October 23 2019

5 Biggest Longevity Myths

By Mark Sisson
48 Comments

Older people (and those headed in that direction, which is everyone else) are really sold a bill of goods when it comes to health and longevity advice. I’m not a young man anymore, and for decades I’ve been hearing all sorts of input about aging that’s proving to be not just misguided, but downright incorrect. Blatant myths about healthy longevity continue to circulate and misinform millions. Older adults at this very moment are enacting routines detrimental to living long that they think are achieving the opposite. A major impetus for creating the Primal Blueprint was to counter these longevity myths. That mission has never felt more personal.

So today, I’m going to explore and refute a few of these top myths, some of which contain kernels of truth that have been overblown and exaggerated. I’ll explain why.

1) “Don’t Lift Heavy: You’ll Throw Out Your Back”

Obviously, a frail grandfather pushing 100 shouldn’t do Starting Strength right off the bat (or maybe ever, depending on how frail he is). That’s not my contention here. My contention:

Lifting as heavy as you can as safely as you can is essential for healthy longevity. That’s why I put it first in the list today. It’s that important.

For one, lean muscle mass is one of the strongest predictors of resistance to mortality. The more muscle a person has (and the stronger they are), the longer they’ll live—all else being equal. That’s true in both men and women.

One reason is that the stronger you are, the more capable you are. You’re better at taking care of yourself, standing up from chairs, ascending stairs, and maintaining basic functionality as you age.

Another reason is that increased lean mass means greater tissue reserve—you have more organ and muscle to lose as you age, so that when aging-related muscle loss sets in, you have longer to go before it gets serious. And that’s not even a guarantee that you’ll lose any. As long as you’re still lifting heavy things, you probably won’t lose much muscle, if any. Remember: the average old person studied in these papers isn’t doing any kind of strength training at all.

It doesn’t have to be barbells and Olympic lifts and CrossFit. It can be machines (see Body By Science, for example) and bodyweight and hikes. What matters is that you lift intensely (and intense is relative) and safely, with good technique and control.

2) “Avoid Animal Protein To Lower IGF-1”

Animal protein has all sorts of evil stuff, they say.

Methionine—linked to reduced longevity in animal models.

Increased IGF-1—a growth promoter that might promote unwanted growth, like cancer.

Yet, a huge study showed that in older people, those 65 or older, increased animal protein intake actually protected against mortality. The older they were and the more protein they ate, the longer they lived.

Meanwhile, low-protein diets have been shown to have all sorts of effects that spell danger for older people hoping to live long and live well:

And about that “excess methionine” and “increased IGF-1”?

You can easily (and should) balance your methionine intake with glycine from collagen, gelatin, or bone broth. In animals, doing so protects against early mortality.

In both human and animal studies, there’s a U-shaped relationship between IGF-1 levels and lifespan. Animal studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and diabetes, heart disease, and heart disease deaths (higher IGF-1, less diabetes/heart disease) and a positive association between IGF-1 and cancer (higher IGF-1, more cancer). A recent review of the animal and human evidence found that while a couple human studies show an inverse relationship between IGF-1 and longevity, several more show a positive relationship—higher IGF-1, longer lifespan—and the majority show no clear relationship at all.

3) “You’re Never Getting Back That Cartilage—Once It’s Gone, It’s Gone”

Almost every doctor says this. It’s become an axiom in the world of orthopedics.

But then we see this study showing that people have the same microRNAs that control tissue and limb regeneration in lizards and amphibians. They’re most strongly expressed in the ankle joints, less so in the knees, and even less so at the hip—but they’re there, and they’re active.

I’ve seen some impressive things, have been able to personally verify some stunning “anecdotes” from friends and colleagues who were able to regrow cartilage or at least regain all their joint function after major damage to it. Most doctors and studies never capture these people. If you look at the average older person showing up with worn-down joints and degraded or damaged cartilage, how active are they? What’s their diet?

They are mostly inactive. They are often obese or overweight.

They generally aren’t making bone broth and drinking collagen powder. They aren’t avoiding grains and exposing their nether regions to daily sun. They aren’t doing 200 knee circles a day, performing single leg deadlifts, and hiking up mountains. These are the things that, if anything can, will retain and regrow cartilage. Activity. Letting your body know that you still have need of your ankles, knees, and hips. That you’re still an engaged, active human interacting with the physical world.

4) “Retire Early”

This isn’t always bad advice, but retiring and then ceasing all engagement with the outside world will reduce longevity, not increase it. Having a life purpose is essential for living long and living well; not having one is actually an established risk factor for early mortality. And at least when you’re getting up in the morning to go to work, you have a built-in purpose. That purpose may not fulfill your heart and spirit, but it’s a purpose just the same: a reason to get up and keep moving.

Retiring can work. Don’t get me wrong. But the people who retire early and make it work for their health and longevity are staying active. They’re pursuing side projects or even big visions. They have hobbies, friends, and loved ones who they hang out with all the time.

The ones who don’t? Well, they are at at increased risk of dying early.

You don’t have to keep working a job you hate, or even a job you enjoy. You can retire. Just maintain your mission.

5) “Take It Easy As You Get Older”

As older people, we’re told that sex might be “too strenuous for the heart” (Truth: It’s good for it). We’re told to “take the elevator to save our knees.” They tell us “Oh, don’t get up, I’ll get it for you.”

They don’t tell me that because, well, I’m already up and doing the thing. I’m active and obviously so. I don’t take it easy.

Stay vigorous, friends. Stay vivacious. Don’t be foolhardy, mind you. Be engaged.

“Take it easy” quickly becomes “sit in the easy chair all day long watching the news.” Don’t let it happen.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t rest. Rest is everything. Sleep is important. But you must earn your rest, and when you have the energy, take advantage of it. Don’t rest on your laurels.

As you can see, there are tiny kernels of truth in many of these myths. We should all be careful lifting heavy things and pay close attention to technique and form. Everyone should care for their cartilage and avoid damage to it. No one should continue working a job that sucks their soul and depletes their will to live if they can move on from it. And so on.

What we all need to avoid is sending the message to our brain, body, and cells that we’re done. That we’ve given up and our active, engaged life is effectively over. Because when that happens, it truly is over.

Someone asked me when aging begins. How old is “old”?

I think I know now. Aging begins when you start listening to conventional longevity advice. As I said on Twitter earlier today, healthy aging begins when you do the opposite.

Want more on building a life that will allow you to live well into later decades? I definitely have more on that coming up. A perceptive reader shared the news in one of the Facebook groups already, so let me mention it here. My new book, Keto For Life: Reset Your Biological Clock In 21 Days and Optimize Your Diet For Longevity, is coming out December 31, 2019. I’ll have more info, including a special bonus package for those who preorder, in just a few weeks. In the meantime, you can read more about it here on our publisher’s page.

That’s it for today, friends. Chime in down below about longevity or any other health topics you’re thinking about these days. What are the most egregious aging myths you’ve heard? What do you do instead? Take care.

References:

Karlsen T, Nauman J, Dalen H, Langhammer A, Wisløff U. The Combined Association of Skeletal Muscle Strength and Physical Activity on Mortality in Older Women: The HUNT2 Study. Mayo Clin Proc. 2017;92(5):710-718.

Malta A, De oliveira JC, Ribeiro TA, et al. Low-protein diet in adult male rats has long-term effects on metabolism. J Endocrinol. 2014;221(2):285-95.

Carrillo E, Jimenez MA, Sanchez C, et al. Protein malnutrition impairs the immune response and influences the severity of infection in a hamster model of chronic visceral leishmaniasis. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(2):e89412.

Castaneda C, Charnley JM, Evans WJ, Crim MC. Elderly women accommodate to a low-protein diet with losses of body cell mass, muscle function, and immune response. Am J Clin Nutr. 1995;62(1):30-9.

Gaine PC, Pikosky MA, Martin WF, Bolster DR, Maresh CM, Rodriguez NR. Level of dietary protein impacts whole body protein turnover in trained males at rest. Metab Clin Exp. 2006;55(4):501-7.

Wu C, Odden MC, Fisher GG, Stawski RS. Association of retirement age with mortality: a population-based longitudinal study among older adults in the USA. J Epidemiol Community Health. 2016;70(9):917-23.

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48 thoughts on “5 Biggest Longevity Myths”

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  1. thank you for this! John JAquish’s X3 Bar is in alignment with your philosophy of lifting heavy….with joint protection!

  2. Myth #6: Get a power lift assist reclining chair, you deserve it! Drives me crazy when people talk about buying one of these for their aging parents. I’m very blunt, and tell them they’re just helping them along the road to decrepitude and an early death.

  3. What’s up with exposure of your nether regions to sunshine? Surely that is meant in jest,….

        1. Or build a 6-foot stone fence first; that takes care of the heavy lifting.

    1. I’m pretty sure that Mark meant that in jest. I’ve never seen him advocate such a thing in any of the posts that I’ve read, but I haven’t read all of them. He may, possibly, be referencing, in jest, the recent wellness practice of “butthole sunning” – yes you read that correctly. (Some really weird stuff shows up in my Facebook feed.) According to at least one proponent (I read one very short article), 30 seconds of sun exposure gets you as much vitamin D as “being outside in the sun all day.”

      Seriously?!? Where do people come up with this stuff?

  4. Thanks for countering the info from David Sinclair about eating mainly a plant-based diet and avoiding protein so as to avoid stimulating IGF-1. I appreciate the balanced view that you present on this subject.

    But what about extending longevity by supplementing with resveratrol, NMN, and metformin?

    1. I was disappointed with that in the Sinclair book. The back up references are weak. I guess that is the Harvard influence.

    2. I’ve found collagen, creatine and whey protein isolate to be more useful. Even if one can’t lift heavy due to carpal tunnel, hand and spine arthritis, etc. it’s still possible to lift lighter and still build muscle mass.

    3. I’m just some dumb layperson (seriously), but I will not disregard Sinclair and Valter Longo simply on the basis of this article or Mark’s word, with all due respect. I think at the least it’s an open question.

      1. Avoiding protein is a sure-fire way to foster sarcopenia. I’m a 74-year-old ectomorph and learned just last year that I needed to eat more if I wanted to build more muscle — that I had been inadvertently preventing muscle gain by limiting my food intake. Several years earlier I had gained some muscle and strength by increasing my protein intake and slightly increasing my exercise routine. But last year I boosted my protein and fat intake and overall calorie intake, focusing on dense foods and reducing carbs. That enabled me to increase my weight-bearing exercise and gain 10 pounds of mostly muscle. That’s my anti-sarcopenia program!
        It may be possible to do that with a vegetarian diet, but it would be challenging.

    4. I need to add that I trust and believe Mark, and I have learned and gained much from him and his writings. I have to add that. I’m not a Mark hater, if there is such a thing. I’m the farthest thing from it.

  5. Thanks Mark. I know all about those myths. I don’t have time to worry about them. In a few weeks I will be 78. I have just finished building another boat. It will be launched in time for my birthday. Then I will take it out into the Marlborough Sounds where I will be sourcing material for my next major series of paintings. I have just had the most successful year in sales ever, and next year will be better. The money is nice, but the joy of engagement and creation is everything. Talk about purpose in life. Honestly Mark, the days are not long enough. I’ll send you some pictures soon. Cheers, Ross

    1. Ross, your story continues to unfold in awesome ways. Congrats on the new boat and next adventures. Would love to see the pics and an update to share if you’re up for it. Best — M

    2. Hi Ross

      I’m a 63 year old boat builder (kayaks and canoes). I’d love to see some pics of your work too.

      I agree with ignoring these myths. I’m still an active firefighter, work out daily and lift heavy things.

  6. I absolutely love every detail in this article. The one that hit me smack in the “back” is #3 cartilage will never return…holy cow, now I know why my pain has subsided and my degenerative disc disease is not so prominent in my life. THANK YOU for telling the truth and dispelling the lies we all been told for years.

  7. YES!! Anyone can have problems no doubt about it. But this is great. You sold me that book.
    Mimi

  8. Great article, thank you.

    The cartilage myth reminds me of the pandemic belief that teeth cannot remineralize on their own through dietary intervention.

    I believe Denise Minger is living proof otherwise.

  9. THANK YOU for such a great article. I am a 62 year old woman who works out much more now then I did in my 30’s. In fact I can out lift most woman 20 years younger.
    I eat mostly a Keto diet (16 months now) with a larger emphasis on protein because of age and workout level.
    I want to scream from the rooftop how good I feel but unfortunately people don’t want to listen…

  10. Great list! I would add, the myth: once you have dementia, it’s progressive. For elderly women especially, it’s often a sign of UTI or other infection. I watched my mother in law go from literally saying “I don’t know what’s going on” over and over to perfectly clear minded just by being on an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory. What’s spooky is, that it’s hard for a woman in a facility like a nursing home or assisted living to give a proper sample so she can be tested for it. In that mental state everything seems threatening and unfamiliar. When we had her with us, the home care nurse told us some horror stories of women whose mind cleared in a nursing home, much later and were like, “What am I doing here?”

    We hear so much about dementia and brain fog lately that it’s easy to think it’s ubiquitous and inevitable. Don’t believe it.

    1. After surgery they can also be totally wonked out, dementia-like for a few days. The anesthesia cant be processed well and needs to work its way out.

      1. This happened to my dad after minor surgery recently. He’s 86. He thought he was back in the Air Force. After a couple of days, the drugs were out of his system and he was back to normal. Scary stuff.

      2. They mix an amnesiac into the mix so if a person is older it takes a bit of time (3 weeks for my mother in law) to come back to reality. If you don’t want it you can talk to the doctor of anesthesia (as well as the nursing staff, surgeon, etc) and make sure it’s not in the mix. Some people never come all the way back sadly.

  11. Excellent, Mark, thanks for writing that and sharing. It’s a message sorely needed to counter all the bad advice people receive from well intentioned, but uninformed care providers, peers and family.

    As a practicing chiropractor of 37 years (who does a pretty convincing impression of a 40 year old), I will tell you that one of the most important messages we give our patients is to set their standards much higher. Plain film imaging of joints is often misleading and, short of fracture or more exotic bone disease, is a very poor predictor of pain, let alone function. How we move and how we feel are vastly more important than how we look on imaging or during a 10 minute consult. Function is all important!

    Move well and often, get as strong as possible, treat your food as fuel and seek help from someone who values those attributes when you need expertise.

    Thanks for keeping the standards high, above all else that you do!

  12. There is a great book by Velma Wallis named Two Old Women that illustrates the need and benefits of staying active. It is the telling of an old Alaskan legend (Athabaskan). Very short read and well worth the small investment of time.

    1. Definitely agree about that old story! One of those really good Native teaching stories. I read it years ago, but it left a very definite impression!

  13. Love this–thank you! But if I may expand on No. 4 “retire early” and staying engaged: Never lose your hunger to learn something new! And not just in retirement. The myth that doing a crossword puzzle each day is enough to keep the brain engaged and working is a fallacy. Make a point of really learning new subjects. Really challenge yourself. Take a few college courses, learn a musical instrument, learn to tango (a double bonus as it works the body and the brain!). And once you’ve mastered one thing, move on to another subject that fascinates you!

  14. Another insightful article Mark . I always enjoy reading your supported logic and the balance with which your views are presented . It always bothers me how adults create physical dependencies and limitations prematurely . For example , relatively young and able adults standing stationary on escalators and holding the side rail . Driving around and around shopping car parks looking to secure the closest park to the entrance door , rather than a point a fair distance away for the benefit of walking and carrying some weighted shopping back to the car . And taking escalators up a floor , rather than walking stairs . I follow you from Australia and am in my mid 60’s … retaining muscle well and on no medications simply by applying the sorts of things you advocate . Please keep up the good work sharing this knowledge so we can encourage others to lead a more active and enjoyable lives .

  15. Most excellent indeed Mark. I’m 65 & have been an on/off workout guy my whole life. (a lot of ‘off’ along the way, lol)
    But I always get back to it and now, while I’m not the fittest 65 year old around, I’m way better than most of them around me. Still work in a factory, can even outwork some of the younger guys, (though that might be laziness on their part, lol) I can keep up to the 30 year olds anyways..

    I do MAF cardio (thanks for that nice little gem , ala` Keto Reset book), lift weights, mobility work, & MILD martial arts type of stretching. (did karate decades ago)
    But, while I agree with it all here, the opposite is also true. Mr. Olympia Ronnie Coleman, hip replacement (double) Chuck Norris Bill ‘Superfoot’ Wallace…..hip replacement.
    Remember….there’s a fine line between ‘just right’ and ‘too much’….
    I’ve conquered much joint pain this year, thanks to keto, mobility work, and well, constantly researching any & everything for surviving old age.
    Thanks Mark, for being a great inspiration! Looking forward to the new book!

  16. Thankyou for this, Mark- it’s so needed. I stopped listening to all the warnings and bad news about aging. I’m 63, work out almost daily, have always thrived on protein and fat having done food combining since the 80’s. I have no pain, take no medications and still am productive in a high stress industry. None of this by accident and my parents/grandparents suffered from “resting” and inactivity as they aged. I’m so happy to see posts like this, Thankyou!!!

  17. I would say that these principles could be applied to pregame women too. They more I do, and the involved I am (going for walks, carrying arm loads of groceries, or carrying a toddler), the better I feel.

  18. Great post for the older primates! At 59 can relate to them all.#3 hit home. Tore my interior meniscus a few years back at Cross Fit. Passed on the surgery, discovered Primal Blueprint, ate better and built up the knee and tissues. It returned to about 95%. Hiked Half Dome this summer, so glad I passed on the surgeons advice and let the body heal itself.

    I have watched friends retire early, slow down without a passion or hobby and age quickly.

    So nice to see so many people in their 50’s and 60’s lifting at the gym. Pretty inspiring.

    Again, great post, keep em coming for us Canadians. No SUP this time of year Mark but we can shovel snow and skate miles on the river…,

  19. I get sick of hearing …”oh that’s just your age, there’s nothing you can do about it” blah blah

  20. It’s really great to have this encouragement! My husband (64) and I (61) have been building our dream home in the country and have heard so many comments such as:’When are you going to start acting your age?’ ‘Aren’t you a bit too old for -insert any strenuous activity – ?’ and ‘Why are you doing all the work yourselves at your age?’ I think I need to print this and hand it to people. And CrossFit was great for the years we did it prior to starting to build this house. Functional movement – I use it every day except Sunday. A body does need a good day’s rest.

  21. Thank you again Mark! Another good one! I too need the occasional kick in the butt to do what I already know! So thank you for keeping me going! I am female, 70 years age, working at a job I still love 3 days a week, have close family connections, am Keto, and about to go and do my sprints.

  22. Great article, so true! The “take it easy “ cult is going to have us all in mobility scooters and nursing homes. I make my own bone broth and I also power lift and eat meat several time a week.

  23. Thank you for this, Mark. As I move well into my 50s, and after a spinal surgery for a herniated disc, I am healed, yet cautious. I garden and hike. I snow shoe. I am not as active as I was before the surgery, and I have always been afraid to lift heavy things—even properly—post-surgery. I fight with myself regarding “going easy” and wanting to push it, for fear of injury. Any thoughts?

    1. You could start with Mark’s Four Essential Movements, which can be found here https://www.marksdailyapple.com/a-fitness-plan-so-easy-a-caveman-did-it/. The push-ups, pull-ups, and planks all help strengthen your core body muscles, which will help protect your back from being injured again.

      If your budget allows, perhaps join a gym where you have access to a trainer. Let the trainer know that you are interested in “lifting heavy things” – because it’s good for your body, but are afraid to because of your surgery. Explain that you want to start fairly light and progress slowly. If they ask what you mean by “lifting heavy things,” explain as best you can – give real world examples such as “I’m afraid to pick up _______, even using proper form, because I’m afraid of hurting my back again.” You may wish to add something to they effect of “But I know I’m putting myself at an increased risk of injury by not doing so, because my I’m not keeping my body strong.”

  24. Mark – You hit the nail on the head with all of your points. It’s when we stop, that our aging clocks start to move in fast forward. It’s when we forget how to be kids and act and play as we did in our younger days, that we grow old – fast. As for the protein, even Dr. Valter Longo, whose recent book, “The Longevity Diet” dives into the biology of aging, promotes increase protein intake after the age of 65 to keep our muscle from diminishing. Thanks for this article!

  25. Hi Mark, it took me 45 years to smarten up and move towards a health life and now that I am 51, I feel great and exercise daily! I have tried to tell my overweight, diabetic, cancerous unhealthy family that if they would start making a few changes, they could move into the Keto space and be so much healthier but the responses I get are “I cant eat that way!” or “I don’t like all those foods” or I can’t give up bread, sweets etc. I know, you can lead a horse to water….. Do you have any suggestions on what else I can say to them to encourage them to try to change?

    1. Just be a good example. They get just as much media hype for every type of diet that you do. They’re burned out on it. One day they might have a health fright and make a decision and then they may or may not come to you. It’s their life. Your job is just to love them and treat them with all the warmth of family.

  26. “How old is “old”?”

    I redefined my definition of aging and old nearly 10 years ago and a few years before stumbling on MDA. My parents had taken me to their hairstylist for my 40th birthday. The stylist asked my dad if he felt old having a daughter who was turning 40, and my dad replied “Not really.” The stylist then told us about an interview with a lady who was 112 or 114. They asked her when she started feeling old. She replied “Oh, about the time my oldest child turned 70, I figured that I was getting old.”

    My oldest is 25, so I figure I’ve still got another 45 years until I’m “getting old.” Mind you, I won’t be old yet, just getting old.

  27. Retire early? I think the biggest motivation is saving up money seeing healthcare gets more expensive as you get older. I think the usual way of thinking if you retire early you are on a big vacation with lots of time off. I heard the notion if people who retire early don’t live as long but I don’t know the pool of people they got it from. Guess I have a problem with the thinking about retiring early. As for me, looks like my projection is 67 yo – 70 yo to be the best for my finances.