Lifespan: The Book and Age-defying Lifestyle of Dr. David Sinclair
If a long, healthy lifespan is of interest to you, learn what lifestyle habits anti-aging researcher Dr. David Sinclair and his family do to improve their health and extend their lives.
Dr. David Sinclair is a lifespan expert; meaning, this Harvard geneticist has devoted his adult life to researching how animals — including us humans — can extend their healthy lifespans beyond today’s USA average of 79 years. (1)
Earlier this week, I finished Dr. David Sinclair’s book, Lifespan: Why We Age — And Why We Don’t Have To. I want to tell you about his novel theory of aging and what it suggests that you can do to put more life into your years; in fact, I reveal what he and his family are doing to live longer, stronger.
Here’s what’s covered:
- Who is Dr. David Sinclair and why should you listen to him
- Sinclair’s Information Theory of Aging
- Eat fewer calories to increase lifespan
- Exercise to increase lifespan
- Measure how you’re doing to manage what you’re doing
- Promising healthspan enhancing supplements
- Expose your body to hot and cold
- Sinclair’s other lifestyle habits
Let’s dig in…
Why Dr. David Sinclair Is Worthy of Your Attention
Dr. Sinclair has become best known for understanding why we age and how to reverse it. His research focuses on genes and small molecules that delay aging, including the sirtuin genes, resveratrol, and NAD precursors, which are chief among the topics of most of the more than 170 scientific papers he and his team have published.
Dr. Sinclair is also the coinventor on more than 50 patents, and has cofounded 14 biotechnology companies in the areas of aging, vaccines, diabetes, fertility, cancer, and biodefense. Along the way, the man has collected a dizzying number of awards and accolades, including the Australian Medical Research Medal, the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award, Time magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” (2014) and the “Top 50 People in Healthcare” (2018). In 2018, he became an Officer of the Order of Australia for his work in medicine and national security. (2)
I tell you all this about Sinclair so you can have a sense of confidence about the value of his research, the new theory of aging he’s developed, and his family’s personal lifespan extension habits. He’s committed to living longer than the average bear, sorta speak, and to do it in good health.
Dr. Sinclair’s Information Theory of Aging
The first third of Dr. Sinclair’s book is a march through the genetic science and his novel “Information Theory of Aging,” an attempt to provide a long-sought unified theory of aging. The information theory posits that our cells break down because they make increasingly poor analog copies of themselves, like cassette tape recordings.
But there’s another information providing aspect hardwired into our biology that Sinclair analogizes as digital information. In an interview with Erin Sharoni of the health analyzing website InsideTracker, Dr. Sinclair describes it thus:
Just to be clear:
The genome is an organism’s complete set of DNA, including all of its genes. Each genome contains all of the information needed to build and maintain that organism. In humans, a copy of the entire genome—more than 3 billion DNA base pairs—is contained in all cells that have a nucleus. (3)
The epigenome is the set of chemical compounds and proteins that can attach to the genome and control or modify the expression of genes by turning them on or off, often referred to as “epigenetic changes”. Such changes can be influenced by various factors such as the environment, lifestyle, age, and disease state. (4)
In a Mashable article, Chris Taylor writes that over time, the DNA in each cell gets frayed, the cell walls become weak and collapse. Our cells began life as stem cells and through their programming evolve to specific forms, such as a heart cell, a skin cell, or a brain cell. But as we get older, some of these cells, in effect, have an identity crisis, and move toward becoming stem cells again. As this happens, rather than transforming into stem cells they become some other type of cells, like a needle skipping on a record player.
This loss of cellular identity can cause tumors, collapsed capillaries, and other cellular mistakes. Sinclair says that this loss of information leads to heart disease, cancer, pain, frailty and death. We can’t yet get our cells to make lossless digital copies of themselves, he says, but we should be able to treat copying errors “like scratches on a CD.”
How do we do that?
How this is done in humans is not been proven as yet, but we know how to do it in mice. Sinclair’s experiments have confirmed that protein enzymes called sirtuins can boost the strength of cells so much that they stop having identity crises and try to become something other than what they are. Further, you can activate sirtuins with a “helper molecule” called NAD. His experiments with mice showed that old mice consuming an NAD precursor, a molecule called NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide), increased NAD sufficiently that their blood vessels became healthy and young, abundant in oxygen, and resulting in improving their treadmill running distances beyond that achievable by younger mice. (5)
If you can spare 48 minutes, I wholeheartedly recommend you watch Dr. Sinclair’s interview with Tom Bilyeu, where he explains:
- the information theory of aging [0:59]
- the difference between genes and the epigenome [2:17]
- the way that cell stress causes aging [5:20]
- what proteins are and how they work [6:40]
- lifestyle changes to slow down or reverse aging [9:14]
- the value of stressing the system by consistent fasting [10:52]
- why we don’t live as long as whales [15:01]
- resetting the biological clock [16:16]
- how to tell when someone is going to die [18:47]
- why people are taking metformin [20:03]
- his regimen of exercise and metformin [24:18]
- the benefits of cold exposure [25:28]
- work he’s done to try to reset the aging clock [29:01]
- why you don’t want to turn the cellular clock back too far [31:37]
- the actual process of reversing aging in masses of cells [33:20]
- some results with mice that appear to reverse aging [36:40]
- his father’s story of metformin and NMN use [38:10]
- the effects of resveratrol [39:07]
- the kinds of testing he advocates [43:13]
- the impact he wants to have on the world [45:44]
The rest of this piece delves into what Dr. Sinclair, his family — and even his dogs — are doing to improve their healthy lifespan. In this, I’m guided by his own remarks written in the Conclusion of his book, Lifespan: Why We Age — And Why We Don’t Have To. To those remarks, I add my own commentary, including resources that you can use for further investigation on topics of interest.
Here’s what remains to be covered:
- Eat fewer calories — less per meal, drop a meal, fast one day
- Exercise — mobility, aerobic and strength training
- Measure to manage — how else do know if anything’s working?
- Promising supplements — NMN, NR, Resveratrol or Pterostilbene, K2+D3
- Hot/Cold — sauna and cold shower
Note that Dr. Sinclair emphasizes that he does not:
- Give medical advice, or
- Suggest that his lifespan protocol works for him or would for you, or
- Recommend any supplements.
Eat Fewer Calories to Improve Lifespan
I strive to keep my sugar, bread, and pasta intake as low as possible. I gave up desserts at age 40, though I do steal tastes. I try to skip one meal a day or at least make it really small. My busy schedule almost always means that I miss lunch most days of the week.
Chris Taylor’s article that I mentioned earlier cites study after study after study that shows restricting calories leads to a longer life. Thankfully, you can restrict calories in several ways, one of which may better fit your lifestyle and temperament. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you fast for several days a week, or for one week every few months, or only eat until you’re “80 percent full” like the long-lived Japanese in Okinawa tend to do, or meticulously stick to 1200 calories a day, or simply “forget” to eat one out of your three meals as Sinclair does.
Choose what works for you, but choose a protocol that genuinely restricts calories (here’s my article on various intermittent fasting techniques). However you do it, restricting calories puts a bit of stress on your body, which signals your cells to hunker down and protect themselves from potential DNA damage.
If you can afford it, a great way to do this is to go on the ProLon diet a couple of times a year. ProLon is a a five-day, $250 precision starvation diet originally developed by fasting expert Dr. Valter Longo for chemo patients that now has become popular in longevity-obsessed Silicon Valley.
However you go about restricting calories from time to time, it’s helpful to, as Sinclair advises, “treat hunger as a natural part of life”. The feeling of hunger does not have to make you panicky. It’s a natural feeling that was very common to our ancestors; it will not hurt you to become comfortable with it once again.
Caloric restriction is the gold standard for lifespan extension. Various animal cohorts from yeast (6) to fruit flies (7) to monkeys (8) have demonstrated increased healthy lifespan due to a sustained reduction of calories. Scientists are pretty sure that the lifespans of humans would be similarly extended by caloric restriction, but we’re harder to test, given our long lives and reluctance to live in caloric misery.
The lack of appeal of a sustained reduction in calories, but the desire for a long, healthy life, has been a driving motivator behind finding caloric restriction mimetics (like ProLon); meaning, protocols that could provide us the same benefits as eating less all the time while not actually having to do so. This is the appeal behind various forms of intermittent fasting and supplements (see below) that may do the trick.
As Dr. Sinclair notes above, he tries to reduce caloric dense, high blood sugar spiking foods (sugar, bread and pasta) and skips a meal each day (one of several approaches to Intermittent Fasting).
I eat a lot of plants and try to avoid eating other mammals, even though they do taste good. If I work out, I will eat meat.
It’s undeniable that plant foods are abundant in fiber and phytochemicals, both of which confer various health benefits to those who eat plenty of them. The value of eating meat, however, is debated vigorously. No doubt Dr. Sinclair’s perspective on meat (“avoid eating other mammals”) has been formed by most longevity research which shows a correlation between meat eating and reduced health and lifespans in humans. (9)
I aim to keep my body weight or BMI in the optimal range for healthspan, which for me is 23 to 25.
BMI stands for “Body Mass Index”, a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. Sinclair’s range of 23 to 25 is considered in the healthy range for a man of his height and weight.
Use the widget below to find out your BMI:
One big downside to the BMI calculation is that it doesn’t account for more than average muscle composition, so if you exercise in a manner that puts on muscle, you may be considered overweight by the BMI. (For more on BMI and related measurements of body composition, read my article, How Much Should You Weigh? Calculate Your Ideal Body Weight.)
Exercise To Improve Lifespan
I try to take a lot of steps each day and walk upstairs, and I go to the gym most weekends with my son, Ben; we lift weights, jog a bit…
The amount of exercise to improve healthspan/lifespan is less onerous than you might think. Just half an hour of heartbeat-raising activity on a regular basis has massively beneficial effects.
Sinclair obviously knows the profound beneficial effects that regular aerobic and strength training has on extending healthy lifespan. Business Insider’s senior health and tech reporter Erin Brodwin wrote an article that summarized research that showed how exercise may be the best protection against aging that we have.
A 2018 study of 1,600 British volunteers aged 60 to 64 found, she said, that those who spent less time sitting and more time moving had fewer signs of encroaching heart disease.
The effects were even noticeable when the researchers looked at participants’ activity in 10-minute chunks. Every 10 minutes spent doing some kind of movement — whether walking, playing tennis, or gardening — was linked with measurable improvements in at least one type of biomarker related to heart health.
Conversely, every 10 minutes spent sitting was tied to worse biomarker results.
Dr. Sinclair’s work load and incessant travel truly leaves him little time to get to the gym; therefore he incorporates movement into his ordinary daily activities, such as walking stairs, and parking far enough away from his destination to get a decent walk going.
If you’re intersted in developing a comprehensive exercise routine, check out my six-part series, The Functionally Fit Fast Workout.
Measure How You’re Doing to Manage What You’re Doing
Every few months, a phlebotomist comes to my home to draw my blood, which I have analyzed for dozens of biomarkers. When my levels of various markers are not optimal, I moderate them with food or exercise.
Dr. Sinclair uses the blood tracking service offered by Inside Tracker to analyze his blood and track the changes in the various biomarkers over time. That old saying, “You can’t manage what you don’t measure” comes to mind. Sinclair monitors and measures changes in various biomarkers that can manage his lifespan protocol accordingly.
This approach seems to be working, but since it hasn’t been scientifically validated, Sinclair chooses his words carefully:
It’s impossible to say if my regimen is working for us, but it doesn’t seem to be hurting. I am now 50, and I feel the same as I did when I was 30. My heart looks 30, too, according to a video of my heart in 3D that one of my colleagues kindly made by inserting me into an experimental magnetic resonance imager. I don’t have a gray hair, and I’m not superwrinkly—well, at least not yet.
Promising Lifespan Enhancing Supplements
I take 1 gram (1,000 mg) of NMN every morning, along with 1 gram of resveratrol (shaken into my homemade yogurt) and 1 gram of metformin. I take a daily dose of vitamin D, vitamin K2, and 83 mg of aspirin.
Supplements are far, far less regulated than medicines, so if I do take a supplement, I look for a large manufacturer with a good reputation, seek highly pure molecules (more than 98 percent is a good guide), and look for “GMP” on the label, which means the product was made under “good manufacturing practices.”
At 1 gram each, Dr. Sinclair’s doses of NMN and resveratrol exceed suggested daily use of both supplements. Typically, a person will take 250 mgs of NMN and about 500 mgs of resveratrol or pterostilbene, a supplement similar to resveratrol, but thought to be more absorbable.
Update (9/20/21): There's some controversy about the benefits of resveratrol. If you currently use resveratrol, or are considering it, make sure you read my update.
He doesn’t divulge which brands of supplements he takes, but I’ll share what I use:
- NMN — NMN Pro
- NR — Tru Niagen or Basis
Resveratrol— Resveratrol 1450 (Per the Update above, I currently am not taking resveratrol)
- Pterostilbene — Jarrow Formulas Natural Source Pterostilbene
- D3 + K2 combo — Quicksilver Scientific Nanoemulsified D3K2
Nicotinamide riboside, or NR, is converted to NMN, so some people take NR instead of NMN because it is cheaper. Cheaper still are niacin and nicotinamide, but they don’t seem to raise NAD levels as NMN and NR do. Some people have suggested NAD boosters could be taken with a compound that provides cells with methyl groups, such as trimethylglycine, also known as betaine or methylfolate. Conceptually, this makes sense—the “N” in NR and NMN stands for nicotinamide, a version of vitamin B3 that the body methylates and excretes in urine when it is in excess, potentially depleting cells of methyls—but this remains a theory.
For more information about the relative effectiveness of the NAD precursors, NMN and NR, check out Do the NAD Precursors NMN and NR Work?.
The bottom line on this is that they both boost NAD, but the effectiveness of one over the other is dependent on what body tissue is associated with the NAD, as NAD molecules reside in all living cells.
Following his lead, Dr. Sinclair’s 80 year-old father, wife, brother and even his three dogs are on NMN:
My father follows almost the same regimen as I do, and I can’t remember the last time he was sick. He claims he’s speeding up… I am very proud of Sandra, my wife, who was one of the top students in Germany… she’s started taking NMN… A year ago, my younger brother, Nick, was going gray and losing his hair when he demanded to be put on the same regimen after accusing me, only half jokingly, of using him as a negative control… Even our three dogs—a small 10-year-old poodle cross named Charlie and two 3-year-old black Labradors, Caity and Melaleuca—have been on NMN for a couple of years.
Expose Your Body To Hot and Cold
I try to stay on the cool side during the day and when I sleep at night. [After exercising with my son, Ben, we] hang out in the sauna before dunking in an ice-cold pool.
Dr. Rhonda Patrick has shown that regular use of dry saunas dramatically improve heart health outcomes and general healthspan. Exposure to cold is also thought to improve healthspan. Both heat and cold do this through a mechanism called “hormesis”, whereby mild stressors inducing hormesis is a potentially effective lifespan and healthspan extension strategy. (10)
Sinclair’s Other Lifestyle Habits
I don’t smoke. I try to avoid microwaved plastic, excessive UV exposure, X-rays, and CT scans.
No need to comment on the demerits of smoking. If you smoke, forget about anything else except finding a way to stop smoking, because no other lifespan extending habit will be of much use till you do.
Regarding microwaved plastics, as Harvard Health puts it: “When food is wrapped in plastic or placed in a plastic container and microwaved, BPA and phthalates [some of the chemicals in many plastics] may leak into the food”.
The negative effects of radiation exposure, such as broken DNA, may be minimized or repaired by taking an extra dose of NMN prior to the radiation event, such as an airport X-ray. This has been shown to be true in mice, says the Harvard Gazette, although in this case the mice were not in the airport security line.
Remember these five things:
- Eat fewer calories, either by reducing your meal size, eating fewer meals each day or fasting for a day or more per week.
- Exercise — it’s the most effective lifespan enhancing “pill” you can take. Combine exercises in your routine that improve mobility, aerobic conditioning and strength.
- Track and measure what you’re doing; otherwise, how do you know if what you’re doing is working?
- Consider supplementing with either NR, NMN or both, along with resveratrol or pterostilbene. Definitive proof in human studies is still in the future, but many of those who study these molecules are supplementing with them, because they’re improving healthspan and lifespan markers in mice.
- Use a sauna regularly. Take cold showers.
I leave you with some parting words from Dr. David Sinclair:
A lot of people think a regimen intended to promote prolonged vitality must be hard to stick to, but if it were, my family couldn’t do it. We are just an average bunch trying to get through the day. I do live life as mindfully as possible, focus on feeling good, and check my blood markers occasionally. Over time, I’ve identified the diet, exercise, and supplement routines that work best for me. And I’m confident that my family and I will continue to fine-tune these practices in response to the evolving research as our lives go on.