Can life start at forty

Getting older healthy begins in the now

If you want to grow old healthily, you should change your lifestyle between 40 and 50 at the latest, eat more healthily and get vaccinations. At least that's what experts in biogerontology advise.

A 30-year-old today has a good chance of turning 100. Of course, the years are not a gift, you have to contribute something yourself - and start at the latest when you are 40 or 50. "This is a critical phase of life in which we can still intervene well and take preventive measures in order to age reasonably healthily," explains Beatrix Grubeck-Loebenstein, head of the Research Institute for Biomedical Aging Research at the University of Innsbruck. Her research focus is the relatively young discipline of biogerontology, which deals with the causes of biological aging. "We try to improve the quality of life in old age."

The genes are only 30 percent "to blame" for the biological aging process; the environment and lifestyle are responsible for 70 percent. “The lifestyle that you have at 40 or 50 years of age has a major impact on what your age will be. That is why people of this age are also an important target group for biogerontology. "

But why is the age between 40 and 50 so crucial? The regenerative capacity of the body is known to decline, and the aforementioned age, according to the researcher, is a real turning point. Until then, new healthy cells will be continuously produced. Then it goes downhill.

New T cells no longer mature. The thymus gland, for example, is particularly affected by the aging process. In this organ, T cells (lymphocytes, which play an important role in the human immune system and which, among other things, recognize antigens) mature. The thymus gland recedes, however, until the age of 40 or 50 the thymus cells are more or less completely replaced by adipose tissue. New T cells can no longer mature. This is not quite as bad as it sounds at first, because there are enough T cells in the body, they can survive for years in the spleen or lymph nodes. And if they are pre-stimulated in good time (for example by vaccination) and differentiate into memory cells, they can - in concert with other cells - still provide valuable service into old age.

The so-called immunological memory, which is very important for protection against diseases and the effectiveness of vaccinations, develops better in younger years. "For example, if you plan to travel a lot after retiring, you should get travel vaccinations when you are 40 or 50, then adequate vaccination protection is much more guaranteed in old age," recommends Grubeck-Loebenstein. "But if you only get vaccinated against yellow fever or rabies for the first time at the age of 60, you have to reckon with a worse effect." You shouldn't wait until 60 to get the flu vaccination.

Of course, you can never start a healthy life early enough, “but at 40 you can still move a lot, later it gets more and more difficult.” Keyword regular exercise: If you didn't start before your fourth or fifth decade, you have now still good cards to move towards healthy aging with regular Nordic walking or cycling. "At 60 or even 70 it is much more difficult, then it has been proven that only very few can bring themselves to it."

The same applies to healthy eating - at 60 it is much more difficult to change your diet than at 40. “If I stop drinking too much alcohol at 40, the liver still has a real chance of regenerating. That is much, much more difficult 20 years later. "

Social contacts. However, a healthy diet also has pitfalls. Because not everything is as healthy as the reputation that precedes some. A current study by the Chamber of Labor of Lower Austria shows that the oh-so-healthy smoothies often cannot keep what the advertising promises and are more sugar than vitamin bombs. “The open smoothies from the fast food chains Burger King and McDonalds have the highest sugar content. With almost 79 grams per 100 milliliters, consumers also drink 20 sugar cubes with the fruit pulp, ”it says in a broadcast. According to the AKNÖ, it is surprising that even vegetable smoothies are no guarantee of a low sugar value. Merkur's green smoothie, which is made from cabbage, cucumber, lettuce and spinach, still contains twelve sugar cubes. However, a lot of sugar is an aging agent that can accelerate the aging process.

Social contacts are also very important for healthy aging, says Grubeck-Loebenstein. Loneliness can also trigger a wide variety of diseases. At 40 you can still build friendships, at 60, 70 it becomes more and more difficult for many. The course for healthy aging has to be set by the age of 40 or 50 at the latest, the last great chance for good aging.

Old and healthy

Getting old healthy you can't plan. But there are a few things that can help: regular physical activity and a healthy diet, for example. Likewise, social and psychological framework conditions, such as lifelong learning, a fulfilled partnership, social contacts or a positive attitude towards life. The genes also play an important role.

These factors have a positive influence on the aging process:

- social factors such as lifestyle, standard of living, social conditions, professional situation, level of education or medical care,

- individual factors such as lifestyle (e.g. diet, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption), social behavior, coping with stress, etc. as well as

- genetic factors.

("Die Presse", print edition, 25.10.2015)