Most people want to live as healthily and happily as they can, for as long as possible—but unfortunately, the vast majority don’t have millions to spend on reversing their age.
Over the past year, former tech CEO Bryan Johnson has made headlines with his $2 million-a-year journey to reduce his biological age to 18.
But for those who don’t have the time or money to hire a team of more than 30 doctors, the prospect of aging can seem both inevitable and unbeatable.
The good news is, experts say there are some very simple changes anyone can make to vastly improve the quality of their lives for years to come.
Longevity is an issue most people start thinking about too late, according to anti-aging and cellular health expert Greg Macpherson.
A lot of people proactively begin trying to prevent aging in their 30s and 40s, when in fact it can be hugely helpful to embed healthy habits into your routine from your mid-20s.
Macpherson, the author of Harnessing the Nine Hallmarks of Aging, tells Fortune there are some simple tricks to help people age more healthily: getting good sleep, exercising, a balanced diet and in some cases, fasting.
“It doesn’t have to be crazy exercise, you just need to be moving for 20 or 30 minutes a day with some resistance training thrown in,” says Macpherson, who is the CEO of aging supplement business SRW Research.
Exercising and balanced fasting are among two of the most accessible methods of longevity, Macpherson adds.
“With kids there should never be fasting—that’s off the table,” he notes. “But mom and dad could eat two meals a day, it’s something we can all do. Getting out and walking is also a social family experience that doesn’t cost anything.”
It’s never too late
While Macpherson advises starting to think about anti-aging habits in your 20s, Professor Rachel Cooper tells Fortune it’s never too late to work on healthy longevity.
The U.K.-based aging expert, who teaches at Newcastle University and has held policy-shaping roles within the nation’s government, notes that the foundation of aging healthily is to not introduce bad habits like smoking or excessive drinking in the first place.
“There’s no silver bullet for aging,” she says. “But it all has a cumulative effect—every life stage presents an opportunity to improve, whether it’s education at school about being healthy or trying different types of physical activity such as resistance training and cardiovascular exercise.”
There’s also a social element to healthy aging, Cooper adds.
She says those who live full social lives—out of isolation, engaged in society and regularly spending time with family and friends—often live a healthier life for longer.
Fear of aging
The biggest misconception about aging is that longer lifespans mean prolonged suffering, says Macpherson, but that’s not the case.
In 2014, a survey by Harris Poll and pharmaceutical giant Pfizer found that 87% of Americans were afraid of getting old.
“Ageism is going to take a while to filter out,” Macpherson says. “When you tell people humans can live to 120, they think the last years are just extra time suffering, when actually you’re just in a younger body for longer.”
He argues aging is at the core of many health problems, and that the aim for experts is to “push out” the length of time before people are affected by diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
“I think preventative wellness could be bigger than pharmaceuticals in 20 years because it means people can get in front of these problems instead of waiting for them to happen,” Macpherson predicts.
Aging is often presented as something to fear, Cooper also points out, and is widely associated with images of frailty and vulnerability as opposed to energy and opportunity.
“What we’re trying to do is give people 20 or 30 more years of vital health to contribute, feeding wisdom or work back into the community,” she says. “It’s crazy if you think about it: many of us retire at 65. We should be able to work for as long as we want, it could mean a huge amount of resources going back to countries.”
During the pandemic, retirees proved the value older workers can contribute to society. In New York, 1,000 retired practitioners offered to return to the medical front lines in a single day, while the U.K. is still offering a “keep-caring” option to doctors coming up to the age of retirement in order to work through the pandemic healthcare backlog.
Cooper believes that ultimately, increased life expectancies should be seen as a “reflection of success of the human endeavor” instead of being framed as a “grey tsunami” and something to escape.
“Even phrases in the beauty industry like anti-aging promotes a negative idea when in fact it’s an opportunity to continue to contribute,” she says.
Since 2000, global life expectancy has risen by more than six years, reaching 73.4 years in 2019.
The World Health Organization, which has often drawn attention to the importance of healthy aging, has warned that as the global population ages faster than ever before, economic output and healthcare services are likely to come under pressure.
As 46-year-old Blueprint founder Johnson is proving, reversing or preventing aging can be an expensive endeavor.
Johnson—who takes more than 110 vitamins a day and has his final meal by 11am—has the financial resources to pursue his research and development into aging well, showcasing an issue societies will soon have to come to terms with: aging inequality.
It’s key to combat inequality in aging early in the conversation Macpherson, who is the co-founder of the Wellness Access Institute, believes.
“We need to treat and train everybody to make longevity accessible. A healthier population doesn’t drain a health system—there are massive economic benefits,” he says.
Policies aimed at increasing life expectancy can benefit those already at the top end of the income scale, Cooper argues, and could potentially widen the gap even more.
But aging also presents an opportunity to close this gap, she believes, as long as interventions also address the poor health countries often see among their most economically deprived demographics.
“It all goes back to the fact that in order to age well, you have to reach that older age,” she says.