PhotoNew England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady recently turned 36 and is entering his 14th season in the National Football League, a point at which most professional athletes start thinking about hanging it up. But not Brady.

The future Hall of Fame signal-caller has suggested he may play when he's 50 years old. On CNBC recently, touting a new chain of gyms in which he has invested, Brady scoffed at the idea he is getting to be too old to be an elite quarterback.

"It's a bunch of crap that people think as you get older you get worse,” he told the network.

Some scientists agree with Brady, though they might not put it in exactly those terms. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have identified a sirtuin protein called Sirt1 that operates in the brain, bringing about a significant delay in aging and an increase in longevity. It's also associated with a low-calorie diet.

Eat less

There's a significant body of evidence that suggests a healthy but low-calorie diet will help you live longer. But Shin-ichiro Imai and his colleagues say they have shown how Sirt1 prompts brain activity that triggers dramatic physical changes that may explain why people live longer. Skeletal muscles get stronger and the subject experiences increased energy and longevity.

“In our studies of mice that express Sirt1 in the brain, we found that the skeletal muscular structures of old mice resemble young muscle tissue,” said Imai. “Twenty-month-old mice – the equivalent of 70-year-old humans -- look as active as five-month-olds.”

Imai said that the mice in the study didn't just age more slowly. They actually put off the time at which the normal effects of aging begin to show themselves. Having narrowed control of aging to the brain, Imai’s team then traced the control center of aging regulation to two areas of the brain.

'Tantalizing possibility'

PhotoAccording to the researchers, their discovery means more than extending the careers of professional athletes. It raises the tantalizing possibility of a “control center of aging and longevity” in the brain, which could be manipulated to maintain youthful physiology and extend life spans.

Imai and his colleagues are not the first to suggest that the Fountain of Youth is not some external product but rather to be found from within. In 2011 noted cardiologist Dr. Clyde Yancy said people who follow seven simple steps to a healthy life can expect to live an additional 40 to 50 years after the age of 50.

"Achieving these seven simple lifestyle factors gives people a 90 per cent chance of living to the age of 90 or 100, free of not only heart disease and stroke but from a number of other chronic illnesses including cancer," Yancey, a professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at the Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a speech in Vancouver, British Columbia.

According to Yancy, the seven secrets to a longer, healthy life are as follows:

  • Get active: Inactivity can shave almost four years off a person's expected lifespan. People who are physically inactive are twice as likely to be at risk for heart disease or stroke.
  • Know and control cholesterol levels: High blood cholesterol can lead to the build-up of fatty deposits in your arteries, increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • Follow a healthy diet: Healthy eating is one of the most important things you can do to improve your health. 
  • Know and control blood pressure: High blood pressure is often called a 'silent killer' because it has no warning signs or symptoms . By knowing and controlling your blood pressure, you can cut your risk of stroke by up to 40 per cent and the risk of heart attack by up to 25 per cent.
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight: About one-third of American adults are classified as obese. Almost 60 per cent of Canadian adults are either overweight or obese, major risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Being obese can reduce your life span by almost four years.
  • Manage diabetes: Diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries), coronary artery disease, and stroke, particularly if your blood sugar levels are poorly controlled.
  • Be tobacco-free: Thousands die prematurely each year due to tobacco use, and thousands of non-smokers die each year from exposure to second-hand smoke. 

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