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6 lessons on aging from a scientist dedicated to slowing it down

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Photo: Unsplash

Sure, age is just a number. But it’s a pretty important one—and what’s the point in living forever (or to 180) if we’re not going to be healthy and happy for the long haul?

That’s why S. Jay Olshansky, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, has made a career by studying and finding ways to slow the aging process. “More people today are living to 65, 85, and 100 and beyond than ever before,” Olshansky said in a Reddit AMA last week. “In exchange for our longer lives, we now live long enough to experience heart disease, cancer, sensory impairments, and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Olshansky used his AMA to serve up some real talk on aging, whether caloric restrictions help extend life expectancy (nope), and what people can do every day to live longer, fuller lives.

Read on for six things Olshansky says we all need to know about aging well.

1. Restricting your calories won’t make you live longer.

Though caloric restriction might extend life in some animals, Olshansky says it’s less likely to help humans hit 100. “Chances are that the longer the species lives in general, the less longevity benefit you can expect to get from calorie restriction,” he says. “So, it might work well in worms and mice, but not so much in other long-lived species such as primates, humans, or bowhead whales.”

2. Neither will popping a magic pill.

“There is nothing on the market today that has been documented to slow aging in humans, period,” Olshansky says. “If anyone is making that claim, protect your wallet and your body.”

3. If your parents age well, you might, too.

Okay, so you can’t control this one. But genetics play a big factor in how long you will live. “Choose long-live[d] parents,” Olshansky says. “It all begins with genetics.” (A sentiment echoed by Cameron Diaz, who adds that our actions matter as much as our genes.)

4. Exercise every day.

“This is like an oil, lube, and filter for your car,” he says. “You don’t have to do it, but when you do, the machine operates better.”

5. Eat less, and have smaller meals more often.

“This is a way to control your insulin levels—perhaps one of the primary gatekeepers of the rate of aging,” Olshanksy says.

6. Have sex every day.

“This may not make you live longer, but hey, it’s not about life extension, it’s all about the journey along the way,” he says. Seems…easy enough?

Sex as an anti-aging method? That works out, since sex gets better as the years go by, our expert says. And P.S., here’s a menu tip: These are the foods that can make sex better.