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The Newest Research in Aging and How to Live a Long Life

While it may not come as a surprise to everyone, a recent mathematical study at the University of Arizona indicates that aging is “mathematically inevitable.”1 We may be able to slow down the aging process, but we aren’t going to be able to stop it. No one gets out alive as they say. I think we all knew this, but what we might not know is that the science of aging is complex and contradictory because we are complex and contradictory multicellular organisms. Current understanding of the evolution of aging suggests that aging might be stopped if only science could figure out a way to perfect the selection between organisms. Or, as some researchers feel, we could actually stop aging and improve longevity if we could identify poorly functioning cells, eliminate those, and keep the “good” cells alive and well. The problem, according to Joanna Masel, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, is that some cells slow down and start to lose function as we age (like hair cells that stop making pigment), but some cells – like cancer cells -- accelerate their growth rate the older we get. So, if scientists eliminate the slow, sluggish cells that cause aging, it allows the healthy cancer cells to proliferate and if you get rid of the cancer cells, the slow, sluggish cells proliferate. Therein lies the delicate balance between science and aging. One way or the other our cells do us in, even if they are modified. According to the researchers, we can allow sluggish cells to accumulate or allow cancer cells to proliferate, but if you do one you can’t do the other. You can’t do them both at the same time. It’s the consummate Catch 22; a no-win situation at this point and the price we pay for being a multicellular organism! Although this declaration of human mortality may be an undisputed fact to us common folk, this recent research presents a mathematical equation that expresses why aging is an “incontrovertible truth” and “an intrinsic property of being multicellular”. And, it helps explain why it is that we age. How to Improve Longevity The current math seems stacked against non-aging and finding the elusive fountain of youth. Basically, things just break over time, and while aging may be “mathematically inevitable”, there are plenty of things to mitigate, counter and slow down the aging process, even if we can’t stop it. Science may say we are all going to decline, but we can counter that decline and improve our chances for longevity and ensure that if we live longer it is a healthy long life. Clearly there is a delicate balance between genetic realities which, at this time, we have little control over, and lifestyle choices which also dictate health and longevity. While so much of aging may be genetic, it’s also environmental and related to diet and exercise, staying active and engaged, and a positive outlook on life. With ongoing research, it is also possible that drugs and therapies will be developed to slow the aging process. Studies, for instance, suggest that muscle stem cells are the main driving force behind muscle decline in old age2; healthy stem cells may keep aging muscles young. Researchers hope these findings—which challenge the prevailing theory that age-related muscle decline is primarily caused by loss of motor neurons—will help develop a drug or therapy that can slow muscle stem cell loss and muscle decline. So, there is hope for slowing and improving the aging process. Don’t be discouraged by the inevitable, take control of what you CAN change and make the time you do have as healthy and happy as possible!

About the Author(s)

An accomplished freelance writer and editor, Cheryl is passionate on how to bolster our resilience in old age and reshape the course of decline. Her compassion and understanding for caregiving stems from acting as a caregiver for her mother, who struggled with dementia, and her father, who suffered from Parkinson’s.

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