How To Age Less

Learn how to trick your body into staying young.

from Reader's Digest | November 2007

Stem cells are powerful tools that play a key role in how you recover from stress. But as you age, you lose stem cells to repair damaged tissues, leaving you vulnerable to stress-related conditions.

At all stages of your life, your body responds to damage by recruiting stem cell repairmen. When you smoke, for example, stem cells are sent to the lungs to respond to damage. Or when your skin burns from the sun, stem cells go in to make repairs. But the more stem cells are sent in, to fix anything from inflammation to too much saturated fat to alcohol abuse, the higher the chance that something will go wrong. In other words, the more those stem cells are needed, the more they reproduce. And the more they reproduce, the higher the chance they could mutate into tumor cells. And that spells cancer.

Damage control: Using your precious stem cells to repair something preventable like sunburn or lung damage from smoking is a waste.

Remember, stress may lead to shortening of your telomeres, so rapidly reproducing stem cells are even less able to be present in adequate reserve. Managing stress better can help minimize stem cell damage. In addition to deep breathing from your diaphragm, try these:

  • Lip lick: Breathe in, lick your lips, then blow out slowly. The cool air helps you refocus and slow down.
  • Cork release: Hold a wine cork between your teeth. Putting a gentle bite on the cork forces your jaws, a major holder of tension, to relax.
  • Lean on a friend: Gossiping, playing poker or golf and having girlfriend spa days aren’t all just fun and games. They’re mental medicine. So is attending religious and church groups.
  • Watch your waistline: Belly fat adds to stress by creating an internal inflammatory environment. The omentum, the fat between your organs behind your belly button, sucks up stress hormones, so you deposit more fat there when stressed. In fact, your waist size is a great barometer of how you deal with stress. Ideally, it should be less than half your height. (For example, if you’re five foot five — or 65 inches — your waist should be less than 32.5 inches.)You know the destruction a computer virus can cause. Too bad you can’t firewall yourself with virus protection. Instead, you interact with all kinds of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other invaders. When they get the best of you, you’re more vulnerable to colds, infections and serious disease. As you age, your immune system weakens, making you even more vulnerable.One of the secrets to controlling your immunity is the vagus nerve. It provides a high-speed line of information to the brain from the gut, where battles with bugs are continually raging. Knowledge of the vagus’s role is all about mind over matter.
    You see this effect in Tibetan monks who pass a test into monkhood by generating enough heat off their bodies in freezing temperatures to make a cold, moist blanket on their shoulders dry out. It comes from the vagus nerve, which sends messages to major organs in the body and carries information back to the brain. It’s the main mechanism by which your brain audits your body. Those monks figured out how to meditate to fake out their bodies that they’re warm rather than cold.Damage control: We’re not suggesting you can will away strep throat. But manipulating the connection between the gut and brain may be one of the ways you can quiet the high-level inflammation and immunity challenges that may affect the way you age. We’re starting to understand that meditation (or as we prefer to call it, training your vagus) can positively influence your immune system and aging. A form of movement combined with meditation called chi gong may activate the vagus. Eating certain healthy fats, in foods such as avocados, walnuts, olive oil, flaxseed oil and fish oil, may stimulate the hormone cholecystokinin, which facilitates the beneficial processes in your vagus.