New research into the science of genomics may influence how we age, our capacity to build brain health and the likelihood of healthy longevity
Aging research has shown that longevity is indeed a heritable trait, estimated to be about 20 to 30 percent genetic. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to follow in your parents or grandparents’ footsteps. There are many things you can do even if your personal leaf isn’t part of the family tree with longevity and/or optimum brain health.
New research published in June 2017 in Nature, says the maximum human lifespan could jump to 125 years 1.
“Several variables play a role in healthy longevity, including social community, exercise, and a sense of purpose in life,” says Roberta L. Kline, MD, CEO, Genoma International. Cultivating these can improve healthy longevity, and Kline says it’s believed that longevity can occur through both modification of gene expression as well as epigenetic changes.
Studies from the past decade have identified several hundred genes responsible for lifespan 2. However, researchers are currently still attempting to piece together how genes that affect life span influence how we age and how altering or manipulating these genes impacts healthy longevity.
That’s where the science of genomics comes into play.
The Science of Genomics
Kline says genomics looks at how our genes and nutrition interact, and if/how what we eat plays a huge role in our health and longevity. “We know our genes interact with other environmental influences, including social situations, emotions and stress, exercise, chemicals, medications and more. And that epigenetic changes are modifications to the DNA structure that don’t actually change the DNA itself, and are a way that our body responds and adapts quickly to all sorts of environmental factors. All of this adds up over our lifetimes to create health or disease.”
Genomics is playing a major role in longevity research. Much of it is still in the early stages, but some findings can be translated to everyday life today.
One of the major gene families being examined by genomics experts is the sirtuin group of genes, with SIRT1 being especially prominent. “This gene is responsible for turning on, or off, many other genes important in biological systems associated with aging like oxidative stress, inflammation, glucose regulation, lipid metabolism, cell death, and more,” says Kline.
One of the best ways to activate this gene is through periodic fasting. “And you don’t have to be on a multi-day fasting regimen. Research has shown that something as simple as fasting for 12 hours overnight helps activate this gene. So does eating until you’re about 80 percent full, rather than feeling stuffed,” adds Kline.
Building a Healthy Brain Throughout Your Lifetime
Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by forming new neural connections throughout life, rather than simply during the first few years of life, is also revolutionizing longevity and the way we view brain health.
“It was long thought the brain could not repair itself, that once it was injured or damaged by vascular disease, inflammation, or the beta-Amyloid of Alzheimer’s disease, that the trajectory of inevitable decline,” says Karyn Shanks, MD. An internist and founder and director of The Center for Medicine and Healing Arts in Iowa City, IA. “But now we know our brains are alive with the power of neuroplasticity. And that each and every cell has the inherent ability to recover, grow, and create new connections throughout our lifespan.”
Cognitive training appears to be the key to activating neuroplasticity, according to recent data 3. This training spans a wide range of activities from learning a new language, engaging in work and/or an active lifestyle, maintaining high literacy and challenging yourself to use your memory (for instance, remembering directions rather than relying on GPS).
Diet’s Impact in Boosting Brain Health & Longevity
Kline emphasizes that diet has also been found to play a major role in achieving healthy longevity and boosting brain health. Research agrees. Numerous studies indicate consuming antioxidants promotes lifespan extension.
One recent piece of research says the spice curcumin, found in the spice turmeric, has been well-studied for its anticancer properties, but now the spice has been found to increase the lifespan of animals. Researchers believe those results may translate to humans to promote long-term brain health and increase longevity.
Lace ‘em Up
Running has also recently been linked to increased longevity. A recent study published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Disease says those who run, walk and cycle enjoy a longer lifespan than those who don’t 4. However, running, was specifically connected to the largest increase in healthy longevity, adding three years to a person’s lifespan. The researchers conclude that every one-hour run adds about seven hours to your overall lifespan.