How to achieve healthy ageing

17 October 2019

17 Oct 2019

On Wednesday 25 September 2019, Dr David Brown, medical researcher, visited SCI HQ to give his Public Evening Lecture on ‘What Individuals Can Do to Achieve Healthy Ageing’.

Rebecca Aris

Lifespans have increased linearly since the first industrial revolution and, with this rise, maintaining health during later years has become an area of intensive research. However, to date there are no approved longevity drugs available to us that have proven to be safe and effective, so our best option is to seek lifestyle interventions to extend our healthy years.

Fortunately, there is abundant scientific evidence in favour of lifestyle interventions that we can all adopt to increase our healthy years, explained Dr David Brown. Evidence exists on how our lifestyle can protect DNA function, improve clearance of damaged goods from the body, reduce cognitive decline and even reduce the incidence of cancer.

 Healthy Ageing PEL

Dr Brown gives his lecture


The right diet

Lowering carbohydrate levels is an excellent first step to adjusting to a diet for healthier ageing, as carbohydrate levels are far too high in most of our diets. For too long we’ve been warned to stick to a low-fat diet, and with this, manufacturers have been increasing sugar in our foods to replace the flavour lost by lowering fat. Dr Brown highlighted the link between the recommendation of a low-fat diet and the ensuing obesity epidemic. Combining fat and carbohydrates is the real problem, he explained, especially if the fat is saturated fat.

The benefits of exercise

Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce disease risk and, whilst the mechanism remains unknown, it has been suggested that it is due to longer telomeres (essential parts of the chromosome that protects them). For maximal effect, Dr Brown explained, 30 minutes of vigorous exercise five times a week was most effective. This level of exercise has been shown to account for longer telomeres in US adults, which has been associated with reduced cellular aging.

Exercise has also been shown to improve neuronal survival and protect against the risk of cognitive decline, with even low-to-moderate levels of physical activity offering protection, showing that even a little exercise goes a long way.

HIIT for the mind

With the hype of high intensity interval training (HIIT) for the benefits of the human body, it’s important, explained Dr Brown, to consider HIIT for the mind.

Evidence shows that that challenging the mind to learn new things and tackle very hard tasks, to the point of feeling tired and frustrated, is associated with increased ease of communication within the brain, and improved cognitive skills.

The importance of sleep

Another import factor, which could possibly be the most important factor to our physical and mental wellbeing, is sleep. Dr Brown highlighted evidence that shows an epidemiological link in humans between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s disease. He also pointed out that cancers are far more aggressive in sleep-deprived mice. He personally aims for eight hours of sleep per night for improvements in memory and the immune system.


Calorie restriction extends lifespan in many species and also reduces the rate of age-associated diseases, shared Dr Brown, possibly due to the effect on autophagy. Autophagy, which is derived from the Greek words for ‘self-eating’, is the natural, regulated mechanism of the cell that removes unnecessary or dysfunctional components, allowing the body to clear out any damaged cells. Autophagy may play a role in controlling inflammation, boosting immunity and some studies in mice have shown that it could protect against cancer, neurodegenerative disorders and infections. Fasting is an efficient way to trigger autophagy.


TEDx Talks: Why fasting bolsters brain power


Dr Brown recommended a few options for those wishing to try fasting: -

  • the 5:2 diet
  • fasting on alternate days
  • consuming 500–800 calories per day
  • 14–16 hour overnight fast
  • 1 meal a day (with 23-hour fast)

Sunshine and internal sunshine

As well as highlighting the benefits of Vitamin D from the sunshine, Dr Brown point out that reducing stress and creating a positive mind state was likely to have a bigger impact on our health than medical science currently acknowledges.

 healthy PEL

Sunlight has cardiovascular benefits beyond those arising from Vitamin D

Telomerase is the enzyme that slows age-related shortening of telomers on DNA, and meditation has been shown to increase telomerase activity, suggesting that meditation is beneficial to healthy ageing. Evidence also shows that long-term meditation reduces brain shrinkage as we age, and it could also reduce inflammation in the brain whilst having a positive impact on mood.

Positivity also appears to have a large effect on lifespan. A study of nuns assessed the levels of happiness of each individual and then monitored the lifespan of the nuns over several decades. Of the nuns in the ‘least happy’ quartile, 34% lived to the age of 85, compared with 90% of the nuns from the ‘most happy’ quartile.

The results?

If we can muster the self-control and discipline to adopt these healthier lifestyle factors, what results can we expect? The evidence shared by Dr Brown showed that adherence to five low-risk lifestyle-related factors could prolong life expectancy at age 50 by as much as 14 and 12 years, for females and males respectively, compared with those who adopted zero low-risk lifestyle factors. So whilst ageing is inevitable, it seems there is a lot that we can do to extend our years, and ensure that those years are spent in a healthier way.

The slides form the evening can be found here: -

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