Andrew Steele envisions a future where people no longer become elderly — staying fit and disease-free for longer.
Society should “unashamedly aim to cure aging” with treatments that could slow down the accumulation of mutations in our DNA or problems that happen with our mitochondria, the London-based scientist writes in his new book “Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old.”
Until then, people have more control over their aging process than they realize, he said.
“It has made me a lot more aware and a lot more eager to do something about it,” Steele, 35, told TODAY.
“All these sort of ‘boring’ everyday health interventions like exercise, like not smoking, like eating a good diet, they literally slow down the aging process and different diseases, and that's just so compelling… you're doing all of your body a huge service by doing this.”
Knowing what Steele knows, here are the habits he’s adopted in his own life:
Exercise — not too little and not too much
Steele tries to run and cycle for an average of 30 minutes a day. He’s also added strength training to his routine after researching how important it is to keep muscles active. But while cardio and weight lifting are both key, he cautioned against over-training.
“The evidence for incredible levels of exercise is quite weak. In fact, if anything it might slightly reduce your lifespan,” he said. “There certainly seems to be a plateau in terms of benefits around 30 minutes a day on average.”
It’s also important to simply avoid being sedentary. If you’re spending all day sitting, keep your muscles a little bit more active by moving for five minutes every hour or two. “If you literally don't do any exercise at all, even going for a 10-minute walk every day is going to dramatically improve your health,” Steele said.
Eat a varied diet with lots of plants
There's no food or food group that Steele avoids eating. He tries to focus on moderation and variety, but has been aiming to eat less meat, particularly red meat.
“Just generally, it looks as though eating a plant-based diet is likely to be healthier, likely to make you live a bit longer, so that's something I've tried to do,” he noted.
Vegetables are usually lower in calories than other foods and can be better for the gut microbiome, which has an influence on the aging process. Pulses and nuts are good sources of plant protein in particular, so Steele has incorporated more of them into this diet.
Consider intermittent fasting, but don’t bet on it
Dietary restriction, or significantly reducing the number of daily calories consumed without causing malnutrition, can extend the lifespan of various organisms.
But there aren't any long-term studies in humans, so researchers can’t say for certain, “OK, if you calorie restrict your whole life, you're going to live five years longer,” Steele noted. They simply don’t know yet.
Still, fasting has emerged as a health trend and weight-loss technique.
Steele has “flirted” with intermittent fasting by following a 16:8 plan of eating only during an eight-hour window. He found it easy to follow, but was discouraged by a study published last year that found the plan wasn’t effective for weight loss and didn’t improve metabolic health markers.
“It's not to say that that writes off the whole idea of time restricted feeding or other kinds of fasting or reducing your calorie intake, but it just said to me, this stuff is so complicated,” Steele said. He found the notion of alternate-day fasting particularly hard.
“I'm just a really grouchy person when I don’t eat and I have tried a few times not eating for a whole day, and it's fine for a few hours, but you start going crazy with the hunger.”
He’s decided to not cut back radically from what he normally eats.
Skip the supplements
“We've actually got huge amounts of trial evidence to suggest that there's no point” in taking supplements, Steele said. “Vitamin supplements either had no effect on lifespan or actually slightly shortened it.”
Unless your doctor advises otherwise, eating a balanced diet and getting a bit of sunshine provides all the vitamins you need, he noted. The only supplement Steele is taking at the moment is vitamin D and only because some studies suggest it may prevent severe COVID-19 if a person is infected with the coronavirus.
“Actually, bizarrely, I don't think it's going to work,” Steele said. “I'm happy to take it on the off chance just in case it works. I don't think it's doing any harm.”
Monitor your blood pressure and resting heart rate
You’ll get a significant insight into the state of your heart health and overall health, Steele writes in his book. Home blood pressure readings are particularly valuable because they provide a result that may be more accurate than the sometimes-higher reading in a doctor’s office, also known as white coat hypertension.
Sleep — not too little and not too much
Steele aims to get seven or eight hours of sleep per night, which seems to be the “sweet spot.”
“Getting a good night's sleep does seem to be very good for your health,” he said.
“What's really interesting about the sleep research is it's not only getting too little sleep that seems to be bad for you, but also getting too much.”
Take care of your teeth
Good oral hygiene can impact a person’s lifespan and even the risk of dementia, Steele writes in his book.
A recent study found a relationship between periodontal disease and biomarkers for Alzheimer’s disease. Previous research found people who brushed their teeth twice a day were at lower risk of heart attack than those who brushed once.
The link may be chronic inflammation that starts with bacteria in your mouth, Steele noted, so it's important to pay attention to your teeth and gums.