Your body is designed to be an energized, vibrant, self-healing vehicle well into your centenarian years. Yet, in our modern lifestyles, the repair mechanisms which promote longevity and health can easily become compromised. The following practices will reinvigorate your body and slow the aging process by increasing mitochondrial density, lengthening telomeres, and inducing cellular repair processes.
Reduce or Eliminate Sugar
Moderate to high sugar content in your diet affects the body’s lipid composition which in turn impacts the cellular energy factories known as mitochondria. If mitochondria become less efficient, cells do not have enough energy. Mitochondrial deficiency may be experienced as decreased energy, loss of strength, memory issues, compromised immunity, extended healing times, sagging skin, and lowered respiratory capacity.
One way to protect the mitochondria is to drastically limit sugar consumption of all kinds. The body does not distinguish between a molecule of fructose, glucose, sucrose, or any other sugar molecule. Experts suggest a daily upper limit of 25 grams of sugar for women and 37 grams for men. To put that in perspective, one cup of apple juice has 24 grams of sugar. The easiest way to lower sugar consumption is to eliminate processed foods. Foods and beverages that come in bags, cans, boxes, bottles, or packages, even healthy-looking ones, are likely to contain excess sugar.
Take a Cold Shower
While living in climate-controlled environments may keep us comfortable, it is not ideal for longevity. When the body is exposed to environmental stressors that increase energy demand, such as cold exposure, mitochondrial production is enhanced. A 2017 study verified that cold exposure does in fact heighten mitochondrial biogenesis. In addition, cold exposure generates the production of brown adipose tissue (BAT) which consumes energy, further enhancing mitochondrial biogenesis. In addition, studies have found that cold showers activate the immune system and increase the number of disease-fighting white blood cells. Wim Hoff, who has broken many world records including climbing Mt. Everest in shorts, refers to a cold rinse as “nature’s vaccine."
Getting started with cold therapy is as simple as ending your warm shower with a 30 to 90-second cold rinse. Yes, it will feel uncomfortable and that is the point. The body never improves when left in its comfort zone. The cold water will send all of the warm blood from your extremities to your vital organs which will actually leave you feeling warm at the conclusion of your cold shower.
Sweat in a Sauna
Where cold is excellent for increasing the number of mitochondria, heat makes those mitochondria more efficient. When the body is exposed to heat, its energy needs increase dramatically. The body responds by increasing efficiency of the available energy resources. Exposure to heat has many benefits including activating heat shock proteins (HSPs), which play prominent roles in many cellular processes including cell cycle regulation, cell signaling, and immune function. Increased production of HSPs repairs damage to body proteins and has been linked to protection against neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. An epidemiological study in Finland found that increased heat exposure reduced the rate of all-cause mortality.
As with cold therapy, heat exposure must feel tolerably uncomfortable. That means the temperature and length of heat exposure will vary from person to person. A good rule of thumb is to choose a temperature and duration that allow you to sweat for 20 minutes.
Eat Nine Servings of Vegetables Daily
It is no secret that diet is a contributing factor to health and vitality. There are a plethora of dietary approaches available to meet the needs of diverse bodies but one thing that nearly all of them have in common is vegetables. Vegetables contain compounds that activate the body’s natural detoxification system, inhibit the growth of cancerous cells, and protect the ends of chromosomes, known as telomeres, from damage. According to one study, the more vegetables one consumes, the greater the telomere length. It is important to note the studies found that starchy vegetables did not afford any protective benefits.
Since there is no upper limit to the amount of vegetables that confer benefits, eat as many as possible! Aim for at least nine servings of non-starchy vegetables each day. A serving constitutes a half cup of cooked vegetables or one cup raw. In addition to quantity, aim for diversity. Change your vegetable selections each week to fortify your microbiome and please your palette.
You know how much lighter you feel after a hearty laugh. What you may not know is that a sense of humor actually decreases your chances of dying from any cause! According to a 2020 Japanese study, “Daily frequency of laughter represents an independent risk factor for all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease.” Another study from Norway that followed 50,000 people for 15 years found that those with a sense of humor lived on average eight years longer than those without. Laughter provides the body with a cocktail of hormones that strengthen the immune system, enhance social connections, reduce stress, and expand creativity.
To bring more laughter into your life, first set an intention to laugh more. Look for the absurdities in the mundane, read comic strips, listen to your favorite comedian, read funny books, laugh at yourself, and take life less seriously. Let the little things go and choose to laugh instead of stress because living eight extra years is no laughing matter.
Spend at Least Two Hours Each Week in Nature
Ayurveda has long promoted connection to nature as a means of achieving optimal health. Researchers have now quantified that a minimum of two weekly hours spent in nature increases nearly all measures of wellbeing. Being in nature synchronizes the physiology with nature’s cues of light, sound, and temperature. These cues send vital information to the body which tells it to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and stress hormones. Nature also optimizes melatonin production, resulting in sounder sleep. Going barefoot on the earth provides even more benefits by neutralizing negative ions within the body.
The key to integrating nature into your week is planning. Schedule two consecutive hours or brief daily sessions during which you can get away from cityscapes and allow nature to soothe your soul.
By presenting your body with new environmental challenges, nourishing foods, laughter, and nature, you can begin to flourish on every level. Vitality, health, and joy will then be free to flow into everything that you do.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
Cultivate deep connection through the Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga in Journey to Well-being: Healthy Body, a seven-part series with Chopra’s Director of Yoga, Sarah Finger, available now in the Chopra App.