How long do you want to live? When I have asked that question to patients, friends, and family I get varied answers. You might think that everyone wants to live as long as possible. However, for those who have known or lived with and elderly friend or family member who is suffering from chronic disease and dementia, many tell me that do not desire long lifespans if that also means disease and disability.

In the quest for longevity, we often measure our success in terms of lifespan – the number of years we’ve been on this earth. But what if I told you that there’s a more accurate measure of our true age, one that goes beyond mere chronology? Enter the concept of healthspan, which describes biology of aging and helps us understand the secrets of staying young (both physically and mentally).

To truly grasp this concept, we must first understand the distinction between lifespan and healthspan. Lifespan simply refers to the length of time a person lives, from birth to death, measured in years. On the other hand, healthspan delves deeper into the quality of those years, focusing on the period of life free from chronic disease and disability. In essence, while lifespan tells us how long we’ve lived, healthspan tells us how well we’ve lived.

There are many factors that determine our healthspan. While genetics do play a role, genetics only account for about 25% of our health outcomes. In fact, lifestyle plays a much larger role- the food we eat, how much exercise we get, the toxins we are exposed to, etc. Here’s where the concept of epigenetics comes into play. Epigenetics is the study of how genes are expressed. Specifically, epigenetics shows how various factors, including lifestyle and environment influence which genes are turned off and which are turned on.

One of the key mechanisms of epigenetic regulation is DNA methylation, where methyl groups are added to DNA, affecting gene expression. In fact, scientists have discovered that specific patterns of DNA methylation can serve as incredibly accurate predictors of biological age – a measure of how old your body truly is, regardless of chronological age. By analyzing these methylation patterns, researchers can create biologic clocks that not only determine biological age but also predict the time to death with astonishing precision.

By using biological age to measure the impact of lifestyle interventions, we now have evidence that we can literally turn back the clock. Dr. Kara Fitzgerald, a nutritionist, has done groundbreaking research demonstrating that just 8 weeks of lifestyle interventions such as diet, exercise, stress reduction and supplement, were able to reverse biological age, by 3 to 4 years.

Fitzgerald’s findings underscore the profound impact that our lifestyle choices can have on our healthspan. From diet and exercise to stress management and sleep hygiene, every decision we make influences our epigenetic landscape, shaping our biological age and determining our overall well-being. By understanding the intricate interplay between genetics, epigenetics, and lifestyle factors, we can unlock the secrets to a longer, healthier life.

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