In our three-part blog series, we’re talking about the tips and secrets of living a long life. You can check out The Ultimate Guide to Longevity Part 1 of 3, which covers the world’s Blue Zones, dietary staples, and simple lifestyle habits that help these communities live healthy lives well past the age of 100.
This week, we’re going to dig a little deeper into how we can tack on years to our lives with ease and vitality. It’s worth mentioning again, that a long life isn’t just about quantity – it’s about quality. Avoiding disease and accommodating the body’s natural deterioration process can make getting old feel less daunting.
The little things add up
Beyond the two major longevity factors we’ve already discussed – diet and slowing the pace of life down – there are many tiny things that get swept under the rug. Some of these tactics tie into our diet and living with less stress, but these are generally the “small” things we’re doing that we neglect to see the impact of on our lives over time. Let’s talk about what’s shedding our lifespans and what we can do about it to reverse the negative impact.
Don’t stuff yourself
The modern Western diet has developed in ways that are both good and bad, but the correlation between gigantic portion sizes and the obesity epidemic is undeniable. Whether you’re a devout follower of the ‘clean plate rule,’ recalling childhood meals where you weren’t allowed to leave the table until you ate your peas, or you just plain enjoy what you’re eating and want some more of it, many of us find ourselves uncomfortably full at the end of a meal. This is even more problematic in a society that orders takeout or opts for restaurant meals more than a couple times per week.
Longevity is a multi-faceted goal, but there are some biological factors we can rely on to indicate a longer life including our fasting insulin levels and our body temperature. In this study, it was proven that calorie restriction positively impacted both, in addition to oxidative stress. Now, don’t get put off by the idea that you need to count calories. The people of Okinawa (one of the Blue Zones we covered in Part 1) rely on an old saying: “Hara hachi bu,” which translates to “belly 80% full.” Eating nourishing, satiating foods to satisfaction – at around 80% full – can create a natural, healthy calorie deficit that your body will reap the benefits of. Check out some of our tips on mindful eating to get started.
Read part 1 of our Guide To Longevity here.Share on Pinterest
Learn new things
We’re going to talk about our muscles in the next section of this article, but we have to cover some ground with our body’s most important muscle first – the brain. We can do everything under the sun to ensure that our physical body ages gracefully, but the brain is in charge of that whole bit, so it only makes sense that we give it a little exercise. Speaking of, here are five simple mind exercises you can start doing today.
In a nutshell, our brains continue to improve and stay sharp when new neural pathways are formed. This happens when we gain exposure to tasks, routes, people, and challenges we aren’t faced with regularly. It literally changes the way our brains look when we experience something ordinary in an out of the ordinary way.
By experiencing new things, and reinforcing new neural pathways to form, we fight degenerative disease of the brain like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. The brain changes immensely as we age, and neural activity is more or less localised in different parts of the brain. At this point, it’s good to take advantage of the muscle’s plasticity; learning new skills such as a sport or a language, taking classes, travelling to new places or learning new routes to old places, and learning to play instruments are all fantastic ways of forcing new connections and increasing your lifespan.
Read more about the brain – 10 Ways to Keep Your Brain Young
Helping other people has value in ways far beyond the somewhat selfish pursuit of extending your own life. On the same hand, acts of kindness increase our self-esteem, which often offers an instant gratification and feeling of well being. Finally, it’s rewarding to see our good deeds make an impact in someone else’s life, too! Overall, there’s nothing wrong with being selfless sometimes. Moreover, there are benefits to being a part of something bigger than yourself.
What’s it got to do with longevity? Well, the key is looking past the “selfish” rewards. Volunteering, helping friends and family, or doing anything for the sake of someone/something else must be done for more than your own personal interest, or it simply doesn’t have the same health benefits.
For example, volunteers do live longer, but only volunteers who really believe in the cause. The science? Selfless acts can be time-consuming, and volunteering in particular suggests a lack of pay – these are stressful things to some! True altruism is the key to living long, so go lend a helping hand and mean it.
Naturally, part of healthy living is exercise. Many people in the world’s longest-lived cultures get plenty of it. In fact, exercise is often integrated into their daily life quite seamlessly with long, leisurely walks, hiking and gardening. Let’s talk more about the facets of fitness that lend themselves well to a long and healthy life.
Bear some weight
Training with weights just twice per week can offer some seriously awesome benefits. Much of the data we have conclusions on is related to aerobic exercise and its cardiovascular benefits. Of course, walking, running and swimming add to a longer life too, as they reduce risk of heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. So, where does strength training come into play?
In this study, it was reported that adults over the age of 65 who practiced weight-bearing exercise twice per week had 46% lower odds of death – that’s almost half! The problem? Only 9% of the senior population is engaging in the exercise at all. Using weights in earlier adulthood and middle-age is a great way to prepare the body to continue doing so into the old age. Strength training is great for longevity and keeping the body strong because it increases bone density, which is also vital to helping us lift heavy loads later in life and ward off osteoporosis.
All in all, it’s optimal for longevity to include a healthy balance of aerobic activity and resistance training. If you’re just getting started, check out our muscle-building nutrition cheat sheet which will help you eat to perform, and some of our favourite kettlebell exercises.
Want to know what the most important resistance training exercise for your body and longevity is? Squats, because they work the whole body. Use your own body weight, or challenge your muscles with a heavier weight.
Measure in minutes
There are tons of ways to gauge and measure how you’re reaching your fitness goals, including weight lifted, miles run, and time spent exercising in general. The strongest correlation between years lived and fitness is the latter, though. Here are some of the statistics, and some targets you can aim to strive for:
- Individuals who do not exercise at all are most prone to early death, and the following statistics are in comparison to this model.
- Individuals who exercise for 150 minutes per week lower risk of death by 31%.
- Individuals who exercise for 450 minutes per week lower risk of death by 39%.
At 450 minutes per week – or around one hour per day – we can reach optimal longevity standards. Increasing amount of time beyond that doesn’t conclusively offer any further benefits. The key is moderate-intensity exercise, so even just walking for an hour per day can decrease risk of death substantially.
HIIT it up
So, we’ve told you to lift heavy weights and to go for leisurely walks already, and now we’re asking you to add sprints to the mix? The major takeaway is that variety is optimal. This also reinforces the notion that our brains are adapting to learning new methods of movement and mastering different levels of coordination as we form new muscle memory.
First of all, high-intensity exercise or HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is amazing for fat loss. Maintaining a healthy weight helps us to fight disease, keep our hearts and bones healthy and much more, which leads to a longer life overall. Its benefits are huge and applicable to many people with health issues later in life. When compared to moderate-intensity exercise, HIIT has been shown to lower blood glucose levels in individuals with diabetes, improve the body’s ability to use oxygen, which is healthy for the brain and cells, and it’s tolerated better by people with coronary heart disease.
The most powerful thing that we can do to ensure we live a longer, healthier life is to actively fight disease. Interval training, sprints, and short spurts of high-intensity movement have amazing benefits for people of all ages, medical backgrounds, and activity levels.
We hope you’re enjoying our longevity series! Spread the word, and share the secrets of vitality with your friends.
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