'I Study Biological Age. Here Are 3 Ways to Stay Young'

My father was in his mid-fifties when I was born. When I was young, I remember being very concerned about him growing old, or developing a disease and passing away. I was very aware of the concept of aging from an early age and, because of this, I became interested in the science of aging.

I grew up in Los Angeles, California, and went to college at the University of Southern California, where I completed both my undergraduate degree and Ph.D.

When I was in college, I discovered that there was a scientific field of study around biological aging. It allowed me to answer questions like: What happens to our bodies when we age, and what contributes to our risk of diseases as we grow older?

Morgan Levine Studies Biological Aging
Morgan Levine completed her Ph.D. in aging from the University of Southern California in 2015. Morgan Levine

My Ph.D. thesis was about how, as scientists, we can estimate aging in a way that is not chronological. While you grow a year older as every 12 months pass, your biological age can be calculated by using molecular measures like epigenetics. This estimates chemical changes in our DNA and can indicate how our body is aging, as a result of factors such as our lifestyle and overall health.

So, even if a person is 50 years old, when we look at their biological measurements, their biological profile may in fact look like that of a 45-year-old, or perhaps even a 55-year-old.

Over the years, I found that a few lifestyle changes have been helpful in slowing biological aging. Aside from the basics, which are not smoking and drinking, here are three tips that may help us slow our biological age.

1. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle

Maintaining physical activity through exercising seems to play a large role in reducing our biological age. It's important to balance different types of exercise, such as aerobic exercise and high-intensity interval training. These types of exercises will increase our maximal oxygen consumption, which is how efficiently our body delivers oxygen. So, running, biking, or any type of cardiovascular exercise at a high intensity for a short amount of time is helpful. This type of exercise has been said to reduce the risk of disease whilst increasing one's life expectancy.

Strength training, particularly for women, is also important, as women tend to be more prone to health conditions like osteoporosis, and it also helps prevent sarcopenia, which is the muscle wasting that one tends to see as people age.

Aside from exercising, what we eat is also important in reducing our biological age. The perfect diet may perhaps depend on every person's genetics, but in general, whole foods and plant-based diets also seem to be the most beneficial in slowing our biological aging.

2. A good night's sleep

Sleep plays an important role in our aging process. A good night's sleep is not only measured by how many hours one sleeps but the quality of one's sleep. That's why it's important to ask yourself: Are you sleeping deeply, or are you sleeping and waking up constantly throughout the night?

We do not entirely know why sleep is very beneficial in reducing biological aging and the risk of diseases. Recently, Dr. Maiken Nedergaard discovered, in a study on mice, a process whereby the brain appeared to flush out toxins during sleep. Nedergaard and her colleagues discovered that cerebrospinal fluid, the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord was moving more actively while the mice were asleep, and is part of a system that removes toxic proteins from the brain. It has also been shown that poor sleep quality is also linked to our cells aging at an increased rate.

Maintaining lower levels of stress is also key to reducing biological aging. For example, people who have a very low socio-economic status may constantly be worried about having enough money to feed their children or pay their bills. Many scientists including Gregory Miller and Edith Chen found that stress may be associated with inflammation, which can drive a lot of diseases. This may cause one to have an aging profile that is higher than their actual age.

Morgan Levine Studies Biological Aging
Morgan Levine was an assistant professor of pathology and epidemiology at Yale University's school of medicine. Morgan Levine

3. The power of perspective

There seems to be a strong link between our mind and body. We know that stress, anxiety, or depression can drastically impact our physical health. Together with Dr. Steve Cole, a genomics researcher at the University of California, and others, we've found that loneliness can contribute to inflammation, which may accelerate aging and the risk of disease.

It is not just stress, but how we perceive stress, that drives our biological age. One of my colleagues at Yale, Becca Levy, studied the impact that our mindset may have on aging, and how we perceive aging. She found that people who perceived themselves as younger, and those who didn't see their age as a negative factor, were generally healthier. Perspective is key because there seems to be an association between our mindset and our health.

Morgan Levine Studies Biological Aging
Morgan Levine completed her Ph.D. in aging from the University of Southern California in 2015. Morgan Levine

Aside from putting healthy habits in place, there is an idea that we can reverse aging, too. We do this by reversing the age of cells when in a dish. Scientist Dr. Shinya Yamanaka discovered a way to reprogram cells back to an embryonic cell state. Many scientists are now attempting to do this in an organism, starting with mice. The hope is that one day, similar strategies may be used and adapted to reverse the aging process in humans.

There are a few very exciting discoveries on the horizon in science, but I think that it's important for us to know how much power we have over our health. Having a healthy diet and exercising has a bigger impact on our aging than any intervention that's currently available.

It's never too late to reduce your biological age. Regardless of your age, you will always benefit from putting healthy habits in place.

Morgan Levine is a founding Principal Investigator at Altos Labs. Previously, she was on the faculty at Yale University School of Medicine. Her research focuses on using mathematical models to estimate how our bodies change with aging and how this gives rise to risks of conditions like cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. You can find out more about her here.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Newsweek associate editor, Carine Harb.