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The 5 Most Important Things to Know About Aging

Knowing how your body works can help you reduce the effects of aging.
Knowing how your body works can help you reduce the effects of aging.
Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock

If we can learn how the body works, there's no reason why we can't live to 100 and beyond-with the vigor of someone half that age (or even younger!). See the five things you should know about aging to live a longer, healthier life.

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Aging isn't about preventing disease, but slowing down the aging process to be better able to enjoy life.
Aging isn't about preventing disease, but slowing down the aging process to be better able to enjoy life.
Jupiterimages/Pixland/Thinkstock

Aging is really not about preventing disease; getting rid of heart disease and cancer gains us less than a decade of life. Rather we need to slow the rate of aging to avoid the frailty that would make longevity less desirable.

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Telomeres (seen here in white) cap the ends of human chromosomes, protecting the genetic information from damage.
Telomeres (seen here in white) cap the ends of human chromosomes, protecting the genetic information from damage.
Image courtesy the Human Genome Program

The real trick is not only avoiding the periodic bodily break downs, but also about teaching our bodies to better repair themselves when they do. As with a car, you'll get a lot more mileage out of your body if you perform routine maintenance. Aging is essentially a process in which your cells lose their resilience; they lose their ability to repair damage because the things you might never have heard of (like mitochondria and telomeres) aren't working the way they should-or because you've exposed your body to damaging elements. It's within your power to boost their resilience and keep your vehicle going an extra couple hundred thousand miles-as well as avoid those potholes that will cause damage along the way.

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A healthy lifestyle and exercise can help prevent memory loss.
A healthy lifestyle and exercise can help prevent memory loss.
iStockphoto/Thinkstock

Too often, we look for "fixes" of certain problems we have with our eyes, our backs, our hearts, and all of the specific aches, pains, and conditions we may experience. But the real secret lies in slowing the aging of our cells, which will prevent disease and slow our overall aging. So how do you do that? By understanding not only major conditions, but also understanding the top "Major Agers" in our body-most of which you probably have never heard of, but all of which you can do something about.

Three examples of "Major Agers":

  • Short Telomeres: They're short little tips at the end of chromosomes (like the tips of shoelaces). When they shorten, you're at a higher risk of all kinds of problems, most significantly memory loss. (Exercise can help prevent them from shortening.)
  • Inefficient Mitochondria: Mitochondria serve as the little power plants in your body. When they don't work as efficiently as they should, that leads to a chemical process that causes a process that makes your cardiovascular system to rust like a bicycle left in the rain. (Omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fish, can help slow the damage.)
  • No Nitric Oxide: In your body, you have a short-lived gas called nitric oxide that opens up your arteries-allowing for better blood flow to your heart (and other important organs). As you age, your ability to generate nitric oxide decreases-unless you know how to turn on the biological tank. (Deep, nasal breathing activates nitric oxide, which opens up the arteries.)

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The vagus nerve in the brain may play a large role in anti-aging.
The vagus nerve in the brain may play a large role in anti-aging.
3D4Medical.com/Getty Images

What holds the key to optimal aging? It may turn out to be the vagus nerve-a long nerve that provides information from the gut to the brain and everywhere in between. And it's also becoming a focal point in anti-aging research as scientists are discovering that the vagus nerve holds many of the secrets to handling the "Major Agers" we experience. For one, if we can modulate the vagus nerve, we know that we can help control destructive inflammation throughout our body. How can we stop it? Meditation.

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Deep sleep allows your body to produce growth hormones.
Deep sleep allows your body to produce growth hormones.
©iStockphoto.com/Mihaicalin

Most of us think that sleep just happens. You're a good sleeper or a bad sleeper, and you're not really active in the process. But sleep-like washing your face or working out-requires a specific program so that you can get the best result: Restorative, peaceful sleep. Why is sleep more important than food? Because if you don't get enough deep sleep, your body loses the ability to make growth hormone, so it can't regenerate itself-to be able to fight off aging-related damage.

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