The desire to achieve a healthy old age is laudable indeed, and will be even more so in the future. According to a projection of the century-long rise in life expectancy published in The Lancet in October, more than half the children born since 2000 in wealthy countries can expect to celebrate their 100th birthday.
If so many of us are destined to become centenarians, it is all the more important to be able to enjoy those years unencumbered by chronic disease and disability. There is no virtue in simply living long; the goal should be to live long and well.
The Longevity Diet
After decades of government guidelines and advice from friends, family and physicians, Americans have made some improvements in their eating habits. On average, we consume less red meat and saturated fat and somewhat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Our processed foods were recently stripped of artery-clogging trans fats, thanks to a campaign that challenged the food industry to better protect American hearts. And our pigs (though, alas, not our people) have gotten much leaner in recent years.
But, and this is a big but, we are a long way from consuming the kind of diet most closely linked to a low risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, stroke and dementia. That diet need not be strictly vegetarian, but it should emphasize plant-based foods over the meat and other products that come from animals that eat plants. The closer to the earth we eat, the healthier — and leaner — we are likely to be.
Most of the evidence for the assumed health benefits of specific nutrients comes not from stuffing people with supplements but rather from observing the effects of eating foods rich in these nutrients. Supplements of antioxidants failed to protect against disease the way a diet rich in fruits and vegetables seems to. Rather than isolated nutrients, combinations of them, along with other perhaps unidentified substances in foods, are now thought to confer the observed health benefits.
You have no doubt heard much about the so-called Mediterranean diet, and with good reason. This eating style, in its classic form, is most closely linked to a healthy body and mind as people age: a lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. It is loaded with nutrient-rich vegetables and fruits, beans and grains, fish and shellfish, but relatively little meat and poultry. Olive oil is the primary fat for cooking and eating, even replacing butter as a smear on bread.
But the Mediterranean diet does not come in a pill or potion. You have to eat the foods to reap the rewards. Consider also taking supplements of two nutrients in otherwise short supply — calcium and vitamin D. In addition to protecting bones from age-related decline, vitamin D in amounts of 800 to 1,000 international units daily for middle-aged and older adults may improve muscle strength (and thus reduce the risk of falls and fractures), help prevent several common cancers, counter depression and enhance cognitive function, various studies have suggested.
The second crucial ingredient is regular physical exercise. It’s time to stop making excuses and make regular physical activity an integral part of your life, like eating, sleeping and brushing your teeth. You don’t decide every day to do these things, you just do them. Likewise with exercise.
The single most effective activity, studies have found, is an aerobic activity like brisk walking — about 30 minutes a day. In a 2006 study of people aged 60 to 79, those who were assigned to walk briskly three days a week for 45 minutes a day experienced an increase in the brain’s volume, especially in regions involved in memory, planning and multitasking.
Even people already afflicted with chronic ailments — heart or lung disease, arthritis, diabetes, depression, early dementia — can reap significant health benefits from exercise, studies have found.
Americans have yet to learn what Hippocrates, the father of medicine, recognized in 400 B.C. "All parts of the body which have a function if used in moderation and exercised in labors in which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy, well developed and age more slowly; but if unused and left idle they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly."
Veggie Thanksgiving Options:
Roasted Root Vegetables
Vegan Dishes Like Portobello Mushrooms & Bread Pudding