The Effect of Diet and Exercise on Biological Aging: From Hype to Reality

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It is widely accepted and common dogma that intensive sport is beneficial for Longevity and capable of delaying biological aging. And for people with absolutely ideal conditions (who are completely healthy, normal middle-aged individuals without any pathologies and living in an absolutely natural and clean environment) this is most likely the case. But how many people can really be considered to fit within that extremely idealistic case? In reality, the large majority of individuals seeking to extend their Healthy Longevity are older than 35 (and many beyond 50), living in dense metropolitan cities with high levels of pollution, and often having various minor (and in some cases major) pathological conditions. And therefore, the actual real impact of particular types of intensive sport and exercise is highly variable, and not very predictable. This issue is complicated even more when we consider traditional dogmas related to the so-called “Healthy Lifestyle” industry such as diets and supplements.

From a scientific and purely statistical point of view, there is not a sufficient volume of actual results and evidence to support a number of commonly-believed activities and behavioral interventions thought to affect biological aging or extend lifespan, including intensive exercise and sport, organic food, diets (such as vegetarian and vegan diets), vitamins and supplements, and others. The main issue revolves around the fact that most large-scale studies that appear to demonstrate the positive effects of these practices are not conducted in a sufficiently precise or personalized manner, taking into account the high degree of biological variability among their study participants, particularly in those that are in their later middle age, when the actual degree of variability increases exponentially due to the “entropic” nature of biological aging.

The sectors of fitness, diet, exercise, high-grade organic foods and other sectors within the so-called neo-wellness industry have become a kind of new religion, considered by large groups of people to be validated reality, but in practice built on hype and a serious lack of scientific validation. In reality, beginning from age 40, and especially for individuals aged 50-60, the exact practices and activities that on average will prove beneficial for younger adults (30-40 years old) may actually have negative effects on general health and biological aging, because the entire concept of “normal” or “average” health degrades beginning in the later stages of middle age. Biological aging can be considered as the highly variable disintegration of highly complex and interconnected biological systems, and the nature of aging (and how it affects individual health) varies incredibly from individual to individual. There may, indeed, only be 1% of individuals who in later middle age still fit into the concept of “normal”, and the majority of people have specific issues with their immune systems, the presence of different pathologies and conditions, and highly variable microbiomes.

And, even more extremely, even very simple and “obvious” recommendations like “run and exercise regularly, drink lots of water, and eat organic food” are not applicable to people in their later middle age, due to high degrees of variability in the environmental conditions where they live. For individuals living in modern cities and metropolitan areas, the purity and quality of ambient air and their water systems may have so much pollution that increased intake of water and exercise actually increase the amount of contaminants they are absorbing in their bodies. Similarly with respect to food, diet, vitamins and supplements, what people can purchase in their local grocery or health food stores are extremely variable, and often contain high levels of impurities. For example, foods that are labelled organic are often highly processed, and when someone buys meat at a standard grocery store, they are likely buying meat that is highly saturated with antibiotics and growth hormones, as well as preservatives and other chemicals added after animals are slaughtered to extend their shelf-life.

Below, we will outline a number of common myths about the beneficial effects of some of the most popular fitness and neo-wellness fads.

Exercise and Intensive Sport: In later middle age, long-distance running and high intensity sport can actually have quite significant negative effects, including damage to joints, up to 16x increased intake of pollutants, the generation of free-radicals, and damage to the vascular system for people with existing cardiac or vascular conditions, especially when the sport exercises including running are done with not right techniques. 

High Water Intake:  While it is of course important to drink water, for the majority of individuals the water actually available to them is highly impure and contaminated, and one of the main sources of systematic chemical toxification, especially in individuals who are in their later middle age or older. Sophisticated methods of water detoxification must be applied in order to gain the beneficial effects of increased water intake (standard reverse osmosis is not enough for real water purification).

Organic Food: Foods that are labelled organic very often contain hidden impurities. While it would be wise generally to eat foods that are labelled as organic over highly-processed foods, there is not enough regulation and validation over what constitutes “organic” to be reliably certain that it will have net-beneficial effects, or that it is sufficiently organic and free of impurities to have an effect on health and biological aging. 

Diets: It is also absolutely clear that, in the majority of cases, diets that seek to completely eliminate types of food that have been commonly ingested over the majority of human history have a net-negative effect for most individuals. And, interestingly, there is a good amount of evidence suggesting that specific positive and negative effects of diets are tied to how they affect the extremely sensitive and variable microbiome of individuals. Also, one of the most important considerations is specific factors impacting the way that food is ingested. Individuals seeking to gain health benefits from diet should follow the approach of food-as-medicine, and their decisions should be driven not by human opinion, but by tangible measurement of biomarkers integrated with modern bioinformatics and data-science techniques. These challenges, combined with the highly variable ways in which individuals react to specific nutrients, supplements and microelements based on age, gender, ethnicity, microbiome, current state of health and other factors, makes any strong predictions nearly impossible.

However, even considering all the above, there are certainly ways in which these kinds of activities and practices (exercise, supplements, and specific dietary habits) can have an impact on biological aging and healthspan (the period in which people are healthy and free from major age-related diseases), if they are combined with very specific approaches involving extremely large-scale, highly precise and personalized studies (in which study participants are grouped into highly targeted groups based on shared factors including age, gender, ethnicity, location of residence and presence of existing conditions), analyzed via the coordination of data science and Artificial Intelligence rather than the personal assumptions and theories of wellness coaches and healthy lifestyle gurus.

The most effective method to do this would be to apply AI and data science to information collected from significant proportions of the general population via mHealth mobile applications and wearables which track (1) specific factors of users including age, sex, ethnicity, location and presence of existing conditions, (2) general state of biological health (and, ideally, their biological age as measured by various biomarkers of aging and Longevity), and (3) the specific dietary, supplement-based, exercise-based and behavioral interventions that they pursue, and the effects of those interventions on their biological age and general state of health. Naturally, the only way to coordinate, integrate and analyze this very large amount of data would be to use AI and data science techniques.

An ideal platform to facilitate this type of large-scale study would be a full-scope health and Longevity marketplace with millions of users, which gives access to a high volume of precisely-targeted health-focused products and services, combined with periodic measurement of the effects of those products on their general state of health and biological age. One of the good examples of such a platform may be Longevity Banking Card, which provides its cardholders and clients access to a specifically-adjusted retail Longevity Marketplace, giving them access to a highly-tailored full-scope marketplace of products and services designed to optimize health and Longevity, which will tend to include mHealth products aiming to track the effect of those products of services on their current state of health and Longevity (via periodic measurement of their Biomarkers of Longevity).

In the ideal (but not so far-future) scenario, the precision and frequency of this cycle of intervention application, monitoring and adjusting would be applied as close to real-time as possible, with AI-based systems applying micro-doses of interventions combined with immediate measurement of its effects on health and biological aging, and high-frequency dosage adjustment, in order to construct ideal precise and personalized regimens of medical and non-medical interventions tuned to the specific factors of each individual, and to adapt them over time as those factors change. This approach to healthy living (featuring integration of AI and data-science driven measurement of biomarkers coordinated with treatment and intervention adjustment and personalization) is not futurism, and there are projects and products falling within this approach that are either already on the market, or anticipated to be launched in the coming months and the next 1-2 year horizon.

Conclusion: For the average person interested in living a longer, healthier and higher-quality life in their middle age, between the ages of 35-60, until the large-scale and highly precise and personalized studies necessary to really validate what works and what does not are conducted, our personal recommendations would include drinking extremely pure water, residing in low-pollution environments, ingesting extremely high-quality and validated organic foods, and conducting any specific behavioral interventions including diets, physical exercise and sport, and supplements in an very precise, targeted and personalized manner, adjusted to individuals’ current age, gender, ethnicity, state of health, microbiome and presence of existing conditions. We would also recommend integrating and monitoring all of these health-optimization activities via the application of AI, data-science, health tracking wearables and other related technologies, rather than the personal opinions of wellness industry professionals who cannot provide results tuned to the specifics of individual people. Finally, with regards to all these activities, the first principle that people should seek to follow is the very same as the core principle observed by doctors themselves: first do no harm. People seeking to optimize their health and Longevity should practice activities with the lowest likelihood of harming their bodies, and should prioritize the use of wellness, diet and exercise products, projects and techniques backed by AI and data science, tuned to the specifics of their own bodies via high-frequency testing, feedback and optimization.