Longevity – how to live longer – Part II

Here is the second part of the longevity – ‘how to live longer’ series. If you haven’t read the first part, let me recommend to start here with Part I and come back anytime.

One more thing before we continue – as you are probably reading this while hysteria about the coronavirus is slowly picking up everywhere around us. Of course, pay attention, take precautions, listen to professional medical advice, don’t go to crowded places if not indispensable, make sure to talk to your elderly parents to calm them down and help them understand what to do.

I am by far not an expert on viruses nevertheless I am sharing view of many people that panic is worse than most of the viruses. So, if you are at home because your employer asked you to test the home-office – even better! Take a deep breath, have a cup of tea and find some time to read about longevity, something that may really matter.

Exercise to live longer

No surprise that exercise made it into the list of items how to live longer life. Not only because I am an exercise freak 😉 but mainly because the science clearly confirms that making your body workout is beneficial for your health and longevity. Study after study shows that you should exercise.

Now, of course we could ask: what kind of exercise? How often? How to measure its effects? You can go two ways here: either scientific or emotional.

Let’s start with the emotional because it’s easier: do what you enjoy doing as often as you like. Football with friends, gym, yoga, Pilates, running in the park, ExFitt (I had to add here, of course ;)), frisbee, curling or whatever else you love. Simple? Well, you still have to make exercise or sport your priority, right – among all the other time suckers! From my view, there is one simple rule: some exercise is definitely better than no exercise. Unless you work out too much and injure yourself, then you should rest and relax and revisit your fitness regimen.

Obviously, the whole thing can get more complex depending on your objectives and available time – I speak about that in a different posts Get fit in 2 hours per week? here and 3 Key Points for Your Best Fitness Plan here.

Scientific way is a little more complex. Your options are either study what seems to work and go with that or exercise in a certain way and scientifically measure your results. Let’s look at both options in more detail if you like and if not, feel free to skip to the next section.

Science seems to understand that from the perspective of longevity, the key areas of fitness are endurance training and so-called HIIT or high intensity interval training. Christian M. Werner et al published their results in 2018. They took 124 healthy people, randomized (randomly split) them into three different groups and measured telomerase activity in blood cells (telomeres and telomere-associated proteins play a major role in cellular aging). The groups were:

  • Aerobic endurance training (AET – continuous running)
  • High-intensity interval training (IT – 4×4 method)
  • Resistance training (RT – circuit training on 8 devices)

Results demonstrated that “Telomerase activity in blood mononuclear cells was up-regulated by two- to three-fold in both endurance exercise groups (AET, IT), but not with RT. In parallel, lymphocyte, granulocyte, and leucocyte TL increased in the endurance-trained groups but not in the RT group. This randomized controlled trial shows that endurance training, IT, and RT protocols induce specific cellular pathways in circulating leucocytes. Endurance training and IT, but not RT, increased telomerase activity and TL which are important for cellular senescence, regenerative capacity, and thus, healthy aging”.

In other words aerobic endurance training and HIIT are clearly influencing telomeres length and activity linked to aging or longevity while resistance circuit training shows no impact. It is probably safe to assume that strength or resistance training schemes could still improve cardiovascular health as well as strength in general. You can read the complete study and its results here. Interestingly enough, Dr. Werner also says “From an evolutionary perspective, endurance and high intensity training may mimic the advantageous travelling and fight or flight behaviour of our ancestors better than strength training”.

Second option you have: do your training and measure results. Beware though, such approach requires lots of time and costs money. Unless you are or aspire to become a top athlete, this way seems like an overkill. If you like to give it a go, find professional sports medical experts in the area where you live and talk to them. Usually, the protocol involves running on a treadmill or cycling while doctors measure how your cardio-vascular and pulmonary systems respond to an increasing workload, how you metabolize oxygen, what is your VO2 max, how your big muscles use oxygen and respond to training and more. They will then recommend the right training approach depending on your results and objectives as well as how often you should re-check your performance in order for your fitness protocol to become the most effective.

I have done such thorough examination with an amazing team of Dr. Dostál at Centrum Sportovní Medicíny and it was definitely an interesting experience and very much worth it. Now, the doctors recommended to me (based on my fitness objectives of course, those are individual) more strength training in general and longer endurance sections. Did I listen to them? Yes. Have I followed? Guess… well, I started a little more strength training, that’s right. However longer endurance – no way, I simply hate runs that are longer than 30-45 minutes.

But look at me. I am happy with myself! I have been doing sports all my life and look fit and healthy even while getting 50 this year. For the last 10 years, I have been consistently exercising at least 2 times a week. I am not on any medicaments and my blood check results are consistently optimal for many years. Not bragging, just facts. Could I change my fitness program? Maybe. Do I have to? Not really. Even though…Is my back painful sometimes? Yes. Does my shoulder feel restricted sometimes? Yes. That’s life. Howg.

Stress plays a role but it’s not a clear cut

Notionally, you may think that stress is bad. Well, no so fast. Our ancestors have not been living in paradise for all those millions of years. They for sure experienced stress and hence our bodies are adapted to deal with stress. Hunting a mammoth could have been stressful. A child dying from whatever disease was obviously very stressful. No enough food at times could have created anxiety (let’s talk about fasting/starvation in one of the following sections). As you can see though, stress of our hominid predecessors has never been continuous. There were rough moments for sure, but most of the time they probably lived in somewhat calm state of mind.

How different are our lives today? Our stress seems to be much more present all the time. We don’t experience so many ‘live-or-die’ moments, nevertheless our lives are under constant pressure unless we take specific actions against it. You could read more about stress and its symptoms in a good article here.

What I find astonishing as well as related to longevity are the results of the following research done by Jessica Chiang et al published in Health Psychology in 2017. They looked at two long-term studies in US and based on the data from 7108 people concluded that “The results suggest that greater increases in negative affect in response to stress in everyday life may have long-term consequences for longevity, particularly for individuals with chronic illness”. It seems that the actual amount of stress that we experience does not matter as much as how we perceive the stress – our negative perception of stress is what kills us.

In such case, get rid of your negative emotions about stress and just enjoy it! Well, not that easy, I guess. Nevertheless, there are ways, there are always options. Here are my top 8 points of what I learned regularly doing to avoid negative stress impact on my life:

  1. Morning routine: always the same, including breathing exercises and short meditation (short because I struggle with sitting for a long time without moving). More about a healthy morning routine here.
  2. Live simple life: easier said than done but I write down every year what does simple life mean to me and what are the specific actions to take towards this direction. I review my notes from time to time and adjust.
  3. Exercise: more about that earlier, whenever I feel overwhelmed by too many things happening at the same time – I stop everything, throw away the pen or the laptop and go for a run. Amazing how 30 minutes of jogging clear my head.
  4. I say no: this is the hard one, connects well with ‘simple life’. I have this sentence written on my desktop “Politely reject everything that is not essential and takes more than 5 minutes”. I don’t always succeed but am trying hard.
  5. Enjoy: I actually enjoy stress. Not if it was constant or chronic, but I enjoy situations that are on the edge, situations that make me feel alive. Riding a dirt bike off-road. Skiing off-piste. Scuba-diving in a current. A complex project when deadline is looming.
  6. Music: I listen to calming music very often and especially when I feel stressed too much.
  7. Massage or sauna: Both work great for me. I prefer massage in hot climate and sauna in cold weather, which may not sound surprising. The trick to enjoy a massage and really relax is to focus on the massage experience itself instead of thinking about shopping or that important project which made me stressed at the first place. Not easy but possible.
  8. Don’t write a journal: we often hear how good is for us to write a journal. Nonsense. If you like to live in a present moment and not stress too much about past or future – a journal is one of these things that constantly brings us to the past. If you like, write down notes about what you have learnt or experienced, but only the top entries that really matter.

Make your own list how to live longer. Copy-paste if you like and put there specific points that are valid for you and your longevity. Look at the list from time to time to assess if you live life full of stress or full life with some stress.

It feels like here is a good moment to stop, consider, contemplate, read more and make your own ‘longevity list’ if you like. In Part III, we will finish the series with healthy nutrition and intermittent fasting. If you haven’t read the Part I yet – here is the link for you.

Does longevity matter to you? What do you do to achieve longevity – if anything? Share with me and other readers in the comments below or send me an email as usually.

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