He believes we can all live longer than expected.
About midway through his new book, Young Forever, Dr. Mark Hyman makes a rather bold declaration.
“I plan to live to be 120, maybe even 180, in good health, savoring the miraculous gift of this life every day,” he writes.
That may sound outlandish, but the physician and author is convinced that longevity research has advanced to the point where scientists have determined the cellular mechanisms that cause aging — and how we can slow the process. In Young Forever, he explains the cellular changes occurring within us that cause us to grow old and how factors like diet, exercise, stress, and sleep can either accelerate or slow that process. And he presents his anti-aging program, which the 63-year-old says has helped him wind back his biological clock by about 20 years.
“The science of longevity is challenging our view of aging as a period of slow decline into frailty, disability, and chronic disease,” Dr. Hyman tells us. “These are not the results of normal aging but abnormal aging, a condition now considered a treatable disease. Disease and accelerated aging are simply our body’s best attempts to deal with a bad set of circumstances. Scientists have now proven that we can become biologically younger as we grow chronologically older.”
But, how? “Embedded within our biology are ancient survival pathways, longevity switches, that when activated, engage our innate healing systems that can repair, renew, and rejuvenate our bodies at any age,” he says. “The key to a long healthy life is learning how to work with our biology to activate rather than impede our longevity programming.”
We spoke to Dr. Hyman about what we get wrong about aging, society’s search for the fountain of youth, and the basic lifestyle changes we can all make to live healthier, longer lives. Plus, how close we are to extending the average lifespan to 120 years and beyond.
Katie Couric Media: I think a lot of us believe that how long we live largely comes down to luck and genetics. You challenge this view. What does the science say about how much control we really have over our lifespan?
Dr: Hyman: The science of longevity has defined unique preventable and treatable dysfunctions called the hallmarks of aging. What matters more than our genes is how those genes are expressed. Over 90 percent of chronic disease is caused by our exposome (the sum total of all our life experiences, habits, and exposures), not our genome. It’s what we eat, how we move (or don’t), stress, how we sleep, environmental exposures, our microbiome, and more. Things are almost completely in our control. In places where there are 20 times the number of centenarians as in America, they don’t have unique genes, just good habits.
Can you tell us about the ways we can now measure “biological age” versus chronological age and why people may want to find out what theirs is?
For the first time, we have a biomarker — a test that can measure our biological age, something we can monitor over time as we make changes in our lifestyle and habits. Some of these are available through your physician or through home testing kits. Function Health, a new kind of healthcare company, allows you to order your own tests without your physician’s order. It allows you to test for over 100 biomarkers in my Young Forever Longevity Panel and also check for cancer with the Galleri liquid biopsy and your biological age with the TruDiagnostic DNA methylation test.
I’ve used these tests on myself and with my patients. While we’re still learning how to apply them in clinical medicine, I find them useful in assessing your current biological age, measuring the status of your telomeres, the rate of inflammageing, screening for early-stage disease, designing a disease-reversal strategy, and monitoring interventions over time.
Is it possible for us to wind back our biological age?
Absolutely! My own life has changed for the better by adopting the principles I lay out in Young Forever. (Yes, I practice what I preach!) I’m chronologically 63, but my biological age is 43.
Even more importantly, I feel like I am 25 years old again, except I have more wisdom and meaning and a beautiful community of friends. My body is stronger than ever, and I feel more energetic, challenged, and motivated. I feel as though I am just beginning my journey.
How did you develop the Young Forever program? And what are its core concepts?
Young Forever is in many ways a culmination of my life’s work. I’ve been studying and applying Functional Medicine to tens of thousands of patients for over 30 years. I’ve dived into their biology for clues to the root causes of disease. I’ve deeply explored their genetics, microbiomes, immune function, hormones, mitochondria, detoxification systems, and structural systems — the network of interconnected systems that explain nearly all diseases. This has given me a deep understanding of the web-like ecosystem of our biology that’s the foundation of the Young Forever program.
The core concept is simple: You can stop and reverse biological aging by activating your built-in longevity pathways using very specific strategies for eating well, exercising regularly, managing stress, and making adjustments to your environment, the right supplements, and some emerging therapies.
For people who aren’t yet ready to fully commit to the program, are there one or two lifestyle changes you suggest they make now to increase their lifespan?
Past research documented three research-backed keys to living longer: Don’t smoke, maintain a weight deemed healthy for you by clinicians you trust, and exercise. If you can do just these three things, the scientific data says you can live a long, healthy, and vigorous life. But newer data show that the two most important things you can do to live a long healthy life are:
1. Optimize your diet for longevity: Eliminate ultra-processed foods; dramatically cut sugar and starch, which drive almost all the hallmarks of aging; eat lots of colorful fruits and vegetables; and get about 100 grams of protein a day (more if you’re bigger or exercising more)
2. Maintain and build muscle with resistance or strength training at least three times a week.
The next most important thing is to build close relationships and community.
You write that your goal is to live between 120 to 180 years. Can you tell us about your personal diet, exercise, and some of the experimental longevity therapies you’re using to help get you there?
I follow a Pegan Diet, a food-as-medicine approach to eating. I invest in high-quality supplements to get the vitamins and minerals that are missing even in the best diet (due to our industrial farming techniques that strip many of the nutrients from our food before it ever hits our plate). Exercise is the most powerful longevity “drug” on the planet but I don’t go to the gym. Instead, I enjoy activities like biking, tennis, and yoga, and I use resistance bands for strength training. I avoid alcohol and caffeine (except for one cup in the morning) to help ensure I’m getting quality sleep. During Covid, I reached out to my closest male friends to start a men’s group. The science on the power of community and belonging for longevity is overwhelming. We meet every week on Zoom, and it has deeply enriched my life. I also regularly do cold and hot therapies — such as a brief cold shower or a hot bath or sauna session.
Nearly everything I’ve mentioned has a low barrier to entry. Yes, there are more expensive, less accessible experimental longevity therapies that can help if you have the means, but the tools we need to live a long, happy life are right in front of us. We can all adopt them; they just require a little commitment and discipline.
What are some of the longevity therapies and innovations being developed now that you believe have the most potential to help us live longer?
Extraordinary scientific and medical advances are on the short-term horizon. The Nobel Prize was given to a scientist who proved you can reprogram your cells to a younger version. Hip and knee replacements and heart and kidney transplants will become the stuff of history books. And the reversal of age-related biomarkers and pathologies has been proven in the lab in human cells and animal aging models, and many applying these discoveries are reversing their biological age.
With some of these advances, how long do aging researchers think we’ll eventually be able to live on average?
Currently, scientists working at the frontiers of aging can consistently extend life in animals by 30 percent or more, which is equivalent to humans reaching 120 years old.
The question is, how much further can they extend the average life span? In some yeast models, they have been able to extend life to the equivalent of 1,000 human years. Reaching 120 or 150 or even 200 (while still feeling youthful and vibrant) will soon be possible.
Is there reason to believe that through scientific advancements we’ll one day be able to figure out how to stop aging altogether?
It may be possible but it’s still science fiction. Leading aging researchers suggest if you can maintain your health for another 10 or 15 years, you’ll be alive when we might reach longevity escape velocity — when our scientific advances will keep pushing death off indefinitely.