Cells will continue to grow and divide as long as they stay healthy and have intact DNA. But when the stress or damage becomes too much, the cells will stop what they are doing and start a repair and recovery process. If the repair process is not successful, the cell will either die or enter a dormant state called senescence. Senescent cells no longer divide, and their function just deteriorates.

The problem with senescent cells is that they have been shown to contribute to diseases and conditions associated with age. In fact, various disorders associated with accelerated aging such as Hutchinson-Gilford progeria, arthritis and Werner syndrome have been linked to the accumulation of senescent cells.

THE IMPACT OF DIET & EXERCISE

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging fed mice either a normal, healthy diet, or a diet that they dubbed the “fast food diet,” which was high in saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar. The mice on the fast food diet showed dangerous changes in health parameters, like body weight. In fact, their fat mass increased by nearly 300% over the course of just four months.

The fact that the fast food diet had harmful effects was by no means a surprise. What was curious though is that researchers found substantial health improvements after introducing exercise to the mice’s routine. Half of the mice, a mix between those on the healthy and unhealthy diets, were given exercise wheels. The mice that had been on the fast food diet, but still exercised, not only showed an improvement in body weight gain and fat mass; they also proved to be protected against the accumulation of senescent cells. Of course, the mice on a normal diet benefited from exercise as well.

“We think at both a biological level and a clinical level, poor nutrition choices and inactive lifestyles do accelerate aging,” says Nathan LeBrasseur, Ph.D., director of the Center on Aging’s Healthy and Independent Living Program and senior author of the study. “So now we’ve shown this in very fine detail at a cellular level, and we can see it clinically. And people need to remember that even though you don’t have the diagnosis of diabetes or the diagnosis of cardiovascular disease or the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease today when you’re in midlife, the biology underlying those processes is hard at work.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO

For many, the idea of achieving a peak state of health is too daunting, or they simply have no idea where to start. How many times have you made excuses for not working out? How many times have you pushed off healthier diet choices to the next day? Those who actively take charge with their bodies and their health haven’t found some new trend, fad or shortcut. They’ve simply made the decision that they are going to do it. Something just clicked inside their brains, where their “shoulds” became their “musts” and better eating habits and enhanced physical activity became an imperative part of their day.

This study clearly shows the power of diet and exercise. And while that does not mean you need to sign up for a triathlon, it does mean that you need to develop healthier habits. Not only will this prevent premature aging and age-related diseases, it will help you feel better, physically, mentally and emotionally. So you can start showing up for yourself, and for others, in a more proactive, and more conscious way.

Header image attribution: Image Credit@Lenetstan/Shutterstock

Kerry Song

Kerry Song is a writer and producer with a background in economics and finance. Her passion is to create meaningful content that engages and empowers the audience to become more mindful and more compassionate with themselves and with others.

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