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 have 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 five lifestyle choices practiced daily by 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 choices that these regions share to boost longevity and health span. We know this because 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.
So, what are the five commitments to Longevity?
- 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 shown to promote healthy gaining. Here is some food for thought next time you are making decisions at the grocery store or planning your next meal (3).
- Eat whole, colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. These plant 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 which 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 (i.e. tuna, swordfish, mackerel, halibut). Mercury is a naturally occurring heavy metal that can be linked to serious health problems.
- Make meat, dairy, sweets, and fried food a delicacy not a staple. These foods are rich in sugar, salt and unhealthy saturated fat 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 available to most of us 24 hours a day does not mean you should eat all day and night. Try to eat all 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.
- Move Often. Due to the rise of modern conveniences, most Americans spend more time watching TV, working on a computer, microwaving meals, and driving a car, and spend less time walking, playing outside, gardening, and preparing homemade meals from scratch. Although technology may promote a more sedentary lifestyle, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make that will encourage more natural movement through 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, chose 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. You might work up a sweat on your walks, taking the stairs and even when cleaning. Some other exercises that will spike your heart rate 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 practice movements against resistance. Resistance can come in the form of body weight exercises, pulling/lifting weights, or heavy objects, increasing the elevation of your walk, and adding gear to your bike.
- Get Involved in Your Community – The Longevity Regions are known for their tight knit communities and spirituality. In Okinawa, Japan, you are born into a “moais” – a small group of friends that stick with you for life. Several studies support the essential role community and interpersonal connections play in long-term health (4,5,6). Here are some ways you can develop your own moais.
- 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 organization to meet people with similar interests to 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.
- 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 drinking a glass of wine with family or friends. The common characteristics between each activity are relaxation, presence, and gratitude. Start with these simple steps toward your own stress management routine (7).
- Practice intentional breathing. Shift your body from a tense 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 before you critique how you could have been better.
- 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.
- Discover Your Self-Purpose - In Okinawa, Japan, there is no such thing as a “work life” and “retired life.” There is just an Ikigai, “the reason to live.” It inspires the roles you play on earth. If you don’t think you’ve found your Ikigai, consider the following….
- 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, L. and Lu, W., 2020. These Are The World’S Healthiest Countries. [online] Bloomberg.com. Available at: <https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-24/spain-tops-italy-as-world-s-healthiest-nation-while-u-s-slips> [Accessed 31 July 2020].
- Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. 2020. American Health Care: Health Spending And The Federal Budget. [online] Available at: <https://www.crfb.org/papers/american-health-care-health-spending-and-federal-budget> [Accessed 31 July 2020].
- Longo, V., 2018. The Longevity Diet. New York: Avery.
- Buettner, D., 2020. Power 9® - Blue Zones. [online] Blue Zones. Available at: <https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/> [Accessed 31 July 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
- Publishing, H., 2020. The Health Benefits Of Strong Relationships. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: <https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/the-health-benefits-of-strong-relationships.
- Schneider, R. H., Alexander, C. N., Staggers, F., Rainforth, M., Salerno, J. W., Hartz, A., Arndt, S., Barnes, V. A., & Nidich, S. I. (2005). Long-term effects of stress reduction on mortality in persons > or = 55 years of age with systemic hypertension. The American journal of cardiology, 95(9), 1060–1064. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amjcard.2004.12.058
- Grant, B., 2020. How to Discover Your Ikigai? The Japanese’s Secret To Health, Happiness And Longevity.. [online] Medium. Available at: <https://medium.com/@lensbybenz_65973/how-to-discover-your-ikigai-the-japaneses-secret-to-health-happiness-and-longevity-97a42b7177d1#:~:text=To%20find%20your%20Ikigai%2C%20you%20must%20ask%20yourself%3A&text=In%20other%20words%2C%20where%3B%20what,implies%20service%20to%20the%20community.> [Accessed 31 July 2020].