Forget going to the gym, drinking less and giving up smoking, the ageing process could all be down to a tiny bit of the brain - and it can be manipulated.

Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York identified a part of the hypothalamus that could extend the lives of mice by 20 per cent.

Rather worryingly they could also do the reverse - and hasten the demise of the unfortunate rodents.

ageing process

The hypothalamus highlighted in the centre of the brain

Dongsheng Cai, one of the researchers on the project published in the Nature journal, said: "Scientists have long wondered whether aging occurs independently in the body's various tissues or if it could be actively regulated by an organ in the body.

"It's clear from our study that many aspects of ageing are controlled by the hypothalamus.

"What's exciting is that it's possible - at least in mice - to alter signaling within the hypothalamus to slow down the aging process and increase longevity."

The hypothalamus is an almond-sized part of the brain that has long been known to control a variety of important bodily functions by secreting hormones.

These include regulation of temperature , sleep and feelings of thirst and tiredness.

Scientists found that by deactivating a molecule found in the hypothalamus called NF-kB mice lived longer and showed delayed signs of ageing.

Conversely, over-activating NF-kB speeded up ageing and mental decline.

As with all studies on mice it is not yet known if the effects can be reproduced in humans but it certainly is a tantalising discovery.