Secrets of Living a Long and Healthy Life
The third pillar of The Rustic Diet is based on cultivating longevity. Once we’ve properly supported digestion and implemented anti-inflammatory dietary guidelines it’s time to look to the broader picture of promoting longevity. Based on the previous two blog posts we know that a healthy gut and lowering inflammation in the body are both critical to preventing disease and promoting health. Beyond this though what are the secrets to maintaining a thriving and healthy life well into old age.
What is Longevity
Longevity is so much more than how many years you live. It’s how well you live those years and with what physical, mental, and emotional capacity. The National Institutes on Aging (NIA) terms this “active life expectancy”; the time in late life free of disability. In 1970, the average life expectancy at birth in the United State was 70.8 years. In 2008, it was 78.0 years and by 2020 the US Census Bureau projects life expectancy will reach 79.5 years. The purpose of my work is to not merely help you reach the average life expectancy but to go well beyond and in excellent health. What if you could live to be 100?
The Secrets of Centenarians
A centenarian is a person who has reached the age of 100 or more. Did you know that there are over 60,000 centenarians in the United States alone, with at least 70 of those living beyond 110! Centenarians are the fastest growing demographic in much of the developed world. By 2030 it’s estimated that there will be around a million centenarians worldwide. Research on centenarians is becoming increasingly more widespread. One of the more interesting facts being observed is that centenarians have great “active life expectancy”. Most remain independently functional and healthy up until the last few months of their lives.
What the Research Tells Us
According to data from two of the largest epidemiological studies on centenarians, the New England Centenarian Study and the Okinawan Centenarian Study, there is definitely genetic resiliency in long-lived people. Generally they have family members, parents or siblings, who have also lived well into old age. Although many centenarians do not develop chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, or cancer if they do their genes seem to protect them from succumbing to the disease; allowing them to live much longer with their disease than otherwsie predicted.
In the Okinawan community people live a relatively simple life relying on routines and diets that haven't changed much from their ancestors. People get most of their daily physical activity from their work. When they are too old to work they are still walking and gardening every day along with getting up and down from the floor multiple times a day. They spend a lot of time outside. Their diets are high in soy and fiber, mostly from garden vegetables and rice, and naturally low in fat and salt. They eat fish often but meat only on special occasions. They stop eating when their stomach is only 80% full, a practice known as Hara Hachi Bu. They have a very strong sense of purpose and belonging to their community. Okinawans ensure that every member of the community, young to old, is equally valued and engaged in the community.
Much like the Okinawans other communities of long-lived people share similar traits. The Blue Zones project by journalist and longevity expert Dan Buettner, in conjunction with National Geographic and the National Institutes on Aging, chronicled the traits of long-lived people from 4 separate communities; Okinawans (Japan), Sardinians (Italy), Nicoyans (Costa Rica), and a Seventh Day Adventist community (Loma Linda, California). In his book, The Blue Zones, he outlines 9 common traits that all 4 communities share. They all share a similar plant-based diet with beans, whole grains, and garden vegetables as the main component of their diet with meat or other animal foods only on occasion. They generally grow and harvest most of their own food and make everything from scratch. There was little to no exposure to processed foods. They all wake up early and eat their biggest meal in the first half of the day. They get lots of physical activity naturally from their daily work. They wind down in the afternoon and evening meeting friends for a drink and spending time with family. Social connections are incredibly important and family is a priority for all 4 of the communities studied. Lastly, they all had a very strong sense of purpose, of why they wake up in the morning.
A Rustic Life
How can we translate these traits into our busy, modern lives? Just for fun you can assess your expected longevity based on your current diet and lifestyle habits with the Blue Zones Longevity Calculator.
Regardless of your current situation I believe it is possible for all of us to apply many of these centenarian practices to help us live a long and healthy life. Here are the steps I suggest for cultivating your Rustic Life:
- The Rustic Diet - Plant based with a focus on beans, whole grains, and vegetables. Including spices and herbs that we know can slow aging, and with little to no processed foods. The quality of the food is equally important to the composition of the food. And to help with overeating aim to stop eating when you are no longer hungry rather than waiting until you are full; eating more slowly can helop with this. This can help you practice Hara Hachi Bu.
- Daily Activity - Natural movement throughout the day; walking and riding your bike for transportation whenever possible, taking the stairs, cleaning, gardening, washing the car, finding opportunities to get up and move. If you are sitting at a desk for most of the day like me then getting up every 1.5-2 hours for a 10-15 minute movement break.
- Letting Go - Lowering stress and anxiety by having a "Happy Hour" at the end of the day gathering with friends and/or family, being with people that make you laugh, be 15 minutes early to every appointment, have time for quiet and with limited electronic entertainment at home, reserve one day a week to unplug and spend quality time with your family, start a daily meditation practice.
- Social Connection - Belonging to a community of like minded people is incredibly important, spending time every day with these people (family and/or friends), weekly or monthly time with extended family (especially older generations), eating meals with others.
- Joyful Purpose - Find what brings you joy and purpose and live your life with that as your guiding compass. Why do you wake up in the morning? How do you contribute to your community and to your family, regardless of your age?
Although each of these points on their own will contribute to a longer and healthier life, only in combination will you reap the richest rewards. Begin by making one goal for yourself in each of the above 5 points and start today working towards your long and healthy Rustic Life.
Time Article: How to Live to be 100: ttp://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,994967-1,00.html
National Institute on Aging: Can We Prevent Aging: https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/can-we-prevent-aging
New England Centenarian Study:http://www.bumc.bu.edu/centenarian/
Okinawa Centenarian Study: http://www.okicent.org/
National Geographic: Secrets to a Long and Healthy Life: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150412-longevity-health-blue-zones-obesity-diet-ngbooktalk