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For the first time in a century, life expectancy at birth has stopped increasing in parts of the Western world. While the US has seen this decline for the last three consecutive years, ¹ the UK has also noted a similar trend in 2019. ²
Longevity is a balance of lifespan (living longer) and healthspan (living better). Though I am personally not a fan of resolutions, the New Year does provide us an opportunity to reflect on one’s life and goals. While most value quality over quantity, I don’t think any one of us would voluntarily choose to shorten our lifespans.
Improve your longevity by incorporating these five lifestyle hacks. Changing old habits can prove to be a challenge. Set yourself up for success by implementing small discreet changes until it becomes second nature before tackling the next.
✅ Move more. “The bad news is that sitting continuously for more than nine hours a day increases your chances of an early death; the good news is that doing anything at all reduces that risk dramatically.“³ Sitting is cited as the new smoking, and has been implicated in rising incidence of both physical diseases (like cancer and diabetes) and neuropsychological ones (like Alzheimer’s and anxiety). ⁴ Physical activity doesn’t need to be fancy, require any special equipment or expensive gym memberships. Even standing while you work, doing dishes, cooking or going for a stroll make an impact. If your work does require you to sit for long periods, don’t forget to set an alarm and walk for a few minutes every hour.
✅ Eat less. Excess calories are aging… moderating your caloric intake (without reducing your nutrient intake) is good for you, no matter how you do it.⁵,⁶ Some people advocate stopping when you are 80% full. Others advocate eating during limited eating windows, also known as intermittent fasting.⁷ If you experience any kind of middle age spread, chances are you are insulin resistant (this does not necessarily imply that thin folks can’t or don’t suffer from insulin resistance too) Insulin is a hormone that allows the sugar in your bloodstream to enter your cells. When you lose the sensitivity, your body will compensate by producing more insulin, which is a very aging hormone. Curbing your appetite, eating fewer starchy foods and fasting especially, helps to restore insulin sensitivity.
✅ Call a friend or family member. Interpersonal connections are associated with reduced levels of stress hormones, improved sleep, lesser risk of cardiovascular disease, slower cognitive decline and heightened immunity. ⁸ Social media use, both in quantity of time spent and number of platforms used, has been associated with increased risk for both depression and anxiety among young adults. ⁹ According to a 2010 study, mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were similar to those associated with smoking. ¹⁰
✅ Drink more water. We can survive without food far longer than we can without water. Our bodies are comprised of an estimated 60-70% water content. It regulates our body temperature, acts a transporter for nutrients and lubricate our tissues and joints. It is our universal solvent, which makes it essential for detoxification. Even mild dehydration (1-2%) can impair cognition. Nearly all of the major systems in your body depend on water. A general rule of thumb is to consume 1 cup per 20 lb of body weight.
✅ Eat real food. If it comes out of a package, or has an ingredient list of more than five things, it isn’t food, it is a manufactured food product. I believe you should eat birthday cake (if you want it) on your actual birthday. But routinely eating dessert for breakfast, considering sugar laden ketchup a vegetable (potatoes and ketchup are the top two “vegetables” consumed in North America) or consuming a 700 calorie milkshakes made of huge quantities of fruit, coffee and whipped cream as “snacks” cannot be a logical approach to reasonable nutrition. Keep it simple by making small changes. Start with meal planning and packing lunch. Consuming home-cooked meals as a family leads to healthier and happier kids, and teens who are less likely to use alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes.¹² It creates a daily routine of social interaction, costs less money, and leaves less of a carbon footprint, which by extension, makes all of us healthier. ¹³
- Woolf SH, Schoomaker H. Life Expectancy and Mortality Rates in the United States, 1959-2017. JAMA. 2019;322(20):1996–2016. doi:https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2019.16932
- Ekelund Ulf, Tarp Jakob, Steene-Johannessen Jostein, Hansen Bjørge H, Jefferis Barbara, Fagerland Morten W et al. Dose-response associations between accelerometry measured physical activity and sedentary time and all cause mortality: systematic review and harmonised meta-analysis BMJ 2019; 366 :l4570. doi: doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l4570
- Lakerveld J, et al. Sitting too much: A hierarchy of socio-demographic correlates. Preventive Medicine. 2017;101:77.
- Leanne M. Redman, Steven R. Smith, Jeffrey H. Burton, Corby K. Martin, Dora Il’yasova, Eric Ravussin. Metabolic Slowing and Reduced Oxidative Damage with Sustained Caloric Restriction Support the Rate of Living and Oxidative Damage Theories of Aging. Cell Metabolism, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2018.02.019
- Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLOS Medicine 7(7): e1000316. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316
- Ariel Shensa, MA, Jaime E. Sidani, MPH, PhD, […], and Brian A. Primack, MD, PhD Social Media Use and Depression and Anxiety Symptoms: A Cluster Analysis. Am J Health Behav. 2018 Mar 1;42(2):116-128. doi: 10.5993/AJHB.42.2.11.
- Vannucci A, Flannery KM, Ohannessian CM. Social media use and anxiety in emerging adults. J Affect Disord. 2017;207:163–166.
- Riebl SK, Davy BM. The Hydration Equation: Update on Water Balance and Cognitive Performance. ACSMs Health Fit J. 2013 Nov;17(6):21-28. doi: 10.1249/FIT.0b013e3182a9570f. PMID: 25346594; PMCID: PMC4207053.