If a doctor were to give you a prescription that improved your odds of living a long, healthy life, would you fill the prescription? Would you fill it for your children?
Unfortunately, you can’t just pop a pill, but scientific research is producing results to help us live longer and healthier lives. Locally, we can do better. Benton and Franklin counties in Washington rank among the top 10 for length of life, but rank 17th and 30th for quality of life, according to Washington 2015 County Health Rankings.
Scientists study longevity from macro and micro perspectives. On the macro side are population studies, and an example is the analysis of regions where people live longer. These regions, referred to as “blue zones,” include Loma Linda, Calif.; Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and the Greek island of Ikaria.
Compared with Americans, people from Ikaria have 20 percent less cancer, half the rate of heart disease and almost no dementia. Scientists have concluded that the common lifestyle factors contributing to longevity are strong family ties; staying socially engaged; not smoking, eating a primarily plant-based diet, including beans, peas and lentils; and constant and moderate physical activity.
Another macro study published in The Lancet, a leading British medical journal, found that millions of people died in 2010 because they didn’t eat enough fruits, seeds, nuts, vegetables, whole grains and fiber. The deaths of millions more were attributable to lack of physical activity and the consumption of processed meats and too much sodium.
On the positive side, other population studies indicate that long-term consumption of berries is associated with a delay in cognitive decline, eating more whole grains increases longevity and eating more yellow and green vegetables could slow skin wrinkling.
Working from a micro perspective, researchers examined how lifestyle factors affect our genes and the chemical reactions inside our bodies. They have found aging to be accelerated by stress, smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity. Some foods are also problematic. In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Nutrition, accelerated aging was associated with an increase in saturated fat consumption, and a 2008 article in American Society for Clinical Nutrition showed that life span was shorter in people consuming processed meats like bacon, pepperoni and lunch meats.
Whether scientists study aging from a macro or micro viewpoint, the results are consistent.
So try your best to reduce stress, don’t smoke and move around throughout the day. Eat fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, along with some seeds and nuts. Reduce saturated fat intake and avoid processed meats.
Try this recipe, which helps prove that eating healthfully can be truly delicious.