The Longevity Expert Who Wants You to Stay Young Forever

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Swellness is a monthlong series exploring the health-and-wellness stuff no one talks about.

We’re all obsessed with finding ways to live longer, but adding a few extra years isn’t necessarily the key to a better life overall. Some would argue it’s the quality of your years, rather than the quantity, that we should be worried about. What good is attending the party if you don’t enjoy yourself the bulk of the time? But what if you didn’t have to choose? Dr. Mark Hyman, a scientist, researcher, the Chief Medical Officer of RoseBar at Six Senses IbizaYoung Forever: The Secrets to Living Your Longest, Healthiest Life) says we don’t have to — we can disrupt the aging process as we know it and remain feeling good as we do.

Essentially, Dr. Hyman promotes functional medicine or keeping the body at its healthiest, rather than waiting for symptoms of illness to appear, which is how the majority of our modern medical system is structured. Doing so, he says, could slow or even reverse aging.

“It allows us to reimagine our whole approach to aging and disease from the perspective of, ‘How do we create health rather than just treat symptoms?’” Dr. Hyman says regarding his research around longevity. “And when you create health, disease goes away as a side effect.”

With the global value of the anti-aging market (including supplements, skin care, and plastic surgery) estimated to be around $71.7 billion in 2023, alternative paths to health and wellness, like those supported by Dr. Hyman — who also leads a wellness retreat in Ibiza — aren’t just floating on the fringes of modern medicine anymore. His research into the biomarkers of aging and longevity has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as the Journal of Gerontology and Alternative Theories in Health and Medicine.

In Dr. Hyman’s view, it’s only a matter of time before our annual checkup tracks much more than just blood pressure and cholesterol levels — it will be an opportunity to apply principles of functional medicine to your everyday lifestyle in order to promote health, longevity, and ultimately prepare us to become fully functional centenarians.

What are the hallmarks of aging?
Essentially they’re all inseparable, fundamental processes that go wrong — poor diet, stress, lack of sleep, lack of exercise, nutritional deficiencies, environmental toxins. All these affect our epigenetic programming, which is what controls our genes. And what we’ve learned now is we can literally reprogram our epigenome and reverse biological age at any age.

So you think we can live forever?
What it really means is not so much living longer, which is fine, but it’s about having your health span equal your lifespan. We’ve all heard stories of that 98-year-old person who had dinner with their family, laughed, had a great time, went to bed, and never woke up. And that’s just what we’d all like to do, where our health span equals our lifespan. Or at least very close to it.

What are your top three tips for someone who wants to try to combat aging?
The first thing is that you have to get rid of all processed food. Second, sugar and starch are the devil when it comes to longevity, aging, and your health overall. They should be considered recreational drugs used occasionally and sparingly, but not as staples in your diet. That’s what you take out. What you put in is a plant-rich diet full of phytochemicals and good fats. And then protein becomes way more important as you get older, which is essentially taking your biology and activating protein synthesis, which is required for vitality as you get older because you need muscle. Muscle is the currency of longevity. Without it you become frail, decrepit, and weak. And that’s what we see around us. But I just saw pictures of an 89-year-old Japanese guy surfing some big waves. So our conceptions of age are really shaped by what we see around us, and typically we don’t see 89-year-olds running marathons or surfing or going down a ski hill, but they can. People can be activated in that way. That’s the beauty of this.

When you’re looking at the concept of aging through a beauty lens, we generally don’t want to look old, which is why the anti-aging industry is so huge. Do you think that this mindset is harmful overall to our ideas around getting older?
What’s really interesting is that people are doing all sorts of stuff topically and dermatologists are making a fortune. Plastic surgeons are making a fortune. But the truth is that most beauty starts on the inside. It’s your nutritional status, your gut microbiome, your level of inflammation, your level of oxidative stress. They all play a role. It’s really not that hard to fix your appearance through lifestyle. I mean, I see people look ten years younger by changing their diet and lifestyle in a very short time.

Does this mean we’re going to start living past the age of 100?
Absolutely. I think the average kid born today is going to live to over 100. That’s pretty clear. For people living today, it’s not too late to start. At any age we can have a huge impact on biological aging. You can look at study after study that’s showing this effect, whether it’s just taking vitamin D, which reversed biological age by a year in a cohort that was studied, or a Mediterranean diet doing the same, or an aggressive functional medicine approach with lifestyle and diet doing three years reversal in eight weeks. Or there are products like extracts of Himalayan tartary buckwheat. It’s not published yet, but the data showed it can reverse biological age by seven years in just a few months. Our bodies can respond to the right inputs and we’re just putting in all the wrong inputs.

What about a person who doesn’t have access to these kinds of specialized supplements that claim to promote longevity? What should they do?
You don’t need stem cells. You don’t need exosomes and peptides and all that stuff that people are doing. It’s great. But it’s also not really essential in our current understanding of how our biology works and that we can actually activate these ancient longevity systems and pathways. That’s really a key message here. Our body has these ancient built-in survival mechanisms. We have 3,000 genes that regulate our survival and these are mostly screwed up by our modern lifestyle. And so a lot of the work in my book and as a functional medicine practitioner is to activate these ancient longevity pathways, these healing systems that we all have access to.

Does that mean  staying healthy longer is feasible for every single person? Or is the life you were born into going to affect your aging process in a way that is simply unavoidable?
The reality is that our fundamental foundational principles of longevity are rooted in simple practices — eating, moving, sleeping, stress reduction, meditation, community, meaning, purpose, love. These are all essentially free. People shouldn’t underestimate the power of those. Those are 80 to 90 percent of the leverage for general longevity. And if you dial those in, the rest of it is less important.

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The Longevity Expert Who Wants You to Stay Young Forever