Health & Wellness

Staying Youthful

By Megan Weigel

Ah, the fountain of youth. If we knew where it was and how to distribute it, you wouldn’t be reading this article. The good news is, you can take simple steps that not only improve your health, but may turn back the hands of time. Yep, you read that right. We are not defined by our chronological age, or how many candles are on the cake. The concept of biological age uses clinical and molecular biomarkers to predict mortality and age-related diseases. The biomarkers that biological age represents are affected by some things we can’t control, such as genetics, and many others that we can control, such as health-related behaviors.

Our chronological age can’t be changed. Our biological age can. Have you ever seen someone who is the same age as you but looks 10 years older, or several years younger than you? We age at different rates and lifestyle factors have a lot to do with youth. What you see in those people who either exude youth, or age, is the effect of biological age. Let’s get nerdy for a minute and talk about how this works.

In the past decade, science has made tremendous strides in genetics. One of these strides is understanding how our genes express themselves. Cells use a mechanism called DNA methylation to turn genes off and on, which controls their capabilities to help the body, or cause harm. This is one of the processes of epigenetics: how the work of your genes is affected by your environment and behaviors. DNA methylation can be measured by specialty labs. A simple example of epigenetics is the effect a pregnant woman’s diet has on her baby’s epigenetics.

Eating unhealthy foods can cause changes that last for years and may increase the risk of disease. Experiencing stress, or managing it, during pregnancy can also have an effect on a baby’s health. Another biological age marker is telomere length. Telomeres are the parts on the ends of chromosomes that keep them intact. Shorter telomeres are associated with a higher chronological age, and also with mortality and age-related diseases. Studies suggest healthy behaviors can lengthen telomeres. Telomere length can also be measured by specialty labs and is commonly ordered by functional and integrative medicine providers to investigate biological age.

How does this relate to MS? In 2019, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found shorter telomere length was linked to disability, regardless of chronological age. In fact, study subjects with shorter telomere length had higher EDSS scores and lower brain volumes. Telomere shortening happens more rapidly when there is greater oxidative stress. Since shorter telomeres are also seen in heart disease, dementia, and other autoimmune diseases, you may already be guessing what causes oxidative stress.

Oxidative stress is caused by free radicals, or unstable molecules that damage cells. When there is greater oxidative stress than there are antioxidant molecules to stabilize the stress, disease and damage happens. Oxidation itself is a normal process. But just like other things, too much of a good thing can spin out of control. Here’s an example: you love your job and you’re good at it. It’s hard to stop and you end up working more than 60-hour weeks for a couple of years. Your diet, sleep, and mental health suffer. Work is good, but working too much causes harm.

Alright, we are done with being nerdy. Let’s dive into this fountain of youth. What can you do to experience the benefits? I’d like to talk about healthy lifestyle changes, simply said: what you put in your mouth, put on your body, let into your head and heart, and where you do these things and who you do it with matters. We can’t change our genes, or change the number of candles on our cakes. Staying youthful begins with deciding to continue or adopt these healthy behaviors and enjoying the journey of knowing you are making choices to support your fountain of youth. Change is not always easy, so let’s break it down in an approachable way.


The food you choose is one of the areas where you can have the biggest effect with antioxidants. You can ensure your diet is high in antioxidants when you choose fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors; nuts for snacks; and use spices for flavoring instead of processed sauces. Dark chocolate and coffee are also high in antioxidants. Try this: Add in a handful of greens to your lunch and dinner plates. Take out soda and sugar-
sweetened beverages.


There is no denying that getting outside is good for the soul. Absorbing vitamin D the good old-fashioned way is important, and fresh air truly has healing qualities. But the air we breathe is not the only environmental factor that matters. You can also be exposed to youth-robbing toxins by chemicals used in self-care and food products. Try this: Add in 10-15 minutes of fresh air exposure daily. Take out single-use plastics and microwaving in plastic containers.

Mind, body, and spirit

Have you ever watched a child see something incredible for the first time, be immersed in imagination, or laugh over something simple? If that joy could be bottled, it just might be the closest thing to the fountain of youth.
Choosing to put positive influences into our lives, choosing to play, and choosing to nourish our spirits encourages youthfulness. Think about your mood after watching the news for two hours in mid-2020. Would you want to be stuck there? Now, think about your mood after you read a positive affirmation, receive a hug, or hear your favorite song. Stay there.

Speaking of your favorite song, how are you choosing to move your body? Youthful people use their bodies joyfully. Choose a form of exercise that makes you feel good, and do it most days of the week. Taking care of your body by keeping regular health check-ups for general health and MS is also an integral part of preventive healthcare. Try this: Add in 10 deep breaths a day, a positive affirmation, and your favorite song to your daily routine. Take out excessive news watching and social media time.


Community and connection lighten us up, improve mental health, and increase joy. Simply put, do good things with good people, and do them often. Try this: Add in volunteering with a friend or schedule a regular meet-up (virtual or in-person) with people you care about. Exclude activities (and people) who don’t support your positive changes.

Hopefully, the simple act of reading about the effect you can have on your biological age has planted some youthful seeds in your mind. If not, then do this: close your eyes and imagine a person, place, or event that makes you feel loved, appreciated, or cared for. Let that emotion fill you up. Take a deep breath in, and then let it out with a sigh. Telomeres aside, you already have most of what you need to turn on your own fountain of youth.