You would think that with an abundance of health and wellness information, supplement recommendations, and tracking devices to help us take control of our health - the U.S. would be the healthiest country in the world. Well, we aren’t. The U.S. ranks 35th among the world’s healthiest countries and has one of the largest spending accounts on health care and medical treatment.¹,²
At Nutrition for Longevity, we try to make your health simple. The 5 Commitments to Longevity are based on daily practices of people who live in the Longevity Regions. The Longevity Regions are communities around the world with the highest populations of centenarians - people over 100 years old, living without chronic disease. If you are striving to live a longer, healthier life, why not follow the people who have proven to be the most successful at it?
Where are the Longevity Regions?
There are many Longevity Regions spread all around the globe. The most notable include:
- Okinawa, Japan
- Nicoya, Costa Rica
- Sardinia, Italy
- Calabria, Italy
- Ikaria, Greece
- Loma Linda, California
Although each Longevity Region rests thousands of miles from one another, there are specific lifestyle commonalities that these regions share to boost longevity and healthspan. How do we know this? Dr. Valter Longo has been studying the connection between diet, lifestyle, and longevity for over 30 years. His book, The Longevity Diet, outlines the science behind the impact diet and lifestyle has on healthy aging.3
So, what are the five commitments to Longevity?1. Eat Nutritious Foods. Unlike the Standard American Diet (SAD), where most calories come from animal and processed foods, people in the Longevity Regions eat mostly whole plant foods that they grow themselves. A strong connection to your food sources has been shown to promote healthy aging.3 Here is some food for thought next time you are making decisions at the grocery store or planning your next meal.
- Eat whole, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These plant-based foods provide energy in the form of carbohydrates, fat, and protein. They are also a great source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals essential for health.
- Get most protein from plants plus fish 2-3 times a week. Fish is a lean protein that is high in essential omega-3 fats. Omega-3 fats help lubricate joints, decrease inflammation, and increase HDL cholesterol (the healthy kind.) Avoid fish high in mercury, a naturally occurring heavy metal that can be linked to serious health problems. Fish that contain high levels of mercury are tuna, swordfish, mackerel, and halibut.
- Make meat, dairy, sweets, and fried food a delicacy, not a staple. These foods are rich in sugar, salt, and unhealthy saturated fats that have been linked to chronic diseases. Enjoy these foods occasionally, or as a garnish, not as the star of your plate.
- Schedule your meals. Just because food is readily available to many of us does not mean we should spend 24 hours a day eating. Aim to schedule your meals within 10-12 hours during the day and then allow your body to fast for 12-14 hours overnight. This will help your body better regulate its natural sleep and wake cycles known as your circadian rhythm.
- Eat a variety of foods from your ancestry. Did you know many individuals that reside in Asian or Southern European countries are more often lactose intolerant than northern European countries? This is most likely due to their ancestors not having dairy as a staple in their diet and the body adapting to this ancient practice. Understanding what foods your ancestors ate helps to better understand intolerances in the diet.
2. Move Often. Due to the rise of modern conveniences, many Americans spend most of their days sitting. Whether it be sitting in front of a computer working, watching TV, or driving a car, there is less time spent being physically active. While many aspects of our daily lives promote a more sedentary lifestyle, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make that will encourage more natural movement throughout your day.3 Here are some suggestions to keep moving:
- Walk for an hour a day. You can achieve this all at once or split it up throughout your day. Go for a small walk around your neighborhood, choose the parking spot farthest away from your destination, and use the stairs instead of an escalator.
- Break a sweat. Commit to 20-30 minutes of moderate to intense activity every day. Your hour of walking may encompass spiking your heart rate, but if not, some other exercises to try include hiking, biking, swimming, dancing, and basic calisthenics.
- Use your muscles. Make two of your 20-30-minute workouts strength-based. To build stronger muscles and bones, you need resistance. Resistance can come in the form of bodyweight exercises, pulling/lifting weights, increasing the elevation of your walk, and adding gear to your bike.
- Schedule time with family and friends. Whether it is a phone call, FaceTime, outdoor activity, or mealtime, schedule regular meetings with people you love.
- Join a team or organization. Search for networking groups, sports teams, or spiritual organizations to meet people with similar interests as you.
- Give back. Volunteer to help others, raise money for a cause you feel connected to, or pay it forward by mentoring someone in your area of expertise.
4. Manage Stress - Both positive and negative physiological stress increases blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure increases your risk for cardiovascular complications and disease. Some of the stress releasing strategies used in the Longevity Regions include taking naps, praying, gardening, remembering ancestors and enjoying a meal with family or friends. The common characteristics of each activity are relaxation, presence, and gratitude. Start with these simple steps to aid in developing your own stress management routine.7
- Practice intentional breathing. Shift your body from a tense state to a relaxed state by shifting your attention to your breath. You can do this laying down, in a chair, in a yoga class, or with the help of guided meditation.
- Reflect. Whether it’s through prayer, journaling, or note-taking, get into a routine of regularly acknowledging everything you are grateful for.
- Make time for hobbies. Get lost in an activity that you love. Choose something that can take your mind off everything and keep you in the present moment.
- What do I love? (passion)
- What am I good at? (vocation)
- What can I be paid for? (profession)
- What does the world need? (mission)
- Miller LJ, Lu W. 2020. These are the world's healthiest nations. Bloomberg website. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/ 2019-02-24/spain-tops-italy-as-world-s-healthiest-nation-while-u-s-slips. Published February 24, 2019. Accessed July 31, 2020.
- American health care: health spending and the federal budget. Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget website. https://www.crfb.org/papers/american-health-care-health-spending-and-federal-budget. Published May 16, 2018. Accessed July 31, 2020.
- Longo, V. The Longevity Diet. New York, NY: Avery; 2018.4
- Buettner D. Power 9. Blue Zones website. https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/. Accessed July 31, 2020.
- Holt-Lunstad J. Why social relationships are important for physical health: a systems approach to understanding and modifying risk and protection. Annu Rev Psychol. 2018;69:437-458. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-122216-011902
- The health benefits of strong relationships. Harvard Health Publishing website.https://www.health.harvard.edu/ newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships. Published December 2010. Updated August 6, 2019. Accessed July 31, 2020.
- Schneider RH, Alexander CN, Staggers F, et al. Long-term effects of stress reduction on mortality in persons >55 years of age with systemic hypertension. Am J Cariol. 2005; 95(9):1060-1064. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2004.12.058
- Grant, B. How to Discover Your Ikigai? Medium website. Accessed July 31, 2020. , 2020. How to Discover Your Ikigai? The Japanese’s Secret To Health, Happiness And Longevity.. [online] Medium. https://medium.com/@lensbybenz_65973/how-to-discover-your-ikigai-the-japaneses-secret-to-health-happiness-and-longevity97a42b7177d1#:~:text=To%20find%20your%20Ikigai%2C%20you%20must%20ask%20yourself%3A&text=In%20other%20words%2C%20where%3B%20what,implies%20service%20to%20the%20community.