Throughout the years, individuals have attempted to unveil the mystery to a long life. Studies concerning longevity demonstrate that it is not an enigma after all – there are five pieces of advice we can offer to help you live a longer and healthier life.
A generation or two ago, people didn’t expect to live past 90. However, medical advances now mean that people can survive common diseases that were once fatal. However, it is ultimately our lifestyle that makes the difference.
20% of your life expectancy is determined by genetics, while the other 80% is determined by environment and lifestyle – both of which you can influence!
#1 Maintain a Healthy Body Weight
The extra weight also means that your heart needs to work harder. The healthier your weight, the less pressure there is on your organs, and the less strain on your heart.
The World Health Organization believes that body mass index should be between 18.5 and 24.9 in order to be optimally healthy. According to WHO, the standard BMI categories are 18.5-24.9 for normal weight, 25-29.9 for overweight, and >30 for obesity. They reported that, on average, the BMI for both men and women has risen between 1975 and 2016. Lastly, they stated that in 2016 in Australia, 29% of adults were obese with a BMI >30.
People who have a BMI in the overweight or obese range are more likely than people who are lean to develop type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and cholelithiasis. But people who are both lean and physically active have the lowest risk of developing these chronic diseases, according to a study reported by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Although BMI is a widely used measure, it has been criticized in recent years because it isn’t always accurate. For example, a muscular bodybuilder might have a BMI of 30 but relatively little body fat. Similarly, someone who has lost muscle mass may be in the “normal” range according to BMI, but actually have a high proportion of body fat. BMI also doesn’t take into account how fat is distributed throughout the body. Excess fat in some areas is more dangerous than in others.
The most harmful kind of fat is abdominal fat, which is categorized into two types: subcutaneous and visceral. Visceral fat is the dangerous type, as these fat cells release metabolic products into the bloodstream which are delivered to the liver. The free fatty acids then accumulate in the heart, pancreas, and other organs, causing these organs to malfunction and disrupting the regulation of insulin levels, blood sugar, and cholesterol.
The ratio of your hips to your weight should be monitored. To calculate this, stand up and measure your abdomen at the navel while keeping it relaxed. Then, measure your hips at the widest point. To get your hip-to-weight ratio, divide your waist size by your hip size. You can also use this online calculator. If your ratio is higher than 0.8, it indicates that you are at an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.
#2 Enjoy Regular Physical Exercise Every Day
One common trait of residents of Blue Zones is that they move naturally throughout the day, without engaging in strenuous exercise. This incidental exercise is thought to be better for you than long-distance running or gym sessions.
It’s essential to also integrate some strength training in your routine. Excessive exercise is harmful to your body. It will damage your knees, hips, and joints. The Blue Zones recommends that you work all parts of your body with some rigor for five to ten hours per week. This means that you should swim, run, walk, or ride for 30 to 40 minutes every other day and for two hours on the weekends. You should also integrate some strength training into your routine.
Exercise isn’t just good for your physical health – it also does wonders for your mental wellbeing too. Numerous studies have proven that being active can elevate your mood, and relieve feelings of anxiety, stress and depression.
Exercise helps keep our muscles and bones in good condition. As we age, we lose muscle mass and function, which can lead to injuries or disabilities. Regular exercise reduces muscle loss, builds bone density, and maintains strength. Physical activity can also improve insulin sensitivity and cardiovascular fitness, and decrease blood pressure and fat levels.
#3 Eat A Healthy, Balanced Diet
A healthy diet helps maintain a healthy weight and body fat percentage, as well as providing the body with the essential vitamins and minerals needed for a long and healthy life.
It is recommended that your diet consists of mostly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats, and calcium. You should eat at least two fruit and five vegetables every day. Eat a variety of different colored fruit and vegetables to make sure you are getting all of the necessary vitamins and minerals. Try to eat chicken instead of red meat and eat fish at least twice a week. Do not overcook any meats as this can increase the amount of carcinogens.
It’s beneficial to eat plenty of protein from plant sources such as nuts and beans. These types of foods can help you live longer. Select whole grains over refined grains like white bread, and limit your intake of white potatoes.
The residents of Blue Zones typically eat black, fava, soybeans, and lentils in large quantities. They consume mostly plant-based foods, with meat only appearing in their diets around five times per month. When they do eat meat, it is usually lean pork, and the serving size is never larger than a pack of cards.
The Blue Zone people have a saying of “eat less, live longer”. One of the nine commandments they live by is only eating until their stomach feels 80% full. This leaves them feeling 20% hungry which helps to keep their weight in check. Another rule is to have the smallest meal of their day in the late afternoon or early evening, and then not eating for the rest of the day.
#4 Keep Making Good Social Connections
If you want to increase your life expectancy, maintaining strong social ties is important. As people age, it can become more difficult to get out and see existing friends. Making new friends can also become difficult. When older people stop driving, there are transportation issues that can lead to a smaller social network due to deaths and other life changes. Children and grandchildren may not visit as often due to distance and busy schedules.
The residents of blue zones have strong social networks. They often visit churches, where they see familiar faces and have a healthy social life.
Research has also shown there are physical benefits to staying connected. These benefits include lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and possibly reduced inflammation.
Housing choice for elderly people can be influenced by the need to have social interaction. Rather than staying in the family home alone, moving to a retirement village or care facility will give elderly people daily contact with carers and other residents.
#5 Drink Less Alcohol
One of the most important tips for living a long life without disease is to limit alcohol consumption to no more than 1-2 glasses of wine per day with food, as is the habit of most people living in blue zones.
In Japan, older women tend to drink very little alcohol, which is one of the reasons the country has the highest longevity ranking. For example, females over the age of 70 in Okinawa Japan have the longest life expectancy in the world.
Excessive drinking of alcohol can lead to many health risks such as cirrhosis of the liver, car accidents, and 60 other diseases.
The main health problems caused by chronic heavy drinking include:
- Anemia – oxygen-carrying red blood cells are defective and destroyed before their natural lifespan in heavy drinkers.
- Cancer – not just one type of cancer, heavy drinking is believed to contribute to cancers of the larynx, pharynx, mouth, esophagus, liver, breast, and colorectal area. Combined with smoking, heavy drinkers are at very high-risk levels.
- Cardiovascular disease – Heart attack and stroke are common in heavy drinkers because the platelets clump together to form blood clots. Cardiomyopathy is another common condition of alcohol consumption where the heart muscle is weakened and has the potential to fail.
- Cirrhosis – a scarring of the liver to the point it can’t function. Female drinkers are more vulnerable than men.
The ‘surprising’ impact of behaviors on longevity
New research has found that five lifestyle factors may be associated with premature death. The data, from the national Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, indicates that more than 122,000 people may have died prematurely as a result of these lifestyle choices.
Then the researchers looked at data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys to get an estimate of how common those modifiable lifestyle factors were among adults in the United States. The data they used was from 2013 to 2014, and it came from 2,128 adults who were 50 to 80 years old.
The researchers analyzed death rates of U.S. adults using the CDC’s Wide-Ranging Online Data for Epidemiologic Research database.
After analyzing the data, the researchers found that overall, women who were 50 in 2014 could expect to live an additional 33.3 years, while men of the same age could expect to live an additional 29.8 years.
The researchers found that adults who reported that they adopted all five healthy lifestyle factors lived 43.1 more years among women and 37.6 more years among men.
The researchers found that, among adults who said they adhered to none of the five healthy lifestyle factors, women only lived an additional 29 years and men only lived an additional 25.5 years.
“To me, the surprising outcome was how strong it was: what a big impact these simple behaviors could have on life expectancy,” Dr. Meir Stampfer, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said. “I was surprised that it was that pronounced.”
About 30.8% of the increased life expectancy that women gained from adopting five healthy lifestyle factors was attributed to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease death; 21.2% was attributed to a reduced risk of cancer and 48% to other causes of death.
Among the men, 34.1% of the deaths were attributed to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, 22.8% to a reduced risk of cancer, and 43.1% to other causes.
The study’s limitations included that data on adherence to the five lifestyle factors were all self-reported, making outcomes vulnerable to measurement errors.
The data analysis did not include measures of certain health conditions that are risk factors for a shorter life expectancy, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.
That being said, Stampfer continued by saying that the limitation is also a strength in a way. The reason being is that they are only estimating the prolongation of life expectancy based on behaviors.
Although it is better to develop healthy habits during childhood, it is never too late to start making lifestyle changes after the age of 50.
The factor that was seen as more ‘powerful’
Dr. Douglas Vaughan, who was not involved in the study, said that the findings should encourage and motivate people to adopt a healthier lifestyle.
Even though the study showed that living a healthy lifestyle in general can help you live longer, Vaughan noted that each healthy lifestyle choice individually can also help reduce your risk of dying prematurely.
According to Vaughan, it appears that smoking has a stronger influence than other choices or habits when it comes to developing diabetes. He states that keeping a healthy body-mass index is a good way to prevent the disease.
The body-mass index, which is a calculation based on a person’s weight and height, is used to determine if someone is a healthy weight. A normal body-mass index is usually between 18.5 and 24.9.
“So, in aggregate, we see the effect on longevity, but you can imagine it’s largely through effects on cardiovascular risk and metabolic risk,” Vaughan said. “It suggests potentially at a defined point in life, say age 50, if you adhere to a healthy paradigm like this, you can have an impact on your longevity and on your health span.”
“There is overwhelming evidence that smoking is detrimental to your health,” Der-Sarkissian said. “It is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.” Dr. Jack Der-Sarkissian called smoking “the least-debated health risk factor.” He went on to say that “there is overwhelming evidence that smoking is detrimental to your health,” and that it is “the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.”
This new study has shown that even just smoking one to fourteen cigarettes a day is associated with increased death rates due to cancer and heart disease. This is in addition to the other risks that come with smoking, like lung disease and diabetes.
The study found that maintaining a BMI below 30 and being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day can help reduce the risk of developing obesity-related conditions such as diabetes and cancer.