How Long Will You Live?
Audio version available here.
We live long but sick, let's live longer but healthy. The last decades of our lives can be the richest. It's not about living as long as possible, it's about living well and in good health until you die. Only about 20% of how long the average person lives is determined by genes. Genes are not our destiny. 80% of our lifespan has everything to do with our lifestyle. Early and midlife is time to invest, it will pay off dividends later in life. Professor of psychology at Yale University in Connecticut, Dr. Becca Levy says that by changing a negative view of aging to a positive one, you get extra 7.5 years of life. David. A. Sinclair, a member of the American Federation for Research on Aging and a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School in Massachusetts gathered simple guidelines that add full 15 years of life to You. This includes regular exercise in your life, not overeating, eating mostly plant-based foods, sleeping 7 to 9 hours and being in a close and good relationship with family, friends and the community in which you live.
Although many of us do not know about it, there are 5 longevity hotspots on the planet. Small regions with the highest percentage of centenarians who live hundred years or more and keep healthy. These places are called Blue Zones and are located in Sardinia, Italy; Ikaria, Greece; Okinawa, Japan; Nicoya, Costa Rica and Loma Linda, California. Before we dive into Blue Zones and why people thrive in them, I want to mention that aging research nowadays is a subject of interest for many scientists and scientific studies. Progress in understanding aging gains momentum and some scientists are convinced that we, our generation, are going to live up to 100 years as well. Let me introduce biogerontologist and cell biologist Valter Longo. He focuses not on aging, but zooms on youth instead. As director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California (USC), he researches youth in the field of juventology and proves that genes can be protected against damage and thus against aging. Longo advocates a 5-day fast or at least a fasting-mimicking diet every 3-4 months to help normalize blood sugar and lower blood pressure. Healthy glucose metabolism and adequate blood pressure are very important in preventing damage to blood vessels and organs, including the retina of the eye. This reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack and vision problems.
And what about the Blue Zones? People there do not visit modern gyms, coaching, fitness and food programs in pursuit of health and well being. For them, good health is a by-product of lifestyle fused with purpose and social connection. Scientists found out what unites centenarians from different corners of the planet:
- Moving naturally;
- Having a clear purpose in life, knowing their place in society;
- Regular downshift;
- 80% rule - They do not overeat and have their last meal a few hours before going to bed, eating slowly and stopping before they feel full;
- Plant Slant - eating meat, but marginally - the core is a plant-based diet, available peasant food (legumes, potatoes, whole grain foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, olive oil);
- Wine at 5 (except Adventists in Loma Linda, California) Enjoying 1-2 glasses of wine a day with friends at meals (for updated information on the effects of alcohol on the human body, I recommend the Huberman Lab Podcast from 8/22/2022 Alcohol and Your Health - author's note);
- Most of the centenarians who participated in the research belonged to some religious community (some form of faith played a role);
- Loved ones first - Their purpose in life is altruistic and directed towards others, they make sure the younger generation is well and flourishing, they support the maintenance of traditions and care for the well-being of the community in which they live).
Adopting new habits like these, we might not live up to 100, but our chances of making it well into our early 90s largely without chronic disease will dramatically increase!
Now, let's dive into a few more topics regarding longevity. The first one is sleep. When you make it to 90, you have most probably spent 30 years in bed sleeping. Yes, we sleep about ⅓ of our lives for a good reason. Sleep is often referred to as one of the pillars of health, but it is better to compare it to the pedestal on which the other pillars stand. Matthew Walker, a British scientist and professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley and a world leading sleep expert is clear about it when he says: “Sleep could be seen as the swiss army knife of health.” And he adds: “The shorter your sleep, the shorter your life.” If we did not need the 7-9 hours of sleep and survived on only 6, Mother Nature would have gotten rid of this time millions of years ago. This idiotic defenceless phase of our daily cycle would be possibly the biggest mistake of evolution. But it is not. Let's say you sleep 4 hours a night for a single night. The next day, there is a 70% drop of critical anticancer immune cells called the natural killer cells or NK cells. Walker further draws attention to the fact that alcohol makes it difficult for the body to slide into the deepest phase of sleep. That is when the body regenerates the most, secretes growth hormone, lowers stress hormone levels and fully activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
I hope you enjoy reading my blog or listening to the podcast. How are you feeling right now? And now? And at this moment? One of the ingredients of feeling good is having enough downtime. Time for ourselves with a nice piece of music, a good book or podcast or just chillin´ is essential to the quality of our lives. In other words, it is crucial for us to prevent chronic stress. 70-90% of all conditions seen by general practitioners these days are somehow related to long-term stress. One of the tools in your toolkit to prevent chronic stress can be mindful breathing. British doctor and BBC Breakfast star Dr. Rangan Chatterjee has a couple techniques to share with you. Even one minute of focused conscious breathing can help a lot when done every day (for video instructions click the link in resources below).
As I described in the beginning, years ahead of you may not only be worse from middle age, but the opposite. At the Chip Conley Academy of Modern Seniors, USA, students learn that spiritual awareness grows with age, as do emotional intelligence, a sense of humor and humility. These are the ingredients that get middle-aged men and women out of crisis and help them find a new calling. As I said earlier, reframing aging in a positive way can give you an extra 7,5 years of life. If one lives in a fixed mindset, being used to prove himself/herself and living with conviction that success is only about winning, getting older might reduce activities you are no longer good at. This is the time to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. We stop focusing so much on winning and focus more on learning and improving, which brings benefits not only to us, but also to others. Simply put, you move from proving yourself to improving yourself and start giving back. Chip Conley asks his clients:
What is it you have known/done now that you wish you had known/ had done 10 years ago?
10 years from now - what will You regret if you don't learn it or do it now?
Take the best out of this episode and I wish all of us to live well and healthy until we die!
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Thank You to Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash for the picture @ https://unsplash.com/photos/EwKXn5CapA4?utm_source=unsplash&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=creditShareLink
10. breathing exercises link: