Many people think that life expectancy is largely determined by genetics. However, genes play a much smaller role than originally believed. It turns out that environmental factors like diet and lifestyle are key.
The science is clear: Eating the right foods can lead to a longer, healthier life.
But some people find it harder to eat right as they get older for many reasons. Maybe they don’t have much of an appetite. Maybe they have trouble cooking or eating. Maybe they don’t know what’s healthy. Or maybe they do and just don’t like the idea of kale.
“You know what? You can live a long, healthy life and never eat a piece of kale,” says Cheryl Rock, Ph.D., a professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.
She’s all for finding healthy food that you like and building on that.
“If you’re eating foods you like, then you’re more likely to stick with it. You won’t force it down for 4 days and then go out for a double cheeseburger,” Rock says.
But it’s more than just finding the right foods. Michele Bellantoni, of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, points out that you need to eat them in the right amounts, too.
Here are some dietary habits and exercises that you can practice ritually in order to maximize the probability of a longer life expectancy:
• A big No-No to Overeating:
The link between calorie intake and longevity currently generates a lot of interest. Animal studies suggest that a 10–50% reduction in normal calorie intake may increase the maximum lifespan. Studies of human populations renowned for longevity also observe links between low-calorie intake, an extended lifespan, and a lower likelihood of disease. What’s more, calorie restriction may help reduce excess body weight and belly fat, both of which are associated with shorter lifespans. That said, long-term calorie restriction is often unsustainable and can include negative side effects, such as increased hunger, low body temperature, and a diminished sex drive.
Whether calorie restriction slows aging or extends your lifespan is not yet fully understood.
• Consume a plant-based diet (Vegetables and Fruits):
eating more produce is truly one of the most important and impactful habits you can adopt. And guess what: most Americans are way off the mark. According to the CDC, only one in 10 adults eat enough veggies and fruit. Just 9% hit the recommended two to three daily cups of veggies, and 12% reach the daily target of one-and-a-half to 2 cups of fruit.
In addition to upping your nutrient intake, reaching those minimums may add years to your life. A meta-analysis published in the British Medical Journal found that higher consumption of fruits and vegetables is associated with a lower risk of mortality from all causes, especially heart disease. Aim for at least five servings a day. More is fine, but in some research, the risk of death did not reduce further beyond this amount.
• Go nuts for nuts:
Eating 28g of nuts seven or more times per week was associated with a 20% reduced risk of death. This amount roughly corresponds to the size of a small bag of nuts that you can buy in a pub.
Nuts are a delicious part of an anti-aging diet, helping you ward off chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and certain cancers—and thanks to a review of two large-scale, long-term studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, there’s strong evidence that nuts of all kinds can help you live longer, too. In that research, eating just an ounce of nuts daily was linked to a 20 percent lower risk of death over a 30-year period.
Further, a 2015 paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine—involving more than 200,000 people in the U.S. and China—also found that eating nuts can improve longevity.
The diet surveys asked only whether the subjects ate tree nuts like walnuts, almonds, cashews, and hazelnuts, or whether they were eating peanuts (actually a legume, not a true nut). The lowered death risk was consistent, whether participants regularly ate tree nuts or peanuts.
• Daily Physical Activity:
It should come as no surprise that staying physically active can keep you healthy and add years to your life. Exercise provides a remarkable variety of health benefits, which range from strengthening bones to positive effects on mood and helping to prevent chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. Research dating back to the late 1980s has consistently shown that aerobic fitness may help extend lives.
Regular physical activity can extend your lifespan. Exercising more than 150 minutes per week is best, but even small amounts can help.
A recent review observed a 22% lower risk of early death in individuals who exercised — even though they worked out less than the recommended 150 minutes per week.
• Daily Sips of Green Tea:
What happens when you are a habitual green tea drinker?
People who drink green tea at least three times a week may live longer and suffer a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a Chinese study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
As part of the study, 1,00,902 adults free of heart attack, stroke, or cancer were followed for a median of 7.3 years.
Habitual tea drinkers (three or more times a week) had a 20 percent lower risk of heart attack and stroke, 22 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease and stroke, and 15 percent lower risk of dying from all causes compared to non-habitual tea drinkers (less than three times a week).
An analysis of a subset of 14,081 participants found that habitual tea drinkers had a 39 percent lower risk of heart disease and stroke, 56 percent lower risk of fatal heart disease and stroke, and 29 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality compared to never or non-habitual tea drinkers.
• Quit Smoking
Men who smoke increase their risk of dying from bronchitis and emphysema by 17 times; from cancer of the trachea, lung, and bronchus by more than 23 times.
Smoking increases the risk of dying from coronary heart disease among middle-aged men by almost four times.
Women who smoke increase their risk of dying from bronchitis and emphysema by 12 times; from cancer of the trachea, lung, and bronchus by more than 12 times.
Between 1960 and 1990, deaths from lung cancer among women increased by more than 500%.
In 1987, lung cancer surpassed breast cancer to become the leading cause of cancer death among U.S. women.
In 2000, 67,600 women died from lung cancer.
During 2010–2014, almost 282,000 women (56,359 women each year) will die from lung cancer.
Smoking increases the risk of dying from coronary heart disease among middle-aged women by almost five times.
• Avoid Stress and Anxiety:
Anxiety and stress may significantly decrease your lifespan. For instance, women suffering from stress or anxiety are reportedly up to two times more likely to die from heart disease, stroke, or lung cancer.
Similarly, the risk of premature death is up to three times higher for anxious or stressed men compared to their more relaxed counterparts.
If you’re feeling stressed, laughter and optimism could be two key components of the solution.
Studies show that pessimistic individuals have a 42% higher risk of early death than more optimistic people. However, both laughter and a positive outlook on life can reduce stress, potentially prolonging your life.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect News’ editorial stance.