12 Hallmarks Of Aging: How They Affect Our Longevity

Written by Ahmed Zayed | Last updated on August 4, 2023

Have you ever asked someone about their age and saw them fluster, their cheeks turning red, and they suddenly seem to be uncomfortable. Maybe you’re comfortable telling people your age, but it’s not like that for everyone. 

Perhaps that person replies “I’m 55 today”, and your response is “WOW! I thought you were still in your 40s”. They would take that as a complement - but there’s a lesson here to learn. In the 12 hallmarks of aging, we see many things that eventually contributes to how we age. 

And some people take the right actions to slow down the aging process. While you can’t completely “reverse” this process, a few lifestyle changes can make a real difference. We’ll explore these 12 hallmarks in this article. 

Hallmark 1: Genomic Instability

When the DNA material in your cells have errors or perhaps they get damaged, it can start to create problems - and that’s exactly where genomic instability comes in. Now, as your genome becomes unstable, the level of DNA mutations increases and there are abnormalities that start to appear in your chromosomes. 

Remember that your chromosomes contain DNA code that cells need to read. In the end, genomic instability “kills” your cell (by leading to cellular senescence). 

So, what causes genomic instability? [1] Well, there’s a lot of things that can make your genome become unstable. For example, if the mechanisms that repairs DNA don't do their job properly - well, that’s one way for DNA tissue in your cell to not work. 

Damage to DNA code and problems with the process where  DNA is replicated are also things you should not overlook. 

The big question: what can you do? Well, try to limit your exposure to things that can damage your DNA. Live healthy and throw away that packet of cigarettes. Get moving and don’t be a “couch potato”, and make sure you get enough antioxidants through diet and supplements. 

Hallmark 2: Telomere Shortening

You know those double sided markers? They come with caps on both sides that protects the tips from drying out. Well, it’s kind of the same with your chromosomes. The telomeres are the “caps” that cover the ends of each chromosome. 

Every time a cell divides, however, the telomeres become shorter - and when they are not long enough anymore, cell mechanics can eat away at the chromosome!

How much stress do you have in your life? You see, stress is actually a major problem when it comes to telomere shortening. Plus, if you’re sedentary and have poor dieting habits, then you are actually contributing to the shortening of telomeres in your cells.

Apart from this oxidative damage (it happens when free radicals are in your body) also causes problems with telomeres [2]. 

Now is a good time to eat your veggies, just like your parents used to tell you. The thing is, fresh vegetables, fruit, whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins - these are things that really count when it comes to extending the “lifespan” of telomeres. 

Hallmark 3: Epigenetic Alterations

The moment you are born, you already have your genes. You get genes from both parents - and they do define some things.

For example, if there are mutations in your genes, it could put you at a higher risk for “something” - this “something” can include a disease, behavior problems, mental health issues, etc. 

But how your genes are “expressed” - as in, their code copied by proteins - are affected by many things. This is where epigenetic alterations come in. 

You see, epigenetics is the study on environmental and lifestyle factors (things that you generally have control over) and the effects on gene expression. Issues with histones, DNA methylation and non-coding RNAs are all suspects behind epigenetic alterations. 

Make sure you get the right nutrients - and that includes vitamin B1 and folate. Resveratrol and a number of other natural compounds can also possibly help. And if things get “out of control”, there’s a few drug therapies that may also improve your epigenetics. 

Hallmark 4: Loss of Proteostasis

You might know that there are many molecules inside every cell in your body - and some of these molecules are proteins. Now, your cells need to “fold” and assemble the proteins. If this doesn’t happen properly, then you have a loss of proteostasis. 

So, what happens now? Well, it means proteins that are misfolded start to collect in your cell. Plus, protein aggregates can start to form.

All of this can make the cell dysfunctional - and a loss of proteostasis also increases your risk of age-related diseases [3]. 

Now, there are some “counter” strategies that you can use. Start with fasting and don’t eat too many calories. You can also consider heat and cold stress therapies.

As always, exercise! It’s one of those things in life that can benefit so many parts of our bodies, yet many people still prefer to be sedentary instead. 

Hallmark 5: Deregulated Nutrient Sensing

What happens if you eat food with nutrients, but your cells turn a blind eye to their presence? Deregulated nutrient sensing! It’s when cells can’t “sense” nutrients - and that means cells don’t release the right molecules to trigger certain reactions. 

Let’s face it - age is something that causes deregulated nutrient sensing. But, there are also genetic factors and lifestyle elements. If you have metabolic problems (are you obese? Do you have type 2 diabetes?), then you also have a greater risk of having your cellular nutrient sensing capabilities fall faster over time. 

The best way to counter this is to ensure you eat healthy and watch how many calories you pack into your body. Exercise on a regular basis and try to create a personalized approach - as nutrient sensing problems are not always the same in different people. 

Hallmark 6: Mitochondrial Dysfunction

mitochondrial dysfunction

There are organelles living inside your cells. They are basically like a powerstation that converts “fuel” from one form to another - and the end result is ATP that your cells can use for energy.

If you have mitochondrial dysfunction, then these organelle’s can’t make ATP as effectively. 

Think about times where you feel tired. Can you go on with your daily routine? You’ll give it your best shot, but you won’t be functioning at your full potential. That’s what happens if there’s too little ATP for your cells to use. 

Oxidative stress, age, genetic mutations, and your own lifestyle are the biggest factors that come into play here. That means you have some level of control - by changing how you life (what you eat, how much you exercise, and what substances you use), you can actually help to improve the functions of your mitochondria. 

Here’s another tip: take a supplement with coenzyme Q10. It’s a type of supplement that “targets” the mitochondria and it could pay off in the long term[4]. 

Hallmark 7: Cellular Senescence

Did you know that your cells divide, essentially cloning themselves? Well, at some point, this process doesn’t work well anymore - and when the cell becomes senescent, it means it can no longer divide itself anymore.

 Unfortunately, that means the cell won’t be able to function properly anymore and this creates opportunity for age-related diseases. 

Telomere shortening, DNA damage and stress on your cells are very important things to consider when looking at why cells become senescent. It’s also the epigenetic alterations that happen over time that causes cells to become senescent too soon. 

Want to know how you can avoid or at least delay cellular senescence? It starts with a healthy lifestyle (yes, once again - exercise and diet), but also antioxidant support.

Senolytic therapies have also been invested in studies, but they are still working on finding out how “safe” the therapies are. 

Vitamin C and E are both great antioxidants, but focus on plants that offer extra antioxidant compounds - that’s going to help your body fight against oxidative stress. 

Hallmark 8: Stem Cell Exhaustion

You’re born with a set amount of stem cells - and there isn’t really a way to increase this. Sure, there are stem cell therapies, but you’ll find a lot of controversy on the topic. Now, as you get older, more stem cells are used to create specialized cells. 

And this means stem cells deplete over time. But sometimes, they deplete too quickly - this can be because of epigenetic changes, problems in signaling pathways, DNA damage, and telomere shortening. 

Stem cells

Okay, so you can run out of stem cells, but what does that mean? Well, when there aren't enough stem cells, your body has a hard time regenerating tissue. And when there aren’t enough stem cells to create certain specialized cells, certain functions in your body may start to fail. 

A healthy lifestyle is important here - but you should also focus on sleep and stress management. If you have chronic stress and don’t sleep well - that’s basically a recipe for stem cell exhaustion!

Hallmark 9: Altered Intercellular Communication

You know how important it is to socialize with friends and family members, right? Well, it’s the same for your cells. They are constantly “talking” to each other, sending signals, and this ensures that processes are activated or deactivated correctly. 

So, what is altered intercellular communication?

Well, it means your cells are not understanding each other well. Think about standing in a room with people that talk different languages. You don’t know what they are saying!

Age is the main contributor here, but also cellular damage, oxidative stress, and we should not forget chronic inflammation.

When this happens, it makes it harder for your immune system to work properly and can cause problems with your tissue homeostasis (by disrupting the balance) [5]. 

Stem cell therapies have shown some potential for altered intercellular communication. There are also pharmaceutical interventions.

In terms of your lifestyle, look at what you eat, how much you eat, and try to get up more. Working on a way to reduce inflammation in your body can also be helpful. 

Hallmark 10: Metabolic Dysfunction

After you eat that delicious sandwich, what happens next? Well, the metabolism processes have to get to work. As the food goes through your digestive system, metabolism happens - and this helps to ensure nutrients get absorbed from the food.

Now, metabolic dysfunction refers to many problems that can develop here. For example, you may not have enough energy. 

How much do you weigh? Sensitive question, sure, but if you have a BMI that’s over 30, you’re obese - and that’s one of the biggest reasons why metabolic dysfunction happens. It’s not the only factor, though. 

Problems with your hormone balance, being sedentary, and choosing a donut over a healthy plate of veggies. It’s something that can contribute to many conditions - including diabetes. 

You have to rectify your diet and lifestyle to counter metabolic dysfunction.

But, sometimes, there is a hormone imbalance in play. Getting hot flashes? Feeling tired all the time? You might want to get your doctor to do some tests. Hormonal therapy might help bring back the balance. 

Hallmark 11: Chronic Inflammation

You know how your skin swells up if you hurt yourself? It’s painful and that swelling is what we call acute inflammation. But, did you know that inflammation can also be “invisible” and even harmful. 

Chronic inflammation happens when you have persistent infections. If you have an autoimmune disease, then you’ve got chronic inflammation. Lifestyle factors, your BMI, and other things can also contribute. 

If inflammation is chronic, it can cause damage to your tissues and even cause organs to work poorly. It’s also something that causes problems with metabolism and it makes you age faster. 

So, what can you do? Well, start by looking at your life at the moment. Do you get enough sleep? Do you smoke? Are you drinking a lot of alcohol? How about stress?

Target these things, and then look into ways to manage your weight. Living healthily can make a noticeable difference in reducing chronic inflammation. 

Hallmark 12: Dysbiosis

Did you know that there are millions, perhaps even billions, of microbes living in your body? They’re crawling on your skin right now - you just can’t see them, as they are microscopic size. Some are “good” and the others are “bad”.

If there’s no balance between the good and back microbes, dysbiosis happens. It’s when there are too many bad bacteria, viruses, and fungi thriving in (and on) your body. 

Your diet has a major impact on your gut microbiome. Added sugars, saturated fats, processed foods - these are the things that cause dysbiosis.

Have you recently taken an antibiotic to treat an infection? Regular use of antibiotics is also considered an important cause. Stress, infections, and environmental factors also make an impact. 

Is changing your diet enough? Not always! You should add more prebiotics and probiotics to your daily routine. And if you don’t have a confirmed bacterial infection, don’t take antibiotics.

Most important, work with your doctor to find the best personalized strategy to counter dysbiosis. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the most effective interventions for slowing down aging?

So, you’re seeing those wrinkles in the mirror and feeling the aches of aging? Well, there are a few interventions you can use to slow it down. A healthy diet and regular exercise are definitely at the top of the list. Try to restrict how many calories you eat and learn more about reducing oxidative stress. 

Is aging a reversible process?

No matter how much you turn back the hands on your clock, it’s not going to reverse your age. “Age is just a number” - it’s a true saying to some degree, but over time, your body is going to go through changes that make you more susceptible to disease, etc. 

What role do genetics play in the hallmarks of aging?

Sometimes, you’ve got your parents to blame for aging too quickly. It sounds weird - and okay, don’t start a family war - but gene mutations that you inherit can sometimes make you more vulnerable to inflammation, age-related diseases, oxidative stress, and more. 

How can I prevent or delay the onset of the hallmarks of aging?

Okay, so you can’t really “reverse” age and make yourself younger (biologically), but you can take a few steps to delay the process. Wash your food to remove pesticides before using them, get rid of those fatty foods that’s filling you up with “bad” cholesterol, and try to exercise more, plus - you need to stress less!

Are there any specific diets or supplements that can slow down aging?

You’ve probably heard it before, but the Mediterranean diet seems to be the “magic” diet that people recommend for almost anything. It actually is a really good diet to follow if you want to be healthy and age slower. Combine it with intermittent fasting and calorie restrictions to slow down the “hands of time” even more. 


Age is one of those topics that have a lot of mixed opinions. Some fear it and others accept it. Yet, it’s one thing in life that we can’t “escape” - and even though researchers are working hard to learn more about aging, it’s something that you can’t really “reverse”. 

But, knowing what causes aging is an important step toward finding ways to slow it down. While you can’t pull the handbrake on aging, you can at least reduce your risk of certain illnesses and live healthier with the right strategies.

The first step, though, is to know each hallmark of aging, as you learned in this article. 

About the author 

Dr Ahmed Zayed is a medical resident specializing in plastic surgery with years of experience in the field. He is also a writer for top-rated websites including Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, ConsumerHealthDigest, and Huffington Post

You may also like