Most of us don’t want to just live long. We want to live long well. To paraphrase Dr. David Katz of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, we not only want to add years to our life – we also want to add life to our years.
It turns out the secret of healthy longevity is not really a secret at all. When you look at communities that experience exceptionally healthy, long lives, they share 4 things in common:
1. Daily moderate physical activity. The good news here is that you don’t have to be a marathon runner or elite athlete to check off this box. In fact, the people that live long well don’t go to spin class or train for the Iron Man Triathlon. They are simply naturally physically active because that’s what their life demands. They are farmers and fishermen. They live in communities where you have to walk up and down a couple of hills to go see your neighbor.
The take away? Add movement to your day whenever you can. And if your job is sedentary, make sure you do go to spin class or yoga or just a really long walk – every day.
2. Social interconnectedness. The people that live a long time are part of a community. They get together for celebrations. They share in each other’s happiness and sorrows. They support each other.
The take away? Continue being part of a group and interacting with friends, neighbors and family. If you’re a little isolated now, reach out to others. Rekindle friendships. Get involved in groups that share your interests, faith or passions. We all need to give and receive love.
3. An inner sense of purpose and joy. People with exceptional longevity tend to be happy. They have found purpose and joy in their lives. But there are no rules here – no one gets to judge what gives you purpose or joy.
The take away? If you enjoy reading books – read. If you like making macramé pot holders – macramé pot holders. If your job gives you a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, keep working. It’s all about waking up in the morning, opening your eyes and being able to say, “How great it is that I get to do this again!”
4. A whole food plant-based diet. This is very much a constant. People with exceptional longevity eat whole, real foods in reasonable amounts. These foods are simply prepared, cooked from scratch, and primarily plant based. Some long-lived communities are vegan. Most allow some meat and dairy – but these still constitute a small minority of the calories consumed. These folks don’t take a bunch of supplements, they don’t add protein powder to their smoothies, they don’t go out to restaurants with any regularity, and they don’t eat processed foods.
The take away? Shop the perimeter in the grocery store and get cooking! Make sure every meal contains one or more representatives of the plant based family: beans and greens, nuts and seeds, all fruits, all vegetables and all grains – but in their most whole and unprocessed forms. Shift your thinking of what constitutes a really wholesome meal and make meat and dairy the side dish rather than the center of the plate.
And then enjoy your resilient body, your friends and family, your hobbies and your food. That’s living well!