Do you long for days with a few more hours? If you can`t lengthen the clock, would you choose ten extra years of life, especially a decade that is lived in vibrant health?

For the past 30 years, researchers have gathered clues about which practices can extend our lives.  Some of the research centers on Seventh-day Adventists because of their lifestyles that typically include regular exercise and avoidance of smoking and coffee. About 1 in 2 adheres to a vegetarian diet. When Adventists who don`t eat meat are compared with those who do (and are similar in other respects), we find that a vegetarian diet is likely to extend life by 2 years. Avoiding smoking will give us about another 2 years (and keep us off a respirator, while we`re at it).

5 Health Habits to Add an Extra 10 Years of Life (1, 2)

Habit

Added Years

for Men

Added Years

for Women

Regular, vigorous exercise

2.14

2.19

Plant-based diet

2.38

1.65

Frequent consumption of a handful of nuts

2.87

1.18

Normal body weight

1.51

1.9

Never having smoked

1.35

1.49

 

If we wonder why women vegetarians don’t turn out to have quite such a health advantage, it could be that the diets of females generally are somewhat more centered on protective plant foods. Vegetarians are less likely to be overweight than are meat-eaters. Drinking at least 5 glasses of water a day turns out to be protective, too. This means plain water; not coffee, tea, diet soda.

Nuts (both peanuts and tree nuts) are concentrated sources of nutrients (the antioxidant vitamin E, magnesium, potassium, amino acids), dietary fiber, and most of their fat is unsaturated. When we replace other fats by a handful (though not a bowl full) of nuts on a regular basis, we decrease our risk of coronary artery disease, without getting fatter.

A study by the World Health Organization shows legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts) to be powerfully protective. (3) Long-lived food cultures such as the Japanese use soyfoods, tofu, natto, and miso); the Swedes rely on brown beans and peas), and Mediterranean populations enjoy lentils, chickpeas, and white beans.

A fascinating book, “Healthy at 100“ by bestselling author John Robbins asks “Why do some people age in failing health and sadness while others grow old with vitality and joy?“ His answer draws on four cultures that have produced prime examples of people whose later years are a time of wisdom, vitality, and happiness.  These people live in Abkhasia (the Caucasus, in southern Russia) where old age is appreciated; in Vilcabamba in the Andes of South America, where laughter is the greatest medicine; in Hunza in Central Asia, where dance is enjoyed at all ages; and in Japanese islands of Okinawa.
In these cultures, diets are composed of simple, whole foods, with an emphasis on plant foods. At age 100, people take part in physical activities that form everyday life. The quality of personal relationships is enormously important.  There is clearly a strong beneficial power to love and connection.

As for me, I plan to be trundling along a path at the beach, admiring a Sunset, in the year 2047. (I’ll be 105.) Care to join me? It inspires me that as we get older, we can do so in good health.

Vesanto Melina, is a Registered Dietitian and co-author of nutrition classics: “The New Becoming Vegetarian“Becoming Vegetarian“ ; “Becoming Vegan“, and the “Food Allergy Survival Guide“. Vesanto is based in Langley BC and regularly consults for people who wish to create a foundation for lifelong health or are in dietary transition. Web: www.nutrispeak.com  Email: vesanto@nutrispeak.com ; Phone: 604-882-6782.

References

  1. Fraser GE, Shavlik DJ. Ten years of life. Is it a matter of choice? Arch Int Med 2001;161:1645-52.
  2. Singh PN, Sabaté J, Fraser GE. Does low meat consumption increase life expectancy in humans? Am J Clin Nutrit 2003; 78(suppl):526S-32S.
  3. Blackberry I. Legumes: the most important dietary predictor of survival in older people of different ethnicities. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2004;13(Suppl):S126.
  4. Robbins J. Healthy at 100: The Scientifically Proven Secrets of the World’s Healthiest and Longest-Lived Peoples. Random House; 2006, also CD

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