For the Fountain of Youth, Look No Further than Your Yoga Mat

Once you turn on the other side of 50, the words ‘potions, lotions, pills and elixirs’ take on a whole new meaning, and we are all too happy to shell out billions of dollars each year to buy the promise of eternal youthfulness in a bottle.

We are not alone. The search for the elusive fountain of youth is described in historical texts, dating back to the times of ancient China and Mesopotamia. And we are still searching. But although eternal life shall never be within our reach, at least on this planet (and frankly, who would want it?), we have made tremendous strides in the last fifty years towards delaying the effects of aging and extending our life spans.

Scientists are making more headway than ever in understanding the process of aging and developing ways to slow the rate at which we grow old, reports The New York Times in a recent article. At the center of the research are efforts to slow biological aging, so that one year of clock time doesn’t necessarily translate into a year of biological aging in the body. Since the incidence of most chronic diseases increase with advanced biological age, this might in turn help reduce the risk of common age-related diseases like strokes, heart disease, dementia, and even cancer.

“By targeting fundamental aging processes, we might be able to delay the major age-related chronic diseases instead of picking them off one at time,” says Dr. James Kirkland, a professor of aging research at the Mayo Clinic in the NY Times article.

The idea is to increase our health span, the period of life when we are able to live independently and free from disease. Already we know that some people age more slowly and live longer than others, and researchers are trying to determine whether purely genetic factors are at play, or other features as well.

“Everybody knows someone who’s 60 who looks like he’s 50, or someone 60 who looks 70,” says Dr. Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the NY Times article. “Intuitively, we understand that we age at different rates, so the question is, really, ‘What’s the biological or genetic difference between those who age quickly and those who age slowly?’ ”

While the jury is still out as far as that magic anti-aging potion scientists may eventually conjure up, millions of aging boomers are in no mood to hurry up and wait for results. Collectively, they spent $195 billion in 2013 on anti-aging projects worldwide, an amount projected to grow to $275 billion by 2020, according to the market research firm Global Industry Analysts.

Unfortunately, the most commonly sought remedies like Botox, beauty creams, and even cosmetic surgery don’t do much to reverse aging, but rather minimize its visible effects. And while many supplements promise to offer the foundation of youth, researchers are skeptical of their effects. Supplements like resveratrol and human growth hormones may be anti-aging bestsellers, but whether or not they have any effect is still questionable, and in some cases—like human growth hormone—they may even be harmful.

Use It Or Lose It—The Simplest Formula of All?

Despite the popularity of aging “fixes,” researchers suggest, the recipe for healthy aging remains the same: Eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise. A sedentary lifestyle will actually accelerate biological aging, while exercise and activity will reverse it.

“You don’t need to spend money,” says Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, a professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago and a research associate at the Center on Aging at the University of Chicago. “Maybe a good pair of running or walking shoes would work. Exercise is roughly the only equivalent of a fountain of youth that exists today, and it’s free to everyone.”

Our two cents? With more than 75 documented health benefits and counting, yoga offers all the anti-aging benefits of exercise and then some.  Whenever you wonder whether you have time to hit your mat, keep this in mind: Your yoga practice isn’t just about how you feel in the short term—it’s about making an investment in your long-term future health and well-being as well. 

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