‘Limitless‘ is a documentary in which Chris Hemsworth pursues various methods to slow down aging.
The series is produced by Disney+ and National Geographic, with Darren Aronofsky as director.
But is pushing the “limits as far the body and mind can go” the way to go to live a longer, healthier life?
Jumping off tall buildings, dangling on a rope thousand feet above the ground, swimming in icy cold waters or exposing yourself to extreme heat can make for some good television but they are not the best ways to extend lifespan.
Actually, some of these methods could shorten lifespan because they induce too much stress.
Stress, hormesis and aging
A little bit of stress can be healthy. This principle is called “hormesis”. It’s a well-known principle in biogerontology, the science that studies aging.
Hormesis is the process in which a little stress can actually make the body stronger and slow down aging.
Hormesis is an important reason why for example exercise is healthy.
During exercise, cells have to work much harder, thereby creating lots of free radicals which damage the cells.
Also, during exercise, muscle cell membranes are injured, and proteins get malformed. That’s why you often get sore muscles the next day after exercising.
However, this damage actually sets off various alarm bells in the cells, which in response increase the production of all kinds of reparative and protective proteins that repair and protect the cells against damage.
That way, cells actually age less fast given they are better protected against damage, including the damage caused by aging.
Also, many foods are healthy because they contain slightly toxic substances. These substances lead our cells to better protect and repair themselves, so these cells are also better protected against various aging processes.
When does healthy stress become unhealthy?
However, balance is key with hormesis. Inflicting too much stress can damage cells permanently and accelerate aging.
Running long marathons or overexercising could actually be a bad thing, causing too much damage on a cellular level accelerating aging in the long term.
Cold showers and saunas could perhaps also cause too much stress in the body.
There are studies which show that cold showers and saunas can improve some health biomarkers, but the problem is that these studies don’t look at the long-term effects: do people actually live longer if they take a cold shower every day?
During a cold shower, you secrete a lot of cortisol, noradrenaline and other stress hormones and substances that could cause too much stress and damage the body.
Wim Hof is well-known for exposing himself to extreme cold. He is 62 years old, but looks considerably older for his age (and he looks even older compared to other 60 plus people who use other methods to live longer, such as dieting or fasting – see below).
It remains to be seen if Wim Hof will really be able to live a very long, healthy life.
Instead of taking an example to Wim Hof, we take examples to people who actually reached very old ages, while being very active right before they die, like people living in Blue Zones, or Japanese doctors who eat very little.
Therefore, to be sure and err on the side of caution (after all, you only have one body and one life), we would stick to safer and more proven methods to live longer.
Of course, these methods are not as spectacular as seeing Chris Hemsworth climbing a mountain or jumping off a building.
Science-based methods to slow down aging
So what are better methods to extend lifespan?
What are some methods ‘Limitless’ and Chris Hemsworth should actually pay most attention to?
1. Eating a healthy longevity diet
There are many diets. Many of them achieve weight loss in the short term. But in the long term, almost 90 percent of diets fail. Also, many diets can be unhealthy in the long term and accelerate aging.
Chris Hemsworth is very strong and muscular. It’s interesting to know that often, most long-lived people (e.g. people who live in Blue Zones), are not very muscular or strong. They often eat a more plant-based diet, not too much meat and engage in moderate daily exercise.
Often, people who want to be as muscular as Chris Hemsworth follow a high-protein diet.
However, too much animal protein accelerates aging (R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R,R). Nonetheless, you will find many health gurus praising high animal protein diets like the paleo diet.
The problem is that often these diet gurus are not experts in aging. They focus on the short-term benefits of these diets, but not on the long term effects, like accelerating aging.
The best diet is one that replaces animal protein more with vegetable protein. If animal protein is consumed, red meat (beef, pork, mutton) is replaced more with white meat (poultry) or fatty fish.
Healthy fats are consumed in large quantities (e.g. from olives, olive oil, avocado, nuts and seeds).
Sugary-rich foods are avoided, and starchy foods (like bread, potatoes, pasta and rice) are kept to a minimum.
We explain the best longevity diet here (and download our free poster too!).
2. Taking longevity supplements
Chris Hemsworth also takes supplements to improve his health.
However, most supplements do not extend lifespan. Some of them can even accelerate aging, as we explain here and here.
It’s important to take real anti-aging supplements, which are supplements that have good science behind them, such as alpha-ketoglutarate, glucosamine, fisetin, low-dose lithium and so on.
Learn more about the best longevity supplements here.
Fasting is a good way to slow down aging. However, many people fast too much, making them too frail or further exacerbating deficiencies in important vitamins, minerals and other micronutrients.
Therefore, we recommend fasting only every month or even every few months, as we explain here.
4. Caloric restriction
Many studies show that eating less extends lifespan.
One quite easy way to do this is consuming two meals per day, as for example Harvard Professor David Sinclair and the co-founders of NOVOS do.
To live longer, you don’t have to engage in extreme forms of exercise, like running triathlons or swimming in icy lakes.
In fact, regularity is more important than intensity.
Try to exercise every day for at least about 30 minutes. This can be just a fast-paced walk, or lifting some weights in your living room.
In fact, easy exercises that you can do at home or around the corner make it more likely you stick to a daily routine.
Proper sleep is very important for a long life. Too little sleep accelerates aging, increases risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and heart disease.
Going to bed at the same hour and sleeping enough are some of the most important things regarding sleep.
We listed 50 tips to sleep better here.
7. Many more tips to live longer
There are many ways to slow down aging and extend lifespan. We listed 60 tips to live longer here.
A documentary series on a big streaming service like Disney+ about longevity is a good thing.
It increases awareness about aging and health, something we very much applaud.
What we would applaud even more is a documentary providing the best and most science-based approaches for longevity.
These are often more “boring” things, like eating less, fasting, following a longevity diet and taking science-based anti-aging supplements.
Instead, we often see in the media extreme ways to increase lifespan, like biohackers buying weird unproven devices to live longer, or famous movie stars doing extreme things.
This is not very science-based, and detracts from the longevity field and the scientific discipline that studies aging.
One important reason for this is that there are not a lot of longevity experts out there.
Famous longevity scientists who are often approached by documentary makers often do know a lot about their specific field, but not that much in other longevity fields.
Or these scientists are less specialized in health and disease, unlike medical doctors. On the other hand, most medical doctors are not trained in aging and longevity, because it’s not taught at most (if not all) universities.
This leads to often subpar longevity advice for the general public.
We at NOVOS want to do something about this. That’s why we publish on our website and via our newsletter lots of content to live longer, healthier lives, based on the latest and best science and insights into longevity.
Join our journey towards a longer, healthier lifespan. You can start by subscribing to our newsletter, and checking out these links below: