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Around five years ago, two British women, Susan Saunders and Annabel Streets, started researching the scientific literature for information on how to have a healthier, happier, and extended, old age. They blogged about their findings, and now their “Age Well Project” has been published as a book, offering nearly 100 ways to prolong life, and enjoy good health while doing so.
Below are a few of their more interesting suggestions, and at the bottom you will find a link to an article that covers more of their material (as well as a link to their book on Amazon).
CHANGE HOW YOU EAT
Studies indicate that longevity, as it relates to diet, is more about how and when you eat, and not as much about what you eat (obviously aside from a junk food diet).
Choosing high quality, undenatured, unprocessed, and, ideally organic, whole foods, is required for good health (whether one is vegan or paleo). However, it is also important not to eat too late in the day.
When You Eat
Eating dinner a few hours before bed allows for digestion to be mostly complete by the time we go to sleep, which supports better sleep, and increases the overnight fast. This period of not eating (or fasting) is essential for health and longevity. (The reason the first meal is called breakfast, is because we are breaking the fast that went on through the night.)
If one has a large meal before bed, not only is the body unable to burn any of those calories, but the heart has to work for hours, pumping blood to the stomach in order to facilitate digestion. Thus one can not fully rest and restore while sleeping.
How Fast You Eat
Another important factor in eating is how fast we eat. The slow food movement started in Europe decades ago, and now has spread throughout the world.
(“Slow Food was started by Carlo Petrini and a group of activists in the 1980s with the initial aim to defend regional traditions, good food, gastronomic pleasure, and a slow pace of life. In over two decades of history, the movement has evolved to embrace a comprehensive approach to food that recognizes the strong connections between plate, planet, people, politics and culture. Today Slow Food represents a global movement involving thousands of projects and millions of people in over 160 countries.”) (Slow Food Movement)
While the slow food movement has become about more than just leisurely eating, initially it was a reaction to “fast food”, and everything those poor quality foods represent.
When we eat slowly we chew more thoroughly, which then requires less energy for digestion, proper chewing being the first step in digestion. Slow eating also allows the satiety hormones to kick in, ensuring that we don’t overeat. Eating too fast allows us to keep eating beyond an ideal amount, since we have not yet digested sufficient food for the satiety signals to kick in.
Constantly eating throughout the day (5 times per day) is often advised as a way to lose weight, since frequent eating will keep the metabolism racing. However, constant eating keeps the digestive system always working, which means it is also always producing insulin. This overproduction of insulin can in turn lead to insulin resistance, which is a pre-diabetic state.
Overeating is clearly a common problem these days, and should be avoided when aiming at extending life as much as possible. I learned in Macrobiotics school that it is better to undereat poor quality food than to overeat good quality food. Which ties into the old English proverb, “Don’t dig your grave with your own knife and fork”.
There is a reason that animal studies (insects, rodents, and primates) consistently show life extension to result from calorie restriction. When we are digesting cooked foods our body sends enzymes to the stomach to facilitate digestion. However, when the stomach is empty, those enzymes are patrolling the bloodstream looking for invaders to dispense with. They clean the blood of foreign protein particles, allergens, dead cells, bad bacteria and fungus. All in an attempt to help keep us healthy, and living well into old age.
For more information on the subject of eating and longevity, check out an earlier blog of mine, “It’s Not What You Eat, It’s When You Eat”.
As a voracious reader of fiction, I particularly like this recommendation: read more for a longer, healthier life.
A Yale study (3,600 people over the age of 50), found that reading increased longevity by almost two years. The greatest increase in lifespan occurred among those who read 3.5 hours, or more, weekly, though even “30 minutes a day was still beneficial”.
Although those surveyed did not specify what genre of books they were reading, the study authors maintain that it is likely most of the people were reading fiction.
When attempting to answer why reading would extend lifespan, they suggested that there are two cognitive processes involved in reading books that could create a “survival advantage”.
One: Reading books promote the “slow, immersive process of deep reading, a cognitive engagement which occurs as the reader draws connections to other parts of the material, finds applications to the outside world, and asks questions about the content presented”.
Two: “Books can promote empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence, which are cognitive processes that can lead to greater survival”.
Interestingly, those who read books lived longer than those who mostly read newspapers and magazines. Based on what was just said above, we can assume that these mediums do not allow for an “immersive process of deep reading”, and they are likely non-fiction in nature.
For another perspective on reading newspapers have a look at this earlier blog of mine: Bad News for Women, on how women and men react differently to “news”.
Finally, many experts recommend reading as a means of getting to sleep, good quality sleep being yet another longevity factor. Though, from the perspective of Chinese medicine, only reading fiction is of benefit when trying to fall asleep afterwards. Chinese medicine practitioners believe reading non-fiction over-stimulates the spleen meridian, which agitates the brain (as it is trying to learn), whereas fiction does not engage the brain in the same way.
VISIT GREEN SPACES
We all feel better when we get a chance to be in nature for a while. However, nature has more powerful benefits than just helping us to destress and feel more relaxed.
Trees produce phytoncides, a substance emitted by plants and trees, which provides the aroma of the forest. “Phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate, and phytoncides are produced to help plants & trees protect themselves from harmful insects and germs.
In humans, phytoncides have been shown to help improve immunity, lower blood pressure, and reduce stress. As well, microbes found in forest soil have been found to reduce depression, and may even contribute to the health of our microbiome.
A 15-minute walk is all it takes to reap the benefits, but researchers have found that a weekend in the woods improves immunity for up to a month, while a short afternoon run or walk somewhere green leads to better sleep at night.
For those who wish to purchase the book, “The Age Well Project: Easy Ways to a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life”, by Annabel Streets and Susan Saunders, follow this link.