Can you turn back time and reverse the ageing clock? Author, Lauren Kessler spent a year putting de-ageing strategies to the test, and wrote a book entitled: Counterclockwise, about it…
Lauren’s journey to turn back time
Lauren is in her 50s, married, and has three children. In her bid to turn back time, she read hundreds of scientific papers, talked to experts, attended medical conferences, and visited labs while researching a book on ageing. She discovered that researchers now believe 70% of how quickly we age is mostly determined by lifestyle, with genetics accounting for as little as 30%. So to put this to the test, Lauren focused on the inside, not the outside. “Sure, I dreamt of a flawless face and smooth neck, but surgery, fillers, or Botox would reduce my bank account, not my biological age.”
Lauren’s starting point
“I took tests to determine my biological age, which ranged from the familiar (heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol) to the more complex VO2 max test, which measures how efficiently the body uses oxygen, and is the best indicator of cardiovascular health.
My heart rate and blood pressure were good, but my cholesterol was high. For the VO2 test, I cycled on a stationary bike with a heart monitor strapped to my chest and a mask-and-hose contraption on my face. Not fun. The result put me in my late 40s, close to 10 years younger than my chronological age. Good, but with much room for improvement.
I also had a rather harrowing muscle biopsy to assess the health of my mitochondria, which are the ‘energy furnaces’ of the cells. They appeared pretty happy – again placing me in my mid-to-late forties – but not as happy as they could be. At the end of the year, I’d have everything measured again.
Best anti-ageing exercise?
It was no news to me – and I’m sure not to you – that physical activity was going to be key. Still, as I read through many scientific journals, I was astonished by the weight of medical evidence: the proven power of exercise to turn back the clock on heart, lungs, muscle, bones – and brain; the power of exercise to stave off chronic illness; to enhance mental health. But what form of exercise, and how much of it? Here’s where it got confusing…
So, I tried them all. I was no couch potato at the start – I jogged and did a bit of weight training – but I had never explored the wider world of fitness. And so I mountain-hiked, long-distance-biked, swam, step-sculpted, aquacised, and Zumba-ed. Body weight training, boot camp, high-intensity interval training, online routines, and apps. I frequented yoga, Pilates, and CrossFit. I especially liked Barre classes – which combine postures inspired by ballet and other disciplines like yoga and Pilates using the barre to balance – and continue to this day. Hot yoga was, well, not my cup of tea.
What I learnt was that every form of exercise is helpful in some way, but that ‘exercise’ is not the right approach. Instead, I needed to integrate physical activity into my daily life, creating a truly active lifestyle. That included going to the gym, but, more importantly, it included walk ‘n’ talks with friends (rather than meeting for coffee), family hikes (rather than outings to the movies), taking the stairs (not the lift), and standing and pacing when talking on the phone. These little changes don’t make the headlines. But they made – and continue to make – big differences in my life: more energy, better sleep, a powered-up immune system that never quits.
As part of my approach to integrating activity, I also bought a standing desk. A 2012 UK-based study showed that sitters like me (up to 10 hours a day, including watching TV and driving) increased their risk of diabetes (by 112%), cardiovascular diseases (by 147%), death from cardiovascular causes (by 90%) and death from all causes (by 49%). I know those with lower-back issues, bad knees, or painful varicose veins are not good candidates, but, for me, it works. Although I can’t quantify the changes, my body tells me every day – flexibility, energy! – that I am making the right choice.
Can you eat yourself younger?
I really hoped to find one amazing ‘anti-ageing diet’. I tried Paleo and Mediterranean, brain diets and heart diets, a low-glycaemic diet plan, juicing, fasting. Every diet had something going for it, but as I continued to experiment, it dawned on me that anti-ageing eating is not a particular regimen. It is an approach. Of course, I shunned what we all know should be shunned (highly-processed food, junk food, fried food, slabs of red meat).
But after that, what worked best to keep me healthy and energised was mindful eating. I’m not talking ‘Zen’ here, I just mean no eating in the car, on the run, or in front of the TV; taking the time to assess whether I was really hungry, or just bored or stressed; eating more slowly and savouring tastes. Mindful eating translated into more planned home-cooked meals.
“Blue zone” eating
But as a working mother of three, two of whom still live at home, I kept it simple. I made the same meal for everyone, but my plate was three-quarters vegetables and wholegrains, with poultry or fish as the remaining quarter. I shifted the balance for my 6ft protein-loving husband, my revved-up-metabolism twenty-something sons, and my vegetable-hating teenage daughter. In planning meals, I took my cues from the eating habits of the healthiest, longest-living people who inhabit what have been called ‘Blue Zones’.
These are areas of the world where people commonly live healthily to 100 years, even older. The common principles of their diet regimes are unprocessed foods, mostly veg, including beans, and wholegrains, with very modest amounts of meat. They eat locally sourced food, with their big meal in the middle of the day, not in the evening.”
Compiled by Tammy Jacks