Not everyone wants to live forever. Our articles focus on scientific developments that could extend human lifespan, but if you’re not interested in living longer, this could leave you feeling a little left out. We’re not quite sure why you’re visiting this site if that’s the case, but just to be safe, here are our top six strategies for ageing faster and shortening your lifespan.
Spending a lot of time sitting down is an excellent way to shorten your lifespan. Research investigating cause-specific mortality suggests that sitting for 6 hours a day or more is associated with a 19% higher all-cause mortality rate compared with those sitting for less than 3 hours. Causes of death unsurprisingly include cardiovascular disease, stroke and diabetes, but also neurodegenerative disease and nervous disorders. Of course, this effect may be because individuals who sit for long periods tend to exercise less, not because sitting is intrinsically bad for you. However, research suggests that’s not the whole story.
Prolonged sitting has been found to be associated with declining health, even in individuals who get the recommended daily levels of exercise. This may be because sitting time is associated with low grade inflammation, as has been suggested by some research. Such inflammation is associated with most chronic diseases and is thought to be a key driver of the ageing process. If you want to age faster by raising your levels of inflammatory markers, then sitting down could be an effortless and effective way to do it.
We know that ageing is associated with changes in sleep patterns – older adults find it harder to get to sleep, wake up more often during the night, and overall tend to sleep slightly less than younger adults. It’s not entirely clear to what extend ageing causes sleep loss vs sleep loss accelerating ageing, but there are certainly mechanisms by which lack of sleep could accelerate the development of age-related diseases. For example, the brain waves that occur in deep sleep may be important for the clearance of toxic waste proteins such as those linked with Alzheimer’s disease. Research has also suggested that even a single night of mild sleep deprivation is associated with measurable changes linked with ageing, including DNA damage and the accumulation of senescent cells (non-dividing ‘zombie’ cells that promote inflammation).
If you want to age faster, we recommend limiting yourself to no more than 7 hours of sleep per night, and preferably less. One of the great things about sleep deprivation is that you can use the time you gain from not sleeping to do something else on this list, like sitting down.
Chronic stress is an effective way of ageing faster. Prolonged periods of stress can not only increase your blood pressure, which contributes to multiple diseases of ageing, but can also have effects on your DNA. Some studies suggest a small but significant relationship between high levels of stress and the shortening of telomeres, the protective caps on the ends of our chromosomes. Sufficiently shortened telomeres cause cells to enter senescence, a state that is thought to be central to the ageing process.
We recommend taking on a second job, preferably a night shift that involves sitting. You can use your increased income to buy the next three items on this list.
There is some evidence that consuming a small amount of alcohol can have health benefits. However, in larger quantities alcohol can accelerate aspects of ageing. It has been associated with telomere shortening in Alzheimer’s disease, facial and skin ageing, and is linked to changes to the DNA that are associated with ageing. While most of these changes have been studied in heavy drinkers, you might not need to drink a lot to receive some of the ageing effects of alcohol. One study published last year suggests that even moderate alcohol consumption may be linked to a decline in brain volume that is already detectable in early middle-age.
If you want to age rapidly, we suggest not holding back on the alcohol. As for your choice of drink, we suggest avoiding wine, as it contains antioxidants that may counteract some of the pro-ageing effects.
Sugar is excellent for accelerating the ageing process for a few reasons. High sugar consumption increases the risk of developing insulin resistance (the body’s ability to control blood sugar is impaired) and type II diabetes. Type II diabetes can in turn increase your risk of developing other diseases of ageing such as heart disease and dementia. High blood sugar can promote inflammation, which is a key driver of the ageing process. If you want to age quickly, you should try to always keep you blood sugar as high as possible.
Sugar also ages you cosmetically by reacting with proteins or lipids to form advanced glycation end-products. These molecules can react with proteins in the skin to link them together, leading to a loss of firmness and elasticity. This process can also occur elsewhere in the body, and is thought to contribute to diseases of ageing like heart disease (by stiffening the walls of the arteries), and Alzheimer’s disease (by promoting the formation of amyloid plaques).
The form in which you consume sugar is important. The sugar that is naturally found in fruits is mixed with fibre, which slows the absorption of sugar in the gut. For the purpose of ageing rapidly, you should avoid fruits in favour of refined sugar, which is sugar that has been extracted from sugar cane or sugar beat. Alternatively, look for foods that contain corn-syrup. This is a sugar derived from corn starch that is ideal for increasing the calories in foods without adding any nutritional value. It can often be found in foods advertised as ‘low fat’, as manufacturers use it to add flavour.
Smoking is arguably the single most effective thing you can do to age faster, as it promotes most of the fundamental biological processes thought to underlie ageing. Cigarette smoke promotes inflammation, shortens telomeres, promotes senescence, and causes damage to DNA and to mitochondria. Overall, smoking is estimated to shorten your lifespan by about 10 years, and is a well recognised accelerator of the ageing process.
It’s worth noting that those who stop smoking before the age of 35 can regain most if not all of the aforementioned 10 years of lost life. Luckily for those for whom old age can’t come soon enough, components of cigarette smoke (nicotine foremost among them) are addictive, meaning it’s very easy to maintain a consistent smoking habit.
Partial Sleep Deprivation Activates the DNA Damage Response (DDR) and the Senescence-Associated Secretory Phenotype (SASP) in Aged Adult Humans: https://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.bbi.2015.08.024
Perceived Stress and Telomere Length: A Systematic Review, Meta-Analysis, and Methodologic Considerations for Advancing the Field: https://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.bbi.2016.02.002
Telomere shortening in alcohol dependence: Roles of alcohol and acetaldehyde: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2018.11.007
DNA methylation age is accelerated in alcohol dependence: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41398-018-0233-4
Skin aging: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18709289/
Moderate alcohol use is associated with decreased brain volume in early middle age in both sexes: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-70910-5
Glucose control and the inflammatory response: https://doi.org/10.1177/011542650802300103
Smoking, health and ageing: https://dx.doi.org/10.1186%2F1742-4933-5-10
THE ROLE OF TOBACCO SMOKE INDUCED MITOCHONDRIAL DAMAGE IN VASCULAR DYSFUNCTION AND ATHEROSCLEROSIS: https://dx.doi.org/10.1016%2Fj.mrfmmm.2007.02.010
Prolonged Leisure Time Spent Sitting in Relation to Cause-Specific Mortality in a Large US Cohort : https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwy125
Sedentary Time and Its Association With Risk for Disease Incidence, Mortality, and Hospitalization in Adults: https://doi.org/10.7326/M14-1651
Sedentary Time and Markers of Chronic Low-Grade Inflammation in a High Risk Population: https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0078350
Coupled electrophysiological, hemodynamic, and cerebrospinal fluid oscillations in human sleep: https://doi.org/10.1126/science.aax5440