Source: Andrea Piacquadio, Pexels, free download.
Like most people, I am very interested in various aspects of the inevitable process of aging, so I was very happy to hear that Beth Bennett delivered titled Defy Aging: A Beginner’s Guide to the New Science of Longer Life and Better Health has been published.1.2
This factual book is easy to read and full of gems on what happens with age and what we can do to increase not only our life expectancy, but also our life expectancy. Here’s what she had to say about her review of the science and psychology of aging.
Marc Bekoff: Why did you write Defy aging?
Beth Bennett: Eventually we all reach a point in the trajectory of life where it becomes impossible to ignore the toll the clock takes. When I reached this point about five years ago, I started to wonder why all of this thing was happening, and was there nothing I could do about it. You are right to think, “Of course you have to know that you will eventually get old and the inevitable consequences will hit you too. But reality didn’t strike me until then. Then I started looking for answers.
Source: Bowman & Littlefield, with permission.
MB: What is the link between your book and your background and your general interests?
BB: At first I was looking for books for the educated general public. I have found self-help books intended either to encourage acceptance of aging through mindfulness and other forms of mental health, or to introduce gentle exercise that promotes better physical health.
There were also books by science journalists presenting the new science of aging research (called geroscience). None of these genres gave me a lot of answers so I started digging into primary research, in other words, reports coming directly from scientists, studying these questions and found a wealth of work on the cellular and molecular bases of the aging process.
MB: Who is your target audience?
BB: I thought to myself that if I had these questions, many others had them too. So my target audience is anyone who is curious about what is going on in their body as they get older. Evolution gave us a remarkable, self-sustaining body for our first 30 years or so, but after that time really starts to tick. It’s never too early to start thinking about aging and what you can do to minimize its effects, that’s what I’m writing about.
MB: What are some of the topics that you include in your book and what are some of your main messages?
BB: This trend in aging research did not surprise me. I spent 15 years working with the first scientist (Dr Tom Johnson) to find genes for lifespan. If a gene is involved, it involves a chain of events downstream. The new field of geroscience has sought to identify these interactions. What’s really exciting about this research is that if you understand the events in the cells that make us age, you may be able to interfere with them.
I love genetics and biochemistry because they are the basic architecture of our lives. You can think of the genes, which are sequestered in the cell nucleus, as the software that triggers the shots in each of our cells. But the messages from the genes that are sent to the cell are interpreted and instantiated by a whole series of different actors. It is useful to think of this process as a model, provided by the gene, which can be integrated into different structures by different architects.
Along the way, the cellular environment we affect through our diet, exercise habits, supplements, stress patterns, etc., can also impact the interpretation of the model. genetics and its final product. What I mean here is that we can make choices that will affect the genes that influence our aging.
Let me give you an example. Let’s say you have one of the many genes that play a role in cholesterol metabolism. Left on its own, if you follow the “Standard American Diet”, exercise little or no exercise, regularly stress at work, etc., this gene can cause your LDL cholesterol levels to skyrocket. Obviously, this gene can affect your health in the long run. You can make lifestyle changes to lower LDL or take a statin. Either of these changes are environmental changes you can make to impact your genetics.
Scientists are increasingly identifying genes that cause age-related events. This is one aspect of my book that is unique: I discuss the roles of these genes when they are known. I link these genetic influences to specific bodily systems (eg skin, muscle, skeleton, etc.) each with characteristic patterns of aging, to illustrate genetic effects. Finally, I launch into a discussion by discussing some of the cellular pathways identified by new research as contributing to aging, and the possibility of intervening to alter the outcome.
Some of these interventions fall under the category of “bio-hacks”. But, one thing the research is very clear on is that at our current level of understanding, the two best strategies for maximizing lifespan – the part of our life in which we are healthy and independent – are diet and exercise. The amount and type of food and exercise are still controversial, but there are many guidelines. There is also a lot of research showing the beneficial effects of certain supplements and medications.
My take home message, not surprisingly since I am a scientist, is to experiment on yourself. We are all genetically unique, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. We need to be informed consumers of information in this age of disinformation and disinformation, and we cannot rely on our medical providers to be aware of the scientific literature. It is my goal in this book, to provide a sample of current research, and how to interpret and apply it.
MB: Do you think that as people learn more about the aging process, they will be more satisfied?
BB: I don’t think learning the mechanics of aging will make everyone happy. After all, some of us are half-full people who will always have a hard time aging. I think to challenge aging is to have an arsenal, which includes knowledge, to empower us to do all in our power to make aging healthier and easier to accept.