Longevity In the Extremes

two-cherry-farm-frostAs I write this it’s -48 F outside. My car is attached to an electrical cord that powers a battery warmer so I’ll be able to start it in the morning. I let the engine idle and warm up for 20-30 minutes before I drive but my fingertips still burn with cold, even inside my gloves, because the heater can’t battle the cold fast enough. The engine growled tonight as I drove home from work. I looked down at the gear shift a few times to make sure it wasn’t in low gear by accident.

It’s a myth that winters in Alaska are always this cold, but in Fairbanks it does get extremely cold like this for a least a week or two each winter. I can take comfort though, there’s evidence people and animals in cold climates live longer.


We’ve known for years that lab worms kept in colder conditions live longer than those kept in warm temperatures. A study released in February of 2013 offered a glimpse into why.

When worms, C elegans, were kept in the cold, their TRPA-1 gene was highly activated. It helps make sure anti-aging signals get where they are going.  When TRPA-1 was taken out of the worm’s genome, life spans shortened in response to cold. It also seems that extremely warm temperatures have a similar effect.  A 2006 study by the Buck Institute for Aging Research showed that worms exposed to repeated heat shocks lived 10-20% longer. Researchers chalked it up to high levels of protective hormones in the heat shocked worm stock.

So why do temperatures that can be so damaging lead to greater longevity? When survival is on the line, stress, whether heat-, starvation- or cold-induced seems to make our bodies work better and age less. In other words, hormones and chemicals rush to our aid. We have a version of the TRPA-1 gene, activated by cold, and of all things, Chinese Wasabi. It means that if we can harness our genes and hormones without -48 temperatures or heat shocks, we may have a key ingredient to longevity.


Cold Temperature and Life Span: It’s not about the rate of living,

from the blog, Playing the Game for a Longer Life by Josh Mitteldorf


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