Biohacking is the pursuit of changing our biochemistry, cell structure and even the way our genes express themselves (react to stimuli in the environment) so that we can live longer and healthier lives. Many biohackers foresee living at least to the biblical age of 120 or even, for some, forever!
Because of this seemingly impossible goal, many, biohackers are regarded as fanatics who under-eat, take massive doses of vitamins and exercise for hours. But this stigma is changing rapidly.
Ask yourself this—When did you start yoga, weightlifting, meditation, organic eating, the Mediterranean diet or taking vitamin supplements?
None of these were practiced regularly or were even on our behavioral radar in the 1950s. Now, many of these protocols are part of our everyday efforts to look and feel better and be biologically younger than our years.
If we have come to accept nutrition, exercise, not smoking, refreshing sleep, calm and, now with our focus on coronavirus, companionship as all part of good health, it’s not a big step to higher levels of biohacking.
And while most geroscientists might not be biohackers, they agree that lifestyle behaviors are a significant determinant of longevity. Last week, Longevity Technology, a UK-based research and science organization, held its four-day Longevity2020 Virtual Conference, featuring a coalition of leading scientists, scholars, universities and private enterprise, with more than 20 hours of online presentations covering how technology, gero-research and pharmacology are all working to increase healthy aging.
Among the speakers were the most prestigious of our geroscientists, such as Nir Barzilai, MD, founding director of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine’s Institute for Aging Research. Dr. Nir, as he likes to be called, is conducting the country’s seminal centenarian study. There were also talks by biohackers revealing how they measure their sleep habits, their intake of carotenoids and their body mass to turn back or stop their internal aging clock.
Some of you may remember my radio show interview with Michael Lustgarten, PhD, of Tufts University, and Scientist II on the Nutrition, Exercise Physiology, and Sarcopenia Team at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. He eats pounds of raw carrots a day to increase his beta-carotene levels, which his research indicates keep up his levels of albumin. Dr. Lustgarten’s research shows that lower levels of albumin are associated with increased risk for all types of diseases associated with aging and death.
Would it surprise you to learn that the US government agrees that behaviors are as important as medical treatments for healthy longevity?
Of the 234 research programs about intervening in the progression of Alzheimer’s disease conducted by the National Institute on Aging under our National Institutes of Health, 111 are to discover the behaviors that affect the brain proteins that cause or advance the disease.
Laurie Ryan, PhD, chief of the Dementias of Aging Branch at the National Institute on Aging (NIA), told us during her interview on Generation Bold Radio, that the NIA hopes to define behavioral protocols for exercise and nutrition for your doctor to prescribe, just as you might get a pharmacological script.
The first biohacker I knew was my Mom. She lived to age 92. She weighed herself every day, come rain or shine. That was her measurement of how well she was doing in terms of keeping fit. As an overweight teen, she knew that undereating kept her thin, and she was intent on measuring weight so that she could “fit into my best dress.”
“Age-tech” has advanced from the bathroom scale to measuring devices that let you know your muscle-mass-to-weight ratio, sleep cycles and other biomarkers of aging such as blood pressure and cholesterol level, so that you can fine-tune your behavior and improve your statistics. If you have a Fitbit or other fitness tracker, you own such a device right now.
For the more advanced biohacker, blood tests and biomarker tests can be taken at home to measure your biological age so that you can track your progress and make changes that can theoretically make you physically younger.
Biohackers measure their health as religiously as my Mom measured her weight. There are apps galore for biohacking, including ZERO, to track fasts, record your response and get reminded when to start eating again.
You don’t have to be a fanatic to biohack your age. I did it. A year ago, I took a medical Body Composition Analyzer (mBCA) from SECA, which cost $50 at a local weight-loss clinic. It showed that I was dehydrated and that I had accumulated too much inflammation, sometimes called “inflammaging.” Chronic internal inflammation often comes with aging and is a cause of the degeneration of immune system, atherosclerosis, arthritis, hypertension and cancer.
But moderate lifestyle changes can help. With coconut water, electrolytes, longer walks and meditation, I changed my numbers. “Oh, I can’t meditate,” you may say. Never mind. Mikey Siegel is part of the Consciousness Hacking movement that is developing an app that can provide the same results as 1,000 hours of meditation. Nirvana hacked.
So if our behaviors can lengthen our lives, we need to address Dumbo and Jumbo, the baby elephant, and the bigger elephant in the room.
Let’s deal with Dumbo, the baby elephant. It is money. Who will have the money to buy the supplements, afford the apps, get the personal trainer and still pay the rent? In my latest book, The Retirement Income Explosion, I suggest that Money is Time—we can buy longer years.
And most of us will have the money to participate in the longevity revolution. How? We will be healthy enough to work longer, to bury the outdated notion of retirement as enforced leisure. Today’s concept of withdrawal on the beach works only if we die at an early age, somewhere between 80 and 90. It does not work for the 100-year life.
The Federal SECURE Act, which I discussed in detail in an earlier Blog, was passed by both parties (yes, they agreed on something). It increased the work years we can save tax-free, recognizing our growing longevity and the need to pay for it.
But then there is Jumbo, the excessively big elephant in the room. That elephant is you and your attitude toward aging, healthy behaviors and what you want to spend your money on! Biohacking is a habit. It’s not easy to make or break a habit. Ask any smoker. Ask me. I eat chocolate after 9:00 pm when all good biohackers have long since stopped eating for the day.
What motivates you to change your health habits? One is the fear of illness or death. Its main use has been in getting people to stop smoking. But it motivates few of us. It is hard for most of us to live in the spirit of fear that makes us eat only half a portion.
Then there is the fascination with more and healthier years. That works for someone like me who truly sees value in old age so long as it is healthy and contributory. But for now, getting incredibly old is a weak motivator for most folks. What seems to work for many in changing behaviors is the very same motivator my Mom had for weighing herself each day. That tighter tummy, that clearer skin, that bigger sex drive. Every bio-measurement device, every jar of D-3 vitamins, every piece of organic fruit should come with a mirror. In a youth culture such as ours, we simply feel better on the inside when we look better on the outside. Biohacking can be Aristotelian—“All things in moderation.” Eat right, exercise, get sleep, relax, measure your results…and harbor a little life-lengthening vanity