If we could all turn back the hands of time, do you think we could live a better life, or be more efficient at taking care of our bodies?
“Americans are obsessed with aging. Or, more accurately, with avoiding it. Between the wrinkle-zapping skin creams, Botox and chin tucks, and “rejuvenation” supplements, the business of anti-aging has grown into a more than $250 billion-with-a-capital-B global industry, and it’s projected to top $330B in the next three years.
Silicon Valley is happy to oblige. Corporations have recently entered the age-prevention market with gusto—Unity Biotechnology, Elysium, and Google’s Calico have invested hundreds of millions into R&D of therapeutics and medicines that work to mitigate or even reverse the effects of growing old. While a magic-bullet pill has yet to appear, the researchers are feeling bullish. “We believe that age can be solved,” says Sofiya Milman, M.D., the director of human longevity studies at the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “We don’t think that people will be immortal, but we do believe that you can certainly delay diseases and dysfunction that come with aging.”
Image courtesy of: Kasia Wyser-Pratte
Here’s the funny thing: We already have something that can ward off disease and prevent, even reverse, the telltale signs of age. In fact, look at the Venn diagram of what a hypothetical anti-aging pill would accomplish and what this existing tool already does for the body, and you’ve got two circles nearly overlapped. You don’t need to be a biohacker or billionaire to tap into this fountain of youth. Just lace up your sneakers and go.
Image courtesy of: kathywinston
Running, according to nearly a dozen of the nation’s top longevity researchers and decades of study, is and always has been one of the best age-preventers. Yes, we all know on some level that running is good for us. It helps control weight, strengthens the heart and lungs, gives us the best kind of feel-good high. But look specifically at what it can do for us as we age—and how it can pre emptively combat some of the most common age-related diseases and ailments—and it’s clear that running is as close to a miracle drug as we’ve got. And it’s not just that our favorite sport can tack years onto our lives—a full three, if you recall that landmark study published in Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases last March—it’s that it can add more life in our years. Run, and your health, energy, and quality of life are superior in ways both subtle and absolutely vital. Living to 100 is meaningless without that.
Look to our ancient ancestors, and it makes sense why running is a natural life-extender. For about 2 million years, the activity was integral to our survival. “Our bodies adapted to running because we had to do it to get food,” explains David Raichlen, Ph.D., an anthropologist who studies runners and the evolutionary history of exercise at the University of Arizona. The need to constantly be on the move caused our hearts to enlarge, our capillaries to grow, Raichlen says. In a fascinating 2014 paper in Trends in Neurosciences, he lays out how running allowed Homo sapiens to reach old age. Thousands of years ago, our ancestors had two copies of a genotype that greatly increases the risk of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Yet during this time, humans began living much longer than other mammals. Raichlen believes that’s primarily because we were constantly running—for our food, from our food—which minimized the chances of developing these diseases, despite having the high-risk genes. He also doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that today, as our species’ time spent running (or doing any activity) plummets, our chronic disease risk skyrockets. “I tend to think that exercise explains quite a bit about why we are the way we are today,” he says. Put another way: Not running actually goes against our own evolutionary history.”
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