Did you know that 30% of women and 15% of men who reach the age of 100 are completely free of any disease diagnosis? Among centenarians (those living to 100 years of age), 25% are cognitively intact, meaning their brains are still sharp and functioning. Those who do have some cognitive impairment see a delay in onset, remaining “with it” until an average age of 92. In fact most people who live to age 100+ avoid dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases. Wow. Sign me up!
Studying centenarians has led us to understand that extreme long life has many components. Genetics, environment, resiliency, and chance, as well as culture and geography play a role. But of course there are strategies we can use to increase the likelihood of living long and healthy. Are you with me? Let’s jump in!
Eating in moderation and choosing the right foods is a necessary precursor to longevity. I promise you no one lives to be 100+ on a diet of Flaming Hot Cheetos and Diet Coke. Come on my friends, you KNOW what it takes to live healthy, and it doesn’t involve an abundance of ultra processed foods.
What is eating in moderation? Let’s look at a delightful Japanese phrase, hara hachi bu, which roughly translates to “eat until you’re 80% full”. You might also think of it as eating until you’re no longer hungry. This gentle version of calorie restriction is common among centenarians.
Eating a plant based or plant forward diet, with a rainbow of fruits and vegetables, contributes to longevity. Getting the majority of your protein from soy, nuts and other plants, rather than from animals, is good for your health, as well as the planet.
Studies of Seventh Day Adventists show that they outlive their neighbors in Loma Linda, California by 5 – 10 years, related to their abstinence from alcohol and tobacco, following a vegetarian diet, and indeed even going regularly to church. Studies of other long lived societies including those in Costa Rica, Ikaria, Greece, Okinawa, Sardinia, Singapore, Australia, and Switzerland reveal the value of maintaining a healthy body mass index, exercise, an active daily life (walking, gardening), and eating regular plant forward meals, in moderation.
Factors beyond healthy diet, active lifestyle and weight include having a social support system with family and friends, ample laughter and humor, purposeful living (work ethic, volunteerism), and spirituality. The value of a social network cannot be underestimated. Lack of strong social relationships is associated with a mortality risk roughly equal to smoking! Did you catch that? Let me repeat… the risk of death from social isolation is about the same as the risk of death from smoking. Wow. Get on that phone or computer and REACH OUT people! Get connected.
My recommendation is to look around and take stock of where you are with the following seven things you can influence when it comes to longevity, and give yourself a tune up where needed.
- Eat a plant forward diet, with small to moderate portioned meals.
- Address your body mass index (BMI). Reach out to your doctor or an Obesity Medicine specialist if you need help with weight loss. https://obesitymedicine.org/find-obesity-treatment/
- Get regular exercise and lead an active life (walking, gardening).
- Improve your social support system with friends, family, laughter and humor.
- Avoid tobacco and avoid or limit alcohol.
- Spirituality can take many forms. Find yours.
- Find your purpose in life (eg, life philosophy, volunteerism, work ethic).
Thanks for listening! I wish you the best of health.