4 Strategies to regenerate your body and feel youthful
So how can I harness my body's regeneration?
As it turns out, your body has different regeneration modes. We'll call the less helpful one the ‘slow mechanic’ and the optimal one the ‘young mechanic’. You can choose which body repair mechanic will do the work, experts now believe. The key? Exercise.
Without physical activity, experts now suspect, your body surmises that it is winter—literally. Remember that your genetic coding isn't based on life as it is lived today, but as it was lived many thousands of years ago.
"Without physical activity, your body surmises that it is winter—literally"
If you were sitting around day after day back then, it usually meant it was the cold-weather season, with you and your family huddled together inside for warmth, long past the season for gathering and hunting. And that meant that your body needed to shift into hibernation mode; in fact, your top priority would be to burn as few kilojoules as possible. So the slow mechanic took over, doing minimal work and allowing your bones to thin, your muscles to weaken and more.
But if you get up and move around every day, your genetic coding says, ‘Aha! I need stronger bones and muscles, more brain cells to work out how to hunt that wild boar and a stronger cardiovascular system to keep it all supplied with oxygen and nutrients while I forage for nuts and berries in the woods’. Then, the young mechanic gets to work, bolstering key body systems and creating strong, new cells.
There are four strategies that have proven to be the best for nurturing your body's repair system and ensure that the young mechanic is doing the work.
Strategy one: Exercise
The new Fountain of Youth: a daily walk plus three strength-training sessions each week. As mentioned, exciting research is proving that physical activity flips the youth switch, signalling to your body to grow younger as it repairs, maintains and regenerates itself. Among the key body systems that benefit:
In one research study, 70-year-olds who undertook regular strength-training exercise were as strong as 28-year-olds who didn't work out. If you skip exercise, you'll lose muscle strength with every passing year.
Once, experts believed that age-related drops in memory and cognitive skills were the inevitable result of dying brain cells. Now, scientists know that the brain can strengthen old cells and generate new ones. Exercise releases a fertiliser like substance called BDNF.
A heart-threatening lifestyle—replete with high-fat foods, too many kilojoules, little exercise, and smoking—can leave you with stiff, clogged arteries 40 years older than your biological age.
Ageing also weakens the heart's ability to contract and pump blood. Exercise makes heart muscle contract more forcefully, makes arteries more supple and slows atherosclerosis.
Your skeleton grows lighter with time. But research shows that strength-training pumps up the body's natural bone-building system so that bone density increases.
Without it, you can lose 2 percent of your bone density per year, raising your risk of fractures.
Read more: How exercise can slow down ageing
Strategy two: Shed stress, make connections
People's brains are hardwired for life in groups. After all, in prehistoric times the safest place to be was in a group. So when we're isolated, our stress levels rise; to our subconscious minds, prolonged periods of isolation aren't safe or natural, so our brains respond by producing stress chemicals to goad us into action.
Some proof of the powerful influence that stress reduction and social connections can have on your body's repair system:
- Men who survive a heart attack are four times less likely to die from a second heart attack if they come home to family members than if they come back to an empty home
- Women with more friends and relatives in their lives are more likely to survive heart disease and cancer than those with few
- People with heart disease who had been anxious, but then lowered their stress levels, significantly cut their risk of a heart attack, according to one US study
Strategy three: Supply the correct 'parts'
A new car won't run with replacement engine parts pulled from a beaten-up car. And your body won't be able to repair itself with the wrong parts, either. Every time you eat junk food, refined sugars or grain products such as white bread, trans fat and highly processed foods, you're doing just that.
Nature's top-of-the-line parts list for the human body are all the nutrients you'll find in lean protein, oily fish, nuts, berries and—especially—antioxidant-rich fruit and vegetables.
The proof that it works:
- Every daily serving of veggies you add to your diet cuts your heart disease risk by 4 percent (or more) and your stroke risk by 3 to 5 percent
- Just five servings of fruits and veggies a day lower diabetes risk by 39 percent
- Subjects aged 70 and older who ate the freshest produce, in one Australian study, had the fewest wrinkles
- Eating one extra apple a day could reduce your risk of an early death by 20 percent—this was the conclusion of a UK study that measured blood levels of vitamin C (a marker of fruit consumption) in almost 20,000 people. Adding two or more daily portions of fruit and vegetables could roughly halve your risk, regardless of age, blood pressure or smoking habits
Strategy four: Ditch the stuff that interferes with repair
Smoking. Exposure to second-hand smoke. Drinking to excess. This bad stuff thwarts your body's regeneration efforts. The upside—study after study proves that your body's repair system goes back to work the moment you give them up:
- Within minutes of stopping smoking, your lungs and cardiovascular system begin repairing themselves. Blood pressure falls closer to a healthier level within 8 hours. Within 24 hours, your heart attack risk begins to fall. Within a month, lungs work better
- Your brain can repair itself even after damage inflicted by heavy drinking. In a US study from the University of California, San Francisco, researchers found that alcoholics who stayed sober for nearly seven years performed as well as non-alcoholics in brain-function tests
- Heart attack rates among non-smokers plummeted when a smoking ban was instituted in restaurants and bars in one medium-sized American town—something researchers attribute to a drop in exposure to second-hand smoke
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