When we study people who have lived healthfully well into their old age, we can learn a lot from the foods they eat and their daily habits. Here in the U.S, people live, on average, until about age 79, but life expectancy is actually on the decline—in part because of our dietary and lifestyle habits. Elsewhere in the world, life expectancy is higher, and in some parts, people live well into their 90s or even until 100. The reality is that by adopting a healthier diet filled with anti-aging foods and by adding certain healthy practices to your daily routine, you can increase your life expectancy by up to a dozen years. Here are some of the anti-aging foods to add to your menu as well as some of the habits that will protect your mind and body and promote a longer, healthier life.
Fill Your Plate with Anti-Aging Foods
Even if you’re a meat eater, 75% of your diet should be a mix of plant foods, including vegetables, fruits, pulses (the term for beans, legumes, and peas), nuts, seeds, and whole grains. These are considered anti-aging foods because they make up the majority of the diet of people who live the longest, healthiest lives.
Inflammation, poor gut health, and oxidative stress are the major drivers of chronic diseases and plant foods supply an assortment of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants that can counter these unhealthy processes and therefore, help you offset conditions, like cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
These foods may also make it easier to reach and maintain a healthier weight, which can also protect you from chronic conditions.
Though you can eat meat and enjoy a long and healthy life, it’s important to look at how often you’re including it and the amounts you’re eating, as well as the balance of other anti-aging foods on your plate. Here are some suggestions:
Fill half your plate with non-starchy veggies (such as cucumbers, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage)
Make a quarter of your plate a protein, whether meat or pulses
Fill the remaining quarter of your plate with whole grains, such as quinoa or brown rice or whole wheat pasta.
Use healthful fats, like nuts, nut butters, or olive oil, to add flavor and/or texture to meals. For example, cook your veggies in olive oil, top salads with nuts, use pesto to flavor chicken, fish, or veggies, or create a marinade out of your favorite nut or seed butter.
Reduce Your Intake of Processed Foods
When it comes to protecting your mind and body and boosting your life expectancy, focusing on the top anti-aging foods is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s also important to think about the foods to limit. That means minimizing your intake of processed foods, particularly those with excessive added sugars, salt, or refined grains. Some examples: Fast food, pizza, potato chips, sweetened drinks, white bread, and sugary cereals and yogurts. (See my post about the worst processed foods to eat for more info.)
Heavily processed foods are linked to a heavier weight and a harder time managing appetite, and ingredients, like sugar and refined grains can drive the inflammatory process and may induce oxidative damage, which can accelerate certain diseases.
It’s not necessary to totally eliminate these foods or to eliminate all the convenience from your life. Do the best you can to choose convenient, but less processed options, say by choosing a lower sugar whole grain cereal instead of a sugary version.
Eat Until You’re Somewhat Full
The world’s healthiest people don’t just fill their meals with potent anti-aging foods, but they also enjoy their meals until they’re about 80% full, rather than totally full or uncomfortably stuffed. In Japan, this concept is called hara hachi bu, and it’s a mindful practice of ending a meal when you still have room to continue eating. In other words, you’re no longer hungry, but you’re not quite full, either.
To give this anti-aging practice a try, consider these pointers:
Eat slowly. Chew your food thoroughly and place your fork down between bites. Spend at least 20 minutes enjoying your meal, and make it even more memorable and satiating by stating (silently or aloud) some of the elements you’re enjoying, such as the temperature (hot or cold), texture (creamy or crunchy) and flavor.
Limit digital distractions. This may not always be possible, but to the degree that it is, turn off your digital devices and focus on your meal.
Tune into your body’s cues. Begin by identifying some physical sensations of eating until you’re no longer hungry and those of eating past that point. Then, you can start to ask yourself how it would feel to eat a little more or what it would have felt like to eat a little less.
Re-Examine Your Drinks
This is pretty simple: Those who live the longest tend to drink mostly water or unsweetened coffee or tea. Sugary soft drinks, sports drinks, and frilly coffee drinks aren’t on their menus.
Though moderate alcohol consumption—defined as a drink a day for women or two for men—is associated with a longer lifespan, it’s important to consider the context of alcohol consumption. The world’s healthiest people enjoy alcohol with food, family, or friends rather than as a coping tool (say, to de-stress). (For more about alcohol and aging, read my blog post about which alcohol is best for health.)
Try to Step Up Your Activity Levels—Just A Bit
The CDC recommends 150 minutes of physical activity each week. If this sounds discouraging, consider that you can break it up into smaller chunks (say, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes there), and that you can get some health benefits in as little as 15 minutes per day. Also consider that our bodies weren’t designed to sit for 12 hours a day and exercise for one; rather, the healthiest people in the world move about their day, whether because they work in a field or walk around their villages.
Granted, walking to do all your errands may be impractical, but consider how you can factor more natural movement into your day. For example, could you set an intention of taking two 10-minute stretching breaks during your workdays? Once your activity habit becomes second nature, you can decide if you want to step it up even more.
Nurture Your Relationships
There’s no question that in addition to eating anti-aging foods and staying active, your healthfulness depends on the quality of your connections with friends, family, and community. It’s no wonder everyone rushed to participate in Zoom meetups during quarantine!
Our relationships can influence how we handle stress and numerous studies point to the fact that people who have positive relationships have fewer health concerns and enjoy longer lifespans. Hug people in your household and your close friendship bubble often. There’s evidence that hugs help you buffer stress better, and even thwart your risk of illness and infections. Not a hugger? Tell someone you love them. Communicating affection has also been shown to help us de-stress.
Take Nature Breaks
By now, we all know what it feels like to be cooped up indoors. It’s pretty easy to see that nature is good for our body and spirit. One study found that spending just two hours outside each week was tied to a 59% higher chance of feeling healthy and a 23% higher chance of reporting a positive well-being compared to spending less time outside. It doesn’t matter if you go for a two hour hike or take small breaks throughout the week that amount to two hours total. Either way, getting outside will invigorate you and promote positive feelings and better health.
Want to geek out on the science with me? References are below:  https://www.cnbc.com/2019/07/09/us-life-expectancy-has-been-declining-heres-why.html  https://www.bluezones.com/2016/11/power-9/#:~:text=To%20make%20it%20to%20age,adopting%20a%20Blue%20Zones%20lifestyle.  https://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/adults/index.htm  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797614559284  https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03637751.2010.498792  https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-019-44097-3