Anti-Aging Secrets for Health, Beauty, and Longevity

By John Westerdahl, PhD, MPH, RDN, CNS, FAND

Guest contributor John Westerdahl, PhD, MPH, RDN, CNS, FAND is an internationally recognized authority in the fields of food, nutrition, and longevity. A graduate of Loma Linda University School of Public Health, he is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified nutrition specialist, board-certified anti-aging health practitioner, and radio talk show host. He is also a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, the American College of Nutrition, and a founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, as well as a member and past chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetics Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. His weekly radio show, Health & Longevity, is broadcast internationally on the LifeTalk Radio Network. Learn more at

For centuries people have searched the world for the “Fountain of Youth.” However, the “Fountain of Youth” really lies in the lifestyles we live and the food we eat. As a nutritionist and dietitian, I am dedicated to exploring and researching the lifestyle habits and the dietary lifestyle that lead to longevity and optimal health.

Ancient scriptures tell us that we have the potential to live to be 120 years old (see, for example, Genesis 6:3). Scientists today confirm that mankind does indeed have the physical and genetic potential to live to 120 years of age. As a result, there is a growing interest in the science and study of longevity and anti-aging.

What Is Aging?

We often think of aging as certain processes or visible signs that affect our bodies. We begin to experience wrinkles, sun damage, a loss of flexibility, memory, hair, vision and hearing acuity, and a host of other symptoms.

Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “aging” as “the process of growing old or showing signs of growing old.” While this definition may have sufficed in the nineteenth century when Noah Webster was alive, new medical discoveries and biotechnological advancements have made Webster’s definition of “aging” outmoded.

You Have Two Ages – Chronological vs. Biological Age

The human body has two different ages: a chronological age and a biological age. Every year you get one year older, whether you like it or not. In celebrating these birthdays, you commemorate your advancing chronological age. The health and performance of your body systems, however – from mental function to physical strength – reflect your biological age, which is arguably more important than your chronological age. Your biological age reveals how healthy your body is and can also be a predictor of your longevity. In other words, if you live a healthy life, your body can be “younger” than your chronological age. By living a healthy life, you can look younger, feel younger, and live longer than others who were born the same year as you.

How to Determine Your Biological Age

Of all the tests and questionnaires currently available to determine biological age, the RealAge® Test offered by Sharecare, Inc. (a digital health company) is probably the most scientifically accurate. The RealAge® Test is a free online, biological age assessment that has been taken by more than 43 million people. This scientifically-based assessment gives you an idea of the true age of your body. Once your biological age is determined, Sharecare offers personalized recommendations on how you can lower your body’s biological/health age and increase your longevity.

(To take this free online test to determine your personal biological/health age, go online to

What Is Anti-Aging?

The general definition of “anti-aging” is to stop, slow, or delay the aging process, which starts at the cellular level. Our bodies are made of cells, and aging occurs when there is cell death that exceeds the body’s ability to generate new cells—an ability that diminishes as the years advance.

However, we can impact the rate at which we age through our lifestyle choices and habits directly, which affect the aging process to a significant degree. Smoking, excessive drinking of alcohol, inactivity, and chronic stress will take a heavy toll on a person’s health and longevity, as will consuming diets excessively high in cholesterol, saturated fat, sugar, and salt, or eating too few vegetables. By making simple lifestyle changes, we can slow the aging process. And the longer we follow a healthy lifestyle and adopt anti-aging habits, the healthier and “younger” we will be.

Theories of Aging

There are many theories as to why we age. Here are a few:

Free Radical Theory – Free radicals are simple, unstable, chemical compounds that promote the oxidation and damage of cell membranes, which accelerates the aging process. These harmful compounds can come from pollution, smoking, and a bad diet. Antioxidant nutrients like vitamin C and E, as well as phytochemical antioxidants found in colorful fruits and vegetables, can help prevent free radicals from doing damage to our cells.

Chronic Inflammation Theory – Many scientists believe that most age-related diseases are due to chronic inflammation, which occurs when the body fails to eliminate substances that cause inflammation, or by autoimmune attacks on healthy body tissues. Foods that can promote inflammation include processed and refined foods, and certain meats and dairy products. Emotional stress, smoking, lack of regular exercise (or excessive exercise that causes pain), food allergies, and autoimmune disorders can all be factors that promote inflammation. Eating anti-inflammatory foods such as fruits (particularly berries) and vegetables, omega-3-rich foods like salmon, flaxseed, chia seeds and walnuts, olives and extra virgin olive oil, turmeric, and legumes, can help reduce chronic inflammation.

Caloric Intake Theory –Excessive caloric intake influences the rate of aging and the onset of age-related diseases. Caloric restriction can reduce oxidative stress and cellular damage, thereby slowing the aging process.

Immune Theory – The deterioration of the immune system as we age weakens our ability to fight against disease, accelerating the aging process. A healthy plant-based diet, rich in antioxidants and immune-stimulating phytochemicals and nutrients, strengthens the immune system.

Telomere Theory of Aging – At the end of each chromosome are protective coverings called telomeres, which guard chromosomes from damage and impact cell division. The enzyme telomerase is a substance in our body that replenishes telomeres. Telomeres and telomerase play an important role in determining the lifespan of a cell, its health, and its ability to divide. Longer telomeres promote longer healthspan (the number of years we remain healthy, active, and disease-free), while shorter telomeres promote a shorter healthspan. This knowledge has given us greater insight as to how our cells and bodies age. It is critical to build and maintain healthy telomeres by living an anti-aging lifestyle that promotes optimal cell health.

Foods such as red and processed meats, sweetened drinks and sodas, white bread, and saturated fats, as well as high alcohol consumption, are associated with shorter telomeres. Eating “telomere-healthy foods” – plant-based whole foods, rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatories, and omega-3-rich foods – is associated with developing longer telomeres. Good exercise, sleep, and stress management habits also contribute to telomere health.

The Science of Cellular Water – How to Keep Your Cells Young and Healthy

While there are many theories of aging, every reasonable scientific theory, or combination of theories, points to one common characteristic: cellular water loss. Water is essential for life. Without water, humans can survive only a few days. Body water is lost as we age. The health and vitality of the trillions of cells in the human body depends on their ability to absorb and retain water.

As readers of Modern Wellness Digest know, my good friend and colleague, Dr. Howard Murad, has conducted extensive research into the science of cellular water. His research has revealed that the ability of cells to hold water is a fundamental marker of youthful good health.

In my next post, I’ll explain why maintaining cellular water promotes optimal cell health and longevity. I’ll also offer a delicious anti-aging smoothie recipe, describe the Blue Zone communities where longevity has become a way of life, and encourage you to make your own home a longevity-enhancing Blue Zone!


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