Advertising campaigns are born almost daily with the latest drug, supplement, or life hack to extend life, however healthy living is the best and most scientifically proven way to extend life and prevent disease. Exercising; eating nutritious, unprocessed, organic foods; enjoying time with family and friends; avoiding alcohol, smoking, and drugs (including pharmaceuticals, if possible); getting plenty of sleep; supplementing your diet with quality vitamins and minerals; and getting outside and enjoying nature and sunshine have all been shown to improve health.
Over the past few years, there has been an ever-increasing obsession with biohacking and life extension: FDA-approved studies to see if metformin, a drug historically used to treat Type 2 diabetes, can slow aging. A supplement called Basis, which purports to extend life and is backed by multiple Nobel Prize–winning scientists. Transfusing the blood of younger individuals into older ones. Plus a whole manner of other hacks, such as dumping loads of butter into your coffee and wearing headbands that allegedly improve brain function.
Although these approaches are intriguing and arguably worth studying further (at least some of them), too many people seem to have forgotten that there already exists a scientifically proven method—one supported by decades of peer-reviewed research—to extend both the quantity and quality of your life: adopting a few healthy, quotidian habits.
“We’ve known since the mid-1960s that lifestyle behaviors have an outsize influence on health and longevity,” says Michael Joyner, a researcher and expert on health and human performance at the Mayo Clinic. Since then, evidence to support the positive impact of healthy living has mounted, he says, even as more people try to find the elixir of youth. Consider research published in 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health demonstrating that adopting healthy lifestyle behaviors—regular exercise, a wholesome diet, no smoking—can increase lifespan by 11 years. Or a 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal that found a healthy lifestyle reduces one’s chance of all-cause mortality by a whopping 61 percent.
The great irony is that “the idea behind a lot of these moon-shot fountain of youth drugs, supplements, and gadgets is to replicate the already proven biological and physiological effects of a few key behaviors,” says Joyner.
Aubrey de Grey, a pioneer in the anti-aging movement and chief science officer at the SENS Research Foundation, a Silicon Valley–based longevity institute, recently told the New Yorker that by doing things like optimizing his mitochondrial mutation, “I can drink as much as I like, and it has no effect. I don’t even need to exercise, I’m so well optimized.” Perhaps. But in the meantime, there’s an easier, proven method to life extension.
When it comes to health and longevity, there is no quick fix and no “fountain of youth” that will help you become healthy overnight. Being fit and healthy in order to reach a ripe old age takes effort and attention. But here’s the good news: there are a few simple lifestyle changes you can make to improve not only the quantity, but also the quality of your years. These changes are pretty basic, but can have a profound effect on your overall health once implemented.
If You Want to Live a Long and Healthy Life, Follow These Simple Tips
If exercise could be bottled up and sold as a drug, it would be a billion-dollar business. Decades of studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for physiological diseases (like heart disease and cancer), as well as psychological ones (like anxiety and Alzheimer’s). According to Joyner, many of the newfangled longevity elixirs aim to prevent mitochondrial dysfunction, or the breakdown of a cell’s ability to properly use energy, which is a normal part of aging. “But people who exercise can double the number of mitochondria in their skeletal muscle and improve its function throughout the body,” he says. “This is why exercise has such a potent anti-aging effect.”
According to studies, people who are sedentary are found to have a shorter lifespan. In fact, one study shows that reducing the average time you spend sitting down to less than three hours a day may increase your life expectancy by two years, and reducing the time you spend watching TV to less than two hours a day could increase it by 1.4 years.
I understand how difficult it is to avoid sitting down for prolonged periods, as computer work is very predominant today. Even I am guilty of spending a significant portion of my day sitting down. But to make up for it, I make sure that I get enough exercise daily. I also take frequent breaks every hour to stand up at my desk. I highly recommend Foundation Exercises, developed by chiropractor Dr. Eric Goodman, as well as short-burst high-intensity exercises, like Peak Fitness. You can read more about these techniques by subscribing to the Mercola daily newsletter.
Exercise also has some anti-aging effects, as proven by many studies. One study published in the American Journal of Physiology says that exercise triggers mitochondrial biogenesis, a decline of which is common in aging. This means that exercise can reverse significant age-associated declines in mitochondrial mass and, in effect, stop aging in its tracks.
#2. Eat Real Foods
Avoid stuff that comes wrapped in plastic. “Foods that undergo ultra-processing tend to see much of their nutritional bounty stripped from them,” says Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa-based obesity doctor and author of The Diet Fix. Another reason to avoid processed foods is related to energy density, or calories per gram of food. “Generally speaking, ultra-processed foods are much higher in energy density than foods made from fresh, whole ingredients,” says Freedhoff, “which isn’t great for maintaining a healthy weight.”
Freedhoff’s ideal diet for health and longevity? “One that is rich in whole foods that in turn are especially filling. You can keep calories at bay while maximizing nutrition,” he says. “This means a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, fish, and leaner meats with regular but not excessive consumption of fruits, nuts, and healthy oils.”
Processed and junk foods are loaded with grains, sugar, and unhealthy calories that increase your insulin levels, which not only accelerates the aging process but also increases your risk of obesity and chronic disease. Also, avoid consuming genetically engineered (GE) foods. Not only are GE foods less nutritious than organically-grown foods, but they also pose many health risks. In fact, most processed foods today contain GE ingredients – regardless of the fact that these GE components have not undergone long-term safety studies.
The best diet for optimal health and longevity is one that’s focused on whole, unprocessed foods – preferably organic vegetables, grass-fed meats, raw dairy, and nuts – acquired from healthy, sustainable, local sources. Consume a good portion of your food raw, as well as adding naturally fermented foods to meals. By implementing these basic diet changes, you can make a big leap toward longevity and optimal health.
When it comes to healthy eating, experts have touted several foods and trends that might not be as benign as we are made to believe. A report by Reader’s Digest highlighted a number of these “healthy” food habits that are worth ditching. Here are seven of those fads:
“HEALTHY” TRENDS THAT ARE MYTHS (via Newsmax)
- Cutting out fat. There has been controversy on this topic. While saturated fats are said to be bad for your health, many people are cutting out all fats from their diets – including healthy fats. Erin Palinski-Wade, author of “Belly Fat Diet for Dummies” pointed out monounsaturated fats found in foods like almonds and avocado, and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, offered numerous health benefits and should be consumed within moderation.
- Cholesterol in food. It was previously thought egg yolks, which are high in dietary cholesterol, could cause a spike in blood cholesterol but this has since been disproved. “We now know that dietary cholesterol has little impact on blood cholesterol levels,” Palinski-Wade said.
- Eating diet and processed “healthy” food. Do not be fooled by misleading food labels. Diet products such as light salad dressing and low fat yoghurt are not healthier food choices. Many of these products that have had the fat removed have been crammed with sugar and other preservatives to enhance the flavor. “Large amounts of added sugar in the diet may be even more damaging to health than excessive dietary fat,” Palinski-Wade said. If not sugar, watch for alternative sweeteners that are a source for many health problems.
- Gluten-free. Going gluten free is all the rage at the moment, but while many people think it is healthier to cut this from their diets, it might have the opposite effect (unless you suffer from celiac disease). Many healthy foods like rye, wheat, and barley contain gluten and, unless you have a confirmed allergy, Palinski-Wade said there is no point to avoid these foods.
- Downing sports drinks. Unless you are training for hours like an elite endurance athlete, reaching for that sports drink is not worth it. Most of these beverages are high in carbohydrates and sugars and chances are you do not need them. “Reaching for sports drinks unnecessarily can lead to consuming excess calories, sugars, and in some cases chemicals from artificial sweeteners,” noted Despina Hyde Gandhi, a registered dietitian at NYU Langone’s Weight Management Program.
- Following a raw food diet. While eating certain foods raw can be healthier, there is a misconception that cooking vegetables destroys nutrients. Foods can be more easily digested when cooked and it is safer to eat. “One big drawback is that this [raw food] diet is difficult to maintain — think eating out, eating as a guest in someone’s home — and may lead to nutrient deficiencies due to the restrictive nature,” Gandhi said.
- Cutting out food groups. Over the years there have been numerous diets encouraging a person to consume just one food, such as the cabbage soup diet, or advising that whole food groups such as carbohydrates be cut out completely. None of these recommendations have any long-term health benefits. “Any time you cut out an entire food group you will be missing out on important nutrients that your body needs,” Gandhi said.
For more useful tips in healthy eating, I advise you to follow the Mercola Nutrition Plan, which will guide you in choosing the right foods that will suit your unique biological makeup. The Mercola Nutrition Plan addresses your unique biochemical needs based on your specific genetics, allowing you to cure your health problems at the foundational level and giving you a more permanent solution for regaining your health.
#3. Call Your Friends
A mounting body of evidence is revealing that hanging out with friends and family doesn’t just make you feel good in the moment—it’s also good for long-term health. Social connections are associated with reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improved sleep quality, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, slowed cognitive decline, lessened systemic inflammation, and improved immune function.
In a 2010 study published in PLOS Medicine, researchers from Brigham Young University followed more than 300,000 people for an average of 7.5 years. They found that the mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were similar to those associated with smoking.
#4. Get Off of Medications and Take Quality Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
There are experts who claim that supplements, like prescription drugs, should be closely and stringently regulated. But the truth is that most vitamins and herbal supplements are significantly safer than pharmaceutical medications.
Even when properly prescribed, pharmaceutical medications kill over 100,000 people each year, while vitamins have not caused a single death in 27 years. In fact, supplements have one of the safest track records of any consumable product on the market.
Weight loss supplements are particularly notorious for producing negative publicity for the supplement industry. Not only are these generally ineffective, but they can put your health at risk as well. Yet manufacturers continue to sell these “miracle pills” for profit’s sake – but at the expense of people’s health.
Muscle-building supplements, high-energy products and sexual “boosters” are also linked to certain side effects, unfortunately putting supplements in a negative light. Take note that supplements that are known for being hazardous are those that are typically “spiked” with some form of pharmaceutical drug or synthetic ingredient. With very few exceptions, it’s not the natural vitamin or herb in itself that is shown to be dangerous.
So with the abundance of supplements out there, how do you know which ones are truly beneficial for you and which ones are only marketing fads, or worse, potentially dangerous for you? Dr. Mercola has put together a comprehensive resource to help keep you informed about vitamins and supplements that are being marketed today. Discover all the important facts about supplements, their mechanisms of action and proven benefits, recommended dosage and potential side effects.
And because not all supplements sold today are good for you, as mentioned above, Dr. Mercola has included information on particular ones that have been riddled with controversies and may have potentially damaging effects – so you can stay away from them.
As much as possible, wholesome, organic foods should be your primary source of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Supplements should only be a complementary health strategy. Remember that no supplement, no matter how high-quality or properly manufactured, can take the place of a balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
#5. Sleep 8 Hours at Night
Regardless of what the biohackers may tell you, you simply cannot nap or intermittently sleep your way to optimal health and functioning. It’s only after you’ve been sleeping for at least an hour that anabolic hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone—both of which are critical to health and physical function—are released. What’s more, a 2007 study published in the journal Sleep showed that with each additional 90-minute cycle of deep sleep, you receive even more of these hormones. In other words, there are increasing marginal benefits to sleep, and hours seven through nine—the hours most people don’t get—are actually the most powerful.
Deep sleep is also beneficial to mental health. Researchers from Harvard found that it’s only during deep sleep when your brain combs through, consolidates, and stores all the information you came across during the day. “There’s a reason all the bodybuilders and super-intellectual people I know are obsessed with sleep,” says Joyner. “Sleep works wonders.”
#6. Enjoy Nature
In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild, her mom tells her that the cure for much of what ails her is to “put [herself] in the way of beauty.” Turns out she was right, at least according to the latest science. Time in nature is an antidote to the ill effects of stress, prevents and in some cases even helps cure anxiety and depression, and enhances creativity. Though the exact causal mechanisms are not yet known, researchers speculate there is something unique about nature that puts both our bodies and minds at ease, promoting physical and psychological restoration and subsequent functioning.
Also, most adults are believed to be at least somewhat deficient in vitamin D due to reduced outdoor time and sunlight exposure. Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s stored in the liver and fatty tissues. This means that increased body fat has the ability to absorb vitamin D and keep it from being used within our body. Vitamin D is somewhat different than other vitamins because our bodies make most of our vitamin D on their own, rather than solely relying on food sources.
The way our bodies make vitamin D is to convert sunshine into chemicals that are used by the body. In particular, when UV-B sunshine rays land on the skin, a substance in the skin called 7-dehydrocholesterol is literally converted into vitamin D3. When you sit in the sun unexposed, without sunscreen, for roughly 10 minutes, you likely absorb about 10,000 units of natural vitamin D. However, keep in mind that this amount differs from person to person, depending on skin tone.
#7. Don’t Smoke
Smoking is associated with dozens of types of cancer, as well as heart disease, dementia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. According to the American Cancer Association, smoking causes one out of every five deaths in the United States, killing more people than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illegal drugs combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your body literally starts repairing the damage caused by smoking within days of stopping.
#8. Avoid Alcohol
Ever wonder, “What does alcohol do to your body?” Particularly, how does alcohol affect the brain? The truth is the damage goes far beyond a headache and brain fog you experience the morning after drinking too much. The effects of alcohol on the brain are profound, and heavy drinking can set you up for some of the most dreaded brain diseases. The long-term effects of alcohol can completely rewire your brain, too, increasing the risk of depression and other conditions.
Like smoking, excessive alcohol use is associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as liver cirrhosis, throat cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Drinking too much also impairs sleep and daily function.
Because a woman’s body has less tolerance for alcohol compared to men, it’s more susceptible to the damaging effects of alcohol poisoning. Numerous studies have linked these health consequences to excessive drinking in women, which include:
- Disrupted menstrual cycle
- Increased risk of infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth and premature delivery
- Higher risk of liver cirrhosis and other alcohol-related liver diseases compared to men
- Memory loss and brain shrinkage
- Increased risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, colon and breast cancer
Alcohol is also a common risk factor in many cases of sexual assault, particularly among young women. About 1 in 20 college women are sexually assaulted each year, and research suggests that there is a higher likelihood of rape or sexual assault when both the victim and the attacker are under the influence of alcohol before the incident.
In the below infograpghic, Dr. Mercola recommends 11 things for healthy living:
A healthy lifestyle is essential to achieving optimal wellbeing and longevity. This infographic, “11 Basic Guidelines for General Health and Longevity,” gives you useful tips to help you live a long and healthy life.
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