The way we live and how this contributes to the way we age

The way we live and how this contributes to the way we age

Our dietary and lifestyle behaviours have a significant impact on the way we age. Our genetic make up and propensities for different health conditions can be influenced positively or negatively by epigenetics – factors beyond genetics found in our environment.

We have two ages. The traditional measurement of age is your chronological age. Science now enables us to determine your biological age – the age your cells are acting. These two ages can be very different depending on factors such as genetics and lifestyle. The good news is that, unlike chronological age, you can positively impact your biological age through lifestyle changes and supplement regimes.
We have created a series of blogs to help you understand how lifestyle and dietary behaviours influence the way you age.
Click on the link below each dietary and lifestyle topic below to find out more about how they contribute to your aging journey and tips on how you can develop behaviours that are more congruent with aging well.


We all know that exercise is good for us in many ways. Through exercise we can improve the way we feel, the way we look, our energy levels, heart and lung health, resilience to stress and so much more. 

Physical activity is consistently associated with improved cognitive function, better health and ultimately a longer lifespan. 

There are many people in their 60s that are fitter than some in their 30s and 40s. Conversely, often our energy levels, mobility and strength decline as we age. So, what can we do to age better?

Studies into the best type of exercise for longevity are mixed and it seems that overall, the type of exercise may be less relevant than being active instead of sedentary. If you don’t have an existing exercise regime, studies show that it is best to pace yourself and alternate between exercise and recovery days.

You don’t have to go to the gym to improve your activity levels, there are many ways to incorporate more movement into your daily life.  Gardening, household chores and walking to the local shops count too.

Positive effect on biological age: 

  • Regular exercise or movement

Negative effect on biological age: 

  • Sedentary lifestyle


Eating a healthy diet goes a long way towards a healthy body and mind. Research has shown that our nutrition and dietary habits directly affect the way we age. 
Whole foods provide our bodies with the components it requires to function well, whereas the components from processed foods are not recognised by the body and can be harmful.  When we eat processed foods, we introduce foreign chemicals into the body, and this contributes to the level of oxidative stress in our body. The issues that may result include weight gain, fatigue, inflammatory conditions and allergies.
Research has shown that our nutrition and dietary habits directly affect the way we age. Whilst genetics impacts the way we age, we can significantly influence our health at a cellular level through the way we live, eating a healthy diet and by restricting our calorie intake.
Calorie restrictive diets, such as intermittent fasting, and diets high in fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, dark chocolate and green tea have been shown to beneficially effect longevity. 
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Varied wholefoods diet and calorie restrictive diets

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Processed foods and over-eating


Cigarette smoking is harmful to nearly every cell, organ and system in the human body. It causes damage at a cellular level that ultimately damages our health and impacts the way we age. 
Many of the effects of smoking are well known, such as weakened cardiovascular and respiratory health, reduced skin tone and elasticity, and increased risk of cancer. However, what is happening at a cellular level and if we are not in a place where we are ready or able to give up, is there anything else we can do to support our health?
Exposure to the chemicals found in cigarettes cause oxidative stress in the body, leading to long lasting damage to our cellular membranes and DNA.
Smoking not only leads to oxidative stress, but it also depletes key antioxidants that help to defend our body against the impact of oxidative stress.
Smokers can improve their health through increasing consumption of wholefoods, eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. Detoxification pathways can be supported through eating high sulphur vegetables, regular exercising, dry skin brushing, saunas and plenty of water.
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Supporting detoxification pathways, increasing intake of fruit/veg and exercise

Negative effect on biological age: 

  • Smoking


The way alcohol affects the way we age varies from person to person, depending on our genetics and the way we live. 
The Blue Zones are regions of the world that have been identified as places where people live longer and have the highest percentage of centenarians.  Their lifestyles have been studied to identify those habits that contribute to a longer a healthier life. This illustrates that, if overall you are living a healthy lifestyle, then the odd glass or two could contribute positively to your health.
Studies are inconclusive regarding the levels of alcohol that are considered to be within the healthy range. However, the consensus shows that drinking in moderation is better for your health than overindulging.
This becomes more important especially as we get older, as drinking in excess can contribute to age related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease and lowered immunity. 
Positive effect on biological age:

  • 1-2 units per week combined with an overall healthy lifestyle

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Excessive drinking


Although most of us appreciate that sugar is detrimental to health, it can be hard to give up, even when we know that we are consuming too much. Biologically we are primed to reach for sweet foods for nourishment and energy. 
Excess sugar consumption is associated with metabolic conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and dental cavities. 
It causes oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, which can lead to the development of disease and aggravate existing health conditions.
There are many ways to improve your chances of reducing your sugar intake.  Instead of focussing on reducing your intake, a good starting point is instead adding healthier foods and habits to your routine. Having a support network to encourage your endeavours and being prepared are key to successfully changing unhealthier lifestyle and dietary habits. You can further support yourself by incorporating herbs and minerals such as chromium, magnesium, fenugreek and berberine. You can also include naturally sweet alternatives in your diet, such as licorice tea or a sprinkling of cinnamon.
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Limited sugar consumption/finding alternatives

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Regular or high sugar consumption

Body fat

Obesity has become a worldwide health issue for adults, children, and adolescents alike. 

The New Zealand Health Survey 2019/20 found 1 in 3 adults to be obese.  Obesity can lead to poor health outcomes and reduced life expectancy.
Waist to height ratio is thought to be a better indicator of health risk than body mass index (BMI), as this takes weight distribution into account. Central fat obesity, or abdominal fat, can lead to poorer health outcomes and reduced life expectancy.
Some of the mechanisms that contribute to weight gain and obesity include stress, sleep duration, levels of physical activity and dietary choices.
Senescent cells are “zombie like” cells that have stopped performing their function and dividing in a healthy way, due to cellular damage. This is a natural stage of a cells lifecycle, and the immune system is primed to clear these cells from the body. However, over time, senescent cells can accumulate to a point where the immune system can no longer keep up with clearing them from the system.
When senescent cells build up and linger in the body, they secrete inflammatory molecules, and this contributes to development of age-related diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. In fact, these two conditions can both cause, and be caused by the systemic inflammation associated with accumulated senescent cells. This is because obesity and diabetes encourage an environment that promotes the build-up of senescent cells.
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Waist to height ratio of 0.4 to 0.49

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Central fat obesity/abdominal fat


Whilst missing the occasional night’s sleep is not going to do you much harm, long term sleep deprivation can impact our health and the way we age.
Lack of sleep disrupts our circadian rhythms, causing a negative impact on behaviours and mood. It has been linked to increased anger, anxiety, depressed mood and negative affect and/or decreased positive mood.
Sleep plays a crucial role in our health and wellbeing, due to the many restorative processes that repair the body at a cellular level each night. Sleep deprivation is associated with the onset of neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Lack of sleep reduces the bodies’ ability to clear cellular debris from the brain, leading to increased oxidative stress and inflammation, cognitive dysfunction and memory impairment.
The quality and duration of our sleep is also implicated in chronic pain conditions. Disrupted sleep or lack of sleep increases our pain sensitivity and exacerbates symptoms such as headaches and muscle pain. Poor sleep is thought to down regulate the systems that reduce pain, whilst upregulating the systems that increase sensitivity to pain and inflammation in the body.
To improve sleep, it is a good idea to reduce sleep disruptors, such as blue light, spicy food, caffeine and certain medications in the hours before going to bed. Consistency of your bedtime routine and finding ways to download our worries and thoughts can also help establish better sleep habits.
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Generally 7-8 hours of quality sleep

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Under 6 hours of sleep or poor-quality sleep

Pollution and chemicals

These days the quality of our indoor and outdoor air is ever-increasingly compromised by pollution, chemicals and environmental factors. Living closer to industrial and traffic pollution sources, exposure to cigarette smoke, damp houses, cooking fumes and contamination to the air we breathe, mean that our bodies have to work harder and harder to stay healthy, and we’re increasingly seeing the impacts this is having on our health.
On a cellular level, air pollution affects the way our genes instruct our cells to behave and increases the risk of increased inflammation and the development of health conditions for which we are genetically predisposed.
Although we can’t avoid exposure to all environmental pollutants, there are measures that you can take to reduce exposure, encourage detoxification and build resilience to them.  Avoiding walking or running on main roads, exercising, keeping well hydrated and dry skin brushing can reduce exposure and improve elimination.  You can also choose natural household and skin care products and introduce air purifying plants to your home or office environment.
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Natural household and skin products/organic foods/clean air

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Industrial and traffic pollution/damp housing/smoke/fumes/processed foods


Our body cannot differentiate between real and perceived stress. When our stress levels are continually elevated beyond the short-term stress needed to meet that study deadline or nail that job interview, it starts to become detrimental to our health. 
At a cellular level, stress in all its forms – psychological, physical, mental, emotional and environmental – leads to oxidative stress, a term used to describe an imbalance in the body where free radicals outnumber antioxidants.
Oxidative stress damage accumulates as we age. This leads to cellular damage and accumulation of cellular debris in the body, causing inflammation, cellular ageing and the development of chronic diseases, such as neurodegenerative, cardiovascular, and metabolic diseases.
Learning stress management techniques helps us better respond to different circumstances that arise in our lives. There are so many options and approaches available and one size doesn’t fit all. Some may like to actively relax through sport or other hobbies, such as gardening or dance. Others may be more inclined to read a book, meditate or practise gentle yoga. Simply taking time out to relax or talking things through with friends and family can be all that you need to ease those stresses and strains.  
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Stress management

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Ongoing or excessive perceived or actual stress

Mental outlook

Mental health has a huge impact on your health and wellbeing but can easily be neglected when trying to navigate day to day priorities and responsibilities. 
The way you age is impacted by the way you perceive ageing, as this effects physical and mental health. A positive attitude towards ageing can inspire a higher self-rating of health and satisfaction with life. On the other hand, a negative view of aging can lead to reduced physical health, mood, and sense of wellbeing.
There are a number of ways you can encourage a positive mental outlook.  Social interaction, practising gratitude, finding a sense of purpose, exercise, spending time in nature, good quality sleep and reducing stress levels all contribute to improve mental wellbeing.
Positive effect on biological age:

  • Connection, purpose, gratitude, attitude, exercise, nature, sleep and stress management

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Isolation, loneliness, stress, poor sleep, sedentary lifestyle and poor nutrition

UV damage

Your skin is a major safeguard tissue, and it is susceptible to damage from external stressors.
UVA penetrates deeply into the skin (the dermis) causing genetic damage to cells, photo-ageing and immune-suppression. UVB penetrates the top layer of the skin causing damage to the cells. UVB is responsible for sunburn – a significant risk factor for skin cancer, especially melanoma.

Skin cancer risk increases in older adults who may have spent decades in the sun, because of the cumulative effect UV rays have. Additionally, benign skin lesions, brown spots, and other signs of aging appear as a result of this exposure.

You can support you skin through moderating your exposure and eating foods high in B vitamins, carotenoids and antioxidants to support the repair of sun damage.
Positive effect on biological age: 

  • Limiting sun exposure, covering up, foods rich in antioxidants, vitamin C and B vitamins

Negative effect on biological age:

  • Over exposure to UVA and UVB rays and sunburn


Suzy Walsh 

BBA (Hons)., BNat., mNMHNZ

Registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist