You know what’s fascinating? Longevity. Anti-Aging.
It’s been suggested in some circles that humans could live up to 120-140 years old. Many anti-aging enthusiasts like Peter Diamandis, Elon Musk and Dave Asprey are shooting for the moon, attempting to reach 160 years old.
But the sad truth is, the estimated average lifespan in the U.S. today is only about 77 years, which is plummeting due to high rates of chronic diseases – many of which are preventable with simple lifestyle changes.
How exactly do we age?
Biologically speaking, aging can be described as an accumulation of damage and mutations in DNA repair processes, breakages in the molecular machinery of cells, a build-up of metabolic waste products that your body cannot break down, and the failure of biological systems that are increasingly unable to cope.
Over time, aging affects every cell in every organ, structure, and tissue in the body. For example, male bone density starts to diminish around age thirty-five, and that of women peaks right around thirty years old. After thirty, muscle mass declines more than twenty percent in the absence of regular exercise. Constipation becomes more frequent in older adults, due to loss of proper digestive function. After twenty-five years old, maximum lung capacity begins to diminish. Between thirty and forty, two-thirds of humans undergo a gradual decline in the rate that the kidneys filter blood, leading to a number of urinary complications. At thirty years old, human growth hormone begins its regression and falls at a rate of fourteen percent per decade. Around forty years old, the heart muscles thicken and blood vessels stiffen, making it harder for your heart to pump blood, which can lead to hypertension and other cardiovascular problems.
In the face of so much cellular and tissue degeneration, what can you do? Is there really any strategy to prevent your body from doing what seems to be the natural process of aging?
Longevity Secrets Of The Blue Zones
The truth is, even though what your body is doing is natural, it’s only the natural response to its environment and fuel supply. Aging is accelerated by things like a poor diet, chronic inflammation, smoking, chronic stress, improper physical activity (too little or too much), toxin exposure, sleep deprivation and more. The Western lifestyle often includes all of the above and your body can only handle suboptimal conditions for so long until disease sets in and quality of life declines.
But this accepted state of aging – where the brain degrades, physical fitness drastically declines, and disease is inevitable – is hardly seen in the Blue Zones. The Blue Zones are five geographic areas identified as having the highest longevity among human populations on earth.
The Blue Zones were made popular by Dan Buettner who traveled all over the world to identify the characteristic environments and lifestyles that different populations with the highest longevity have cultivated over centuries. He outlined his findings in his book called The Blue Zones. Buettner’s Blue Zones refer to Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California, USA), Nicoya Peninsula (Costa Rica), and Icaria (Greece).
Here's a glimpse into one of the Blue Zones – Sardinia, Italy. During the mid-1990’s, an Italian doctor named Gianni Pes traced the history of 1,000 Sardinian centenarians. In one village of just 2,500 people, he found seven centenarians. This is an incredible amount when compared to America where there’s only about one centenarian per 5,000 people. Upon being interviewed, a number of these legends said that they’d spent their lives working hard as farmers or shepherds, following the seasons, raising families, and leading for the most part ordinary lives. On the surface, nothing really makes them special. And the answer doesn’t lie in their genetics. So what it is that sets them apart from the rest of the world?
Well, when you look at all these blue zones across the globe and pinpoint all the little things they’re doing that seem to extend lifespan, there are five things that stand out the most. And these don’t just help them live longer – they live better. They have strong connections with their family and friends. They’re active. They wake up in the morning knowing that they have a purpose, and the world, in turn, reacts to them in a way that propels them along. An overwhelming majority of them still enjoy life. And despite all of them being of different races, nationalities and religions from all over the world, they enjoy fulfilled lives, with their feet planted firmly in the realm of ancestral living. So, without further ado, here are the five common tactics among some of the longest-lived people on the face of the planet.
Lifestyle Factors For Living Longer
These are the five most common lifestyle factors for increased longevity that have been identified through surveys and studies, but there are many other ways to optimize your health, many of which you'll find throughout Kion. It's great if you can implement these five things, but remember that you can go much further in optimizing your lifestyle and especially your diet!
1) No Smoking
There’s not really any surprises here. You don’t have to go far to find a handful of co-workers taking a smoke break outside the office or young people hanging around on a street corner puffing their way through a few smokes. Little does the average office worker or young whippersnapper realize the effect smoking has on the activity of what’s called free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS).
Free radicals are any molecular species capable of existing independently, which contain an unpaired electron. The unpaired electron is what makes free radicals so damaging, by lending certain properties that you can find across the board. And these molecules are actually naturally generated by your body under different circumstances. But they serve a purpose and aren’t necessarily a huge problem unless your body can’t keep up with their production. They alter lipids, proteins, and DNA, and cause a number of human diseases, and result from metabolic processes, or from external sources like X-rays, ozone, air pollutants, industrial chemicals, and… cigarette smoking.
Radicals of particular concern are ROS. These can lead to oxidative damage in both DNA and RNA, specifically in the mitochondria, where cellular energy is produced. As you get older, free radical reactions can cause aging in different parts of the body by increasing the rate of shortening of your DNA’s telomeres, the end caps that keep your DNA from unraveling. And while there are measures you can take to counteract that effect (e.g., strength training), the fact that you have to counteract them at all means that you should probably put the cigarette down. This damage is connected to cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, and direct observation of the effects of smoking on centenarians demonstrated that smoking is correlated almost exclusively to bad health and non-autosufficiency (auto-sufficiency a state of ultimate bodily efficiency and independence).
Granted, there’s research out there that may suggest that things like nicotine gum could improve the efficiency of your brain. But in terms of actually lighting up and smoking carcinogens, it shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise that you have to tread carefully. There’s really no reason to accelerate the rate at which you age because even if you’re able to reduce the impact of smoking, the quality of the years you do have will still be affected.
2) Consume Legumes
These slow-burning carbohydrates, like lentils and peas, seem to be a prevailing theme in the diets of many of the world’s longest-lived people. Fava beans are one of three or four staples in the traditional, shepherd/farmer Sardinian diet. And it’s a little funny, because in many health/nutrition circles today, it’s almost taboo to eat legumes – supposedly they damage the gut and are difficult to digest. Some of them are coated in saponins, which are soap-like compounds designed to protect the legumes as they pass through waves of digestive juices, so they can emerge intact, ready to be planted. Eating large amounts of saponins would obviously do a number on your stomach and intestines.
The fact is, however, that many legumes, when fermented, soaked, and sprouted, can actually contribute to your overall health and youthfulness by doing two things: stabilizing blood sugar, and providing adequate amounts of fiber.
Legumes are low-glycemic foods (lower than “70” on the glycemic index), which means that over time, as they’re digested, they don’t cause a major spike in blood glucose levels. According to one study, the mean peak rise in blood glucose concentration after consumption of legumes was 23% lower than that caused by other foods like breads, spaghetti, rice, and cereals. When your blood sugar spikes too high, your body starts producing large amounts of insulin to get it out of your blood and into your cells. When your insulin levels get too high, it can lead to things like obesity, sleep problems, and hypertension. So by reducing the effects of high blood sugar and insulin, legumes help to keep your blood, and therefore you, healthy.
Legumes also contain the highest total amount of dietary fiber of seventy high consumption foods tested by the USDA. Fibers that are either slowly fermented or not digestible at all help to promote healthy pooping activity, as well as prevent diverticulitis (inflammation in the digestive tract, particularly the intestines). Foods that are rich in fiber are processed more slowly, which helps to control the appetite, and it’s also important for lowering blood cholesterol levels and also normalizing blood glucose and insulin levels.
Even saponins, the supposedly “bad” part of many legumes, can be beneficial. Despite the gut damaging effects, which definitely occur when they’re consumed in large amounts, it’s been suggested that the saponins that occur naturally in the cells of legumes affect the immune system in a way that helps to protect the body against cancer, as well as lower cholesterol levels. Saponins also lower the blood glucose response, and may even help to reduce the incidence of kidney stones. All this means that perhaps even the more deleterious parts of legumes could be beneficial in small amounts. So you should take a hint from the centenarians, and start eating more legumes, their impact on your farts be damned.
3) Constant, Low-Level Movement
In first-world modern society, there’s this habit of going to the gym for a really hard workout, either at the beginning or the end of the day. But for the rest of your waking hours, you’re pretty much on your butt, typing out emails or scrolling through your Facebook feed. And that means that the majority of your time is spent probably in poor posture, letting your muscles be inactive. Even though it’s not the only factor, a sedentary lifestyle, which has become all too common today, can lead to weight gain and obesity, which in turn can lead to cardiovascular complications.
In stark contrast, people who live in the world’s blue zones aren’t doing any hardcore exercise sessions for an hour or so a day. They are just engaging in low-level movement – gardening, hunting, gathering, shepherding – all day long. People like Mark Sisson, the man behind Mark’s Daily Apple, follow this type of lifestyle, making sure to get in lots of low-intensity activity throughout the day to keep their muscles primed and firing. Chris Kresser also writes about this concept. Man’s paleolithic ancestors had to exert themselves all day long to find food and survive. Instead of spending 30 minutes to an hour on the Stairmaster or treadmill, or even on a trail outdoors, and then spending the rest of their day sitting inside the cave doing nothing, early man would have had to wander outside for hours on end, crawling over logs and boulders, making their way through the trees, and traversing miles of open terrain to get enough to eat. And, whereas what modern fitness enthusiasts consider to be cardio can cause inflammation, loss of immune function and metabolism, and oxidative damage (which, as you just learned, leads to aging), ancestral, all-day-long, low-level movement has the opposite effect.
There are ways you can hack your own environment to simulate that lifestyle, even if you’re just typing up emails or making calls. You could purchase a standing workstation, a treadmill workstation, go for a walk while you make some calls, or take breaks throughout the day for mini exercise sessions like burpees. Just keep yourself in a state of mild, physical activity for a large portion of your day.
4) Plant-Based Diet
No, veganism and vegetarianism are not necessarily the ultimate diets for a long life. But it’s evidently clear that the inclusion of large amounts of plant matter into your daily meal plan lends itself to longevity. And this goes far beyond just eating legumes.
Plant-based diets are so effective because of the nutrients and micronutrients that plants contain: n-3 fatty acids, antioxidant vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fiber, and plant proteins, just to name a few. In particular, the phytochemicals derived from fruits and vegetables are potent antioxidants and cancer-preventing compounds, due to their synergistic effects. No single antioxidant can replace the array of phytochemicals found in various plants that are available at the grocery store.
There are even apps you can download onto your phone, like FlowerChecker and PlantSnap, and if you go out into nature and photograph different plants, you can use the apps to identify them, find out if they’re edible/medicinal, eat them on the spot, or take them home and sauté them. If you’re in a more urban setting, you’d expect to have a bit more difficulty finding wild plants to incorporate into your diet, but you might be surprised. Look around for a community garden or grab a field guide, and keep an eye out for things like dandelion or plantain that could be growing nearby. Forget the produce aisle. Wander around outside for a couple hours, and you’ll discover all sorts of tasty treats, and get in some low-level, caveman-style exercise.
5) Strong Family Relationships
This is a heavily emphasized trait of blue zone populations. Love should extend to your fellow community members, but more importantly, you should develop the relationships you have with people you share blood with – your mother, your father, your son, your daughter, your grandmother, your grandfather, your uncle, your aunt, your cousin, your niece, your nephew.
In places like Okinawa and Sardinia, family always comes first. One generation starts a family, and as the initial progenitors get older, their children, and then their grandchildren, and perhaps even their great-grandchildren, will begin to look after them (although in the blue zones people are usually active well into their 90’s). For them, a family is an investment in the future. How would your family relationships compare to a community like that?
Social relationships can impact mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk, both in the short- and long-term. It can even boost the immune system since genes that are impacted by social connection also code for immune function and inflammation.
One study observed that through various gene expressions, intracellular signaling mechanisms, and inflammatory biomarkers, relationship conflict and lower social support can modulate proinflammatory cytokine secretion (part of the natural immune response) by promoting depression, emotional stress responses, and detrimental health behaviors.
These effects begin as early as adolescence and are cumulative over time. Now, granted, it’s easy to let those relationships slide; family problems are almost assumed today. Regardless, though, you should make a concerted effort to re-establish connections. Take your little sister or brother out for coffee. Call your dad on the phone once a week. Visit your grandma. Organize family dinners at your home. Swap stories. Absorb their wisdom and experience. Just get connected.
Summary And A Quick Anti-Aging Tip
While the practices above are foundational and incredibly important to leading a long, healthy life, you have the benefit of living in a time and place where you can combine these time-tested methods with advanced tactics and biohacks used by the science-y, geeky anti-aging community. You can do intermittent fasting, cyclic ketogenesis, cryotherapy, stem cell enhancement, and UVA and UVB radiation.
But for now, this is your task: start out easy by identifying just one family member who you could probably do a better job at maintaining or building a relationship with. Call them up, text them, email them, send a carrier pigeon, do whatever you have to do to set a date for coffee or lunch or dinner. Start reestablishing a connection that may have diminished over the years. Build that love, build that relationship, and interact on a deep and meaningful level. Not only will your lifespan increase, you’ll have at least one person that you want to live that long for.