Longevity Research: Some Hard Questions
Longevity research has gotten a lot of news coverage lately in part because Saudi Arabia has announced plans to spend a billion dollars a year on extending life. The bozo press has routinely concocted stories about amazing breakthroughs that may extend life to ridiculous extremes.
When we think of aging most of the symptoms fall into categories such as muscle loss (sarcopenia), bone loss (osteoporosis), developing diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular problems, organ failure, heart problems, frailty, etc.
For many people the antidote for these issues is going to the gym. For those of us who love to workout and lift heavy stuff, we get many of the anti-aging benefits as a byproduct of doing what we enjoy.
A major medical impact of working out occurs in our hormonal system. Regular training keeps many of our bodies systems from degenerating and developing what Sullivan calls the sick-aging syndrome.
If a medical response is devised to counter aging at least some parts of it will have to reproduce the impact of exercise and proper diet. In short, the fit-healthy lifestyle.
IMHO most of the news stories about medical treatments for aging have never even considered the dark downside of trying to medically alter many aspects of aging.
Whenever an article comes about that discusses a medical breakthrough the theme seems to be written to appeal to the crowd of people who abuse themselves and then show up at the doctors office saying, Im broken, fix me. This mindset that individuals bear no responsibility to care for themselves and then deserve to be repaired at whatever expense is drastically different than the mindset of people who pursue a fitness lifestyle.
A recent article in the MIT Technology Review focused on the actual research being done primarily at the Buck Institute in Novato, California. Their emphasis is one that will seem familiar to most readers of this newsletter. They want to enhance the quality of longer life rather than promise eternal fantasy land.
What I find intriguing is that many (not all) of the practices that people dedicated to being fit embrace are at the center of scientific research on slowing aging and enhancing quality of life.
Perhaps the most significant discovery in aging research is a process called cellular senescence. This is where a cell keeps on living but stops reproducing. In older people these cells accumulate and begin to promote chronic conditions associated with advancing age. The most notorious are those are tissue degeneration, inflammation, and chronic diseases such as diabetes.
My own unscientific observation is that people who exercise regularly will slow the process of aging most specifically physical degeneration. Lifting weights appears to slow muscle degradation. Aerobic exercise appears to slow down cardiovascular degeneration. People who have an active fit lifestyle generally seem to be healthier than those who do not exercise.
One thing is for certain.
Apart from exercise crazies who drastically overdo a good thing, no one in the scientific community has ever suggested that exercise shortens life or that exercise is bad for you.
What occurs to me when I read about medical research into aging is that what we call the fitness lifestyle has two intimately related components: 1) the activity and 2) the effect. Trying to duplicate the effect of exercise by taking a pill (or a shot) tends to discount the necessity of doing the activity.
Is this approach doomed to fail?
Look at cardiovascular training as an example.
Cardio is essential for providing a regular supply of oxygen to all tissues and organs. Regular cardio exercise also appears necessary to keep the veins and capillaries healthy and flexible. Regular cardio also helps remove metabolic waste from the body.
Can we develop a medication that does this? If so, will it be nearly as effective as joggingor swimmingetc?
As all of you already know, building healthy muscle mass is essential for maintaining hormonal balance, bone density, and metabolic processes. Muscles are also a great insurance policy against the unplanned bangs and dents of daily life.
Will the longevity clinic have a pill that produces muscle massthat is even mildly functional?
As we have seen in case of PEDs and growth hormone injections used to create attractive looking bods, the supplement becomes a Pact with The Devil. The body works according to its own principles, not the earnest desires of individuals who have ignored fitness until they face a crisis.
People taking these supplements to get fixed discover that they must continue to take them indefinitely, or quickly lose the desired effect. Furthermore, they have often damaged their bodys ability to make these hormones naturally, so they are stuck on the needle forever.
I have seen more than a few young men who spent a lot of money on growth hormones or steroids discover that they must keep taking the supplement, or their muscle mass withers. They have retarded or killed their bodys ability to make growth hormone (or enough testosterone).
If you build your muscle mass through your own workouts without extra supplements then you get to maintain your own body with your own efforts. Your body responds naturally to the challenges of workouts and adapts with proper rest.
Working out by lifting weights and running while adhering to a moderately strict diet can be difficult at times. However, one of your goals is keeping your body in great shape to last a long time, this approach is both inexpensive and almost without risk.
At age 82 I have found that working out regularly and managing my diet has many benefits beyond checking out my image in the mirror and lifting big iron in the gym. I feel great 24/7/365 and dont need to take ANY prescription medications. My supplement intake is limited to creatine and a calcium-magnesium-zinc combo.
IMHO the Saudis can spend many billions on anti-aging research and will be unable to come up with anything that can come close to duplicating what many of us get from out own lifting, running, careful eating and consistent practice of a healthy lifestyle.
My prediction may turn out to be wrongbut it will be interesting to see what side effects emerge from treatments, and whether the drugs will turn out to be very effective compared to three sessions in the gym each week and being careful what you eat.