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Longevity Decoded: the Seven Keys to Healthy Aging

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2018 - Winter

Contents

We all age. As the years go by, we get grayer, develop new wrinkles, and feel less spry than we once did. It is just part of life, right? Well, what if there was a way to dramatically slow down the aging process? According to Stephen Schimpff, MD, MACP, there is. In his new book, Longevity Decoded: The Seven Keys to Healthy Aging, Schimpff identifies the seven "keys" to living longer and healthier lives.

Before you roll your eyes, you should know that this isn't some New Age, woo-woo mumbo-jumbo. Schimpff's longevity "keys" are both practical and deeply rooted in science.

In fact, you've probably heard most of them before: Eat a healthy diet, exercise, get enough sleep, avoid tobacco, manage stress, stimulate your brain, and engage socially. These so-called "keys" aren't necessarily new or groundbreaking, Schimpff concedes, and many are intuitive. Taken together, though, they can have a real and measurable effect on your life.

"We're always told to start saving for retirement when we're young because it will compound and our investment will grow," he says. "What I wrote about is the same message: If you start early, the benefits will compound over time."

Longevity is more than just a list of what you should and should not eat or do as you get older. It's an accessible and entertaining overview of the latest research on aging, detailing what scientists currently know about the process at a cellular level and what they're studying in laboratories around the world.

Is aging caused by free radicals? The structure of our DNA? The health of our gut microbiome? Turns out that while there's compelling evidence about each of these things, the science just isn't there yet.

"There are a lot of ideas about why we age; yet, when you get right down to it, we really don't know. We don't know what turns it on, and we don't know what turns it off," Schimpff says. “For all of our biomedical research since WWII, not that much has been spent studying the aging process."

As more and more people live beyond 65 years of age—an estimated 19 percent of the world's population will be older than 65 by 2030—that is changing. What's more, as research increasingly shows that our bodies begin to decline as early as 30-years-old, concerns about aging are no longer just relegated to the elderly.

"Everybody knows that we should eat better, exercise, so on, but most people don't know why," Schimpff says, adding that people often think superficially and in the short-term when it comes to health.

"We need to get away from that and talk about our health and keeping healthy for the long-term. And if there's a message in this book, it's that we have it within our power to make a very significant change in our life… can we prevent every disease? Absolutely not. But as individuals, we can have a huge impact."

At the heart of his book is a question about the future: will scientists discover a magic pill or fountain of youth to slow down—or even prevent—the aging process? Schimpff thinks it's entirely possible, but adds that in in the meantime, we already know what works: lifestyle changes.

"I think it's human nature to say, 'Hey doc, give me a pill.' But unfortunately, pills don't work as well as natural ways," he says. "And the natural ways work, so somehow we need to understand that we have it in our power to make a difference."

This book is his way of empowering individuals to make that difference.