7 Things to Do to Feel Like Your Younger Self
The ageing process can be slowed by making consistent healthy lifestyle choices
Dr Kara Fitzgerald offers seven tips to help you feel like your younger self
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Ever look at one of those memories that pop on Facebook and pine for the way you looked, but more important how you felt, in that moment? It’s not just the passing of time that has made you appear older – it’s the changes in a vital biochemical process known as DNA methylation. If your genes are the hardware of your genetic code, DNA methylation is the operating system.
DNA methylation wields its influence by placing molecules known as methyl groups on top of your genetic material, and those methyl groups determine which genes are turned on and which are turned off, and to what extent.
DNA methylation is what’s driving the changes associated with ageing – it follows predictable patterns of becoming disordered over time, so that good genes (like tumour suppressor genes) get turned off, and bad genes (like pro-inflammatory genes) get turned on.
These patterns are so predictable that science can analyse them and accurately predict how old you are – not chronologically, but biologically. And science is just beginning to show that biological age can move in reverse — not with sophisticated and potentially risk biohacks, but with changes to diet and lifestyle alone. Whether you realise it or not, you are making changes to your DNA methylation patterns – and thus, your bio age – every day, with every choice you make. By choosing to have a DNA methylation-friendly meal instead of fast food, going to bed when you’re tired instead of watching yet another episode, or relaxing instead of scrolling through Instagram, those changes are favourable. And when you consistently make those choices over the long-term, those positive changes can become long-lasting. That’s when you reduce your bio age, move the needle away from disease, and retain more of your youthful resilience, despite how old the calendar says you are.
Here are 7 things you can do on a daily basis that have been shown to positively influence DNA methylation and play a role in lowering your biological age.
1. Eat more of the right ingredients
Certain nutrients are used by the body to make methyl groups; having plenty of them on hand helps your body be better at DNA methylation. Methyl donor-rich foods include dark leafy greens, colourful vegetables (especially beets), clean animal protein, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, eggs, and liver. I know liver isn’t an easy sell, but it is an anti-ageing powerhouse! If you can’t get yourself to eat sautéed organic chicken livers or liverwurst, you can take it in supplement form. An organic greens powder can also help you up your greens intake.
2. Load up on the nutrients that regulate DNA methylation
Other nutrients benefit DNA methylation by helping your body regulate this vital process – so that marks are put down in the right places and in the right amounts. I call these DNA methylation adaptogens, and they include green tea (EGCG), rosemary (rosmarinic acid), turmeric (curcumin), cruciferous vegetables (sulforaphane), and berries (quercetin). Aim to have at least one of these foods every day, and more is better.
3. If possible, close the kitchen after 7PM
Research demonstrates benefits of intermittent fasting across most chronic diseases and on health span and life span. We know that some of this benefit is likely driven via DNA methylation. Not eating between 7pm and 7am – a moderate 12-hour fast – gives the body a break from the work of digesting and, most importantly, helps regulate glucose and insulin levels. If you need to shift these hours to be later or earlier, that’s fine; just try and make sure that there are 12 hours between your final meal and your first food the next day.
4. Practice relaxation every day
It’s hard to overstate the effect that stress has on ageing – it essentially pours gasoline on the fire of inflammation and disordered DNA methylation. Doing something that promotes the relaxation response, whether that’s meditating, breathing, tai chi, yoga, or weeding, is tremendously beneficial for lowering your biological age.
In fact, favourable changes on DNA methylation patterns have been detected even after a single contemplative practice! Of course, the longer you practice, the longer lasting and more profound your results.
Using an app like Headspace, Calm, Insight Timer, or University of Wisconsin’s Healthy Minds app (completely free and research-based!) helps make this easy.
5. Do the movement you love the most
Exercise is nothing short of an anti-ageing elixir, and the older you are, the greater benefit it provides. You don’t have to kill it at the gym – any moderate exercise that you can easily do for 30 minutes while still carrying on a conversation counts. That could be walking, dancing, biking, gardening, or something else you love doing.
You want to aim for doing your favourite forms of movement five times a week for at least 30 minutes at a time. Bonus points for weaving in a couple of high-intensity sessions–they can be as short as the famous 7-minute workout.
6. Find your sleep solution
It’s a chicken and the egg conundrum: quality sleep declines as you age, and getting less quality sleep drives ageing. I know sleep can be a fraught subject, so let me start by saying that you only have to aim for seven hours a night.
In addition, doing your relaxation practice before bed and not eating after 7pm will also help foster the conditions for restful sleep. You’ve heard this advice before, but making your bedroom cool and dark makes a difference (sleep masks work great if you can’t block out all light).
If you wake up in the middle of the night with racing thoughts, try a boring, sleep-inducing podcast. And if you currently share a bed with a person or a pet who frequently interrupts your sleep, seriously consider a different sleeping arrangement. Sleep is that important.
7. Boost your oxytocin
Known as the love hormone, oxytocin is an ancient peptide molecule that helps you recover from stress, reduces inflammation, improves glucose tolerance, lowers blood pressure, and helps you feel bonded to others. It’s so important that not getting enough of it is associated with dementia, depression, hypertension, diabetes, wrinkles, and muscle loss. Yet trauma, inherited trauma, and age can cause disordered DNA methylation on oxytocin receptor genes, diminishing its effects.
The good news is there are many ways to boost oxytocin levels – getting a massage, watching an emotional video, listening to music, singing, taking a warm bath or shower, having an orgasm, and cuddling (including with a pet) have all been found to raise levels of this vital molecule.
Dr Kara Fitzgerald is a leading thinker in the field of DNA methylation and is the author of Younger You
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C. Elabd et al., “Oxytocin Is an Age-Specific Circulating Hormone That Is Necessary for Muscle Maintenance and Regeneration,” Nature Communications 5 (June 10, 2014): 4082, doi: 10.1038/ncomms5082
A. B. Reiss et al., “Oxytocin: Potential to Mitigate Cardiovascular Risk,” Peptides 117 (July 2019): 170089, doi: 10.1016/j .peptides.2019.05.001.
K. N. Fitzgerald, et al. “Potential Reversal of Epigenetic Age Using a Diet and Lifestyle Intervention: a Pilot Randomized Clinical Trial,” Aging 13, no. 7 (2021): 9419-9432. doi:10.18632/aging.202913.