Most of us wish to find the fountain of youth and know how to have the vitality and longevity that we desire. But when it comes to having a long and healthy life, it can be easier and more attainable than most of us imagine; no fairytale, secret potion, or spell is needed. There are simply some basic lifestyle considerations that must be made and put into place, which can ensure the most favorable outcomes for the kind of life we desire. In this essay, I will share with you 10 smart tips for a long and healthy life.
In 2008, Horizon BBC produced a documentary entitled, How to Live to 101, which you can enjoy on YouTube for free via that link. The film presents the results of studies done on 3 cultures from around the world that have the longest and healthiest living people, exploring the secrets of their amazing longevity. These being: populations from Okinawa (Japan), Loma Linda (California), and Ovodda (Sardinia).
This kind of study is nothing new. Over the years science has studied various cultures, various diets, and various lifestyles to determine what makes some people live in great health to old age and what doesn’t. If you think it simply comes down to genetics, think again! Thanks to the science of epigenetics and leading-edge research in the fields of quantum science, we know today that genetics plays a very small role in people’s health and longevity.
I am especially fascinated by this topic, as I’ve long believed that we are not living up to our potential as a human species and can experience my better health and much longer lives than we do. Of course some people are not motivated to live a long life and I very much respect that. However, when we lead a deeply fulfilling life, brimming with purpose, meaning, passion, and joy, then we do have the motivation to lead the best life we can and experience the beauty and richness that this physical experience offers for as long as we can.
‘How to Live to 101’ — Film Summary & Discussion
In the following summary, I will share with you some of the findings from this film that will help us understand the foundation for the 10 top tips for a long and healthy life. One of the first groups presented in the film are the inhabitants of the island of Okinawa, Japan. They have a four times greater longevity rate than Britain or America. Instead of focusing on trying to beat aging, as we do here in North America, they just focus on living! Their diet is referred to as the Rainbow Diet, being full of fruits and vegetables. It is also low in calories, but high in soya proteins. Here in the west, we tend to take a black and white approach to soy, either vilifying it completely or heavily depending on highly processed food forms of it and ones that contain it. Neither of these two approaches is helpful. When it comes to calories, there have been several studies to date, that showed convincingly, that reduced calorie diets offer many benefits, including better physical health and mental performance, as well as increased longevity. Overeating causes our body to overwork and we end up ingesting more than our body needs.
The second cultural group examined were some inhabitants of Sardinia who also showed some amazing health and longevity. Ironically, the Sardinians don’t count calories and generally don’t watch what they eat or drink. Their success cannot be contributed to simply following a Mediterranean diet, as others who do for example, do not demonstrate the same health and longevity. What the researchers found within this group was a unique genetic anomaly on their ‘X’ chromosome that appeared to provide extraordinary protection, despite the population’s rather haphazard approach. This population’s example serves as a powerful reminder: we cannot compare or measure our health and habits against those of isolated cases. You might know that so-called “healthy” coworker who died at 45 of a heart attack and you might know that free-spirited relative who drank and smoke and lived to 90. We have to remember in such cases that: a) these are anomalies, nor the general norm and b) we don’t know what is within these people’s minds, hearts, and genetics — any unprocessed trauma, emotional blocks, or protective genetic factors.
The last group studied are the fascinating inhabitants of Loma Linda, California. We meet a heart surgeon who performs open heart surgery at 92 and a 102 year old who cycles 6 miles before breakfast each morning. What the scientists gathered about these inhabitants is that indeed, we do not need to rely on our genes for longevity, so not to worry if your past family members died earlier than you would like to live to. The scientists shared that we are in control of about 10 years of our life, based on the choices we make. So what kind of choices are important? Many people from this sample are 7th Day Adventists. This means they do not smoke, do not drink, and they follow a vegetarian diet. However, researchers shared that it is not just these 3 factors that allow the population of Loma Linda to reap the benefits of amazing health and longevity. They actually claim that their strong spiritual connection allows them to reap the benefit of a longer life. Having a spiritual dimension or a belief in a higher power in our life is extremely important for a better understanding of the self, the meaning of life, and one’s purpose in it. It is about knowing that there is a higher power that connects everything and is connected to us, and knowing that there is always someone “with you”, watching and supporting your journey. A meaningful spiritual connection also allows us to handle stress and the challenges of everyday life more effectively. In some cases, it also provides a meaningful sense of community and belonging, something else that researchers noted helped people to thrive.
Stress, on its own, deserves a deeper look as it truly is at the root of our physical, mental, and emotional destruction. High, constant levels of stress or unchecked stress is linked to cancers, heart disease, anxiety, depression, obesity, and the list goes on! It is not that one must avoid stress in life, which is technically impossible, but about how one conducts their life and chooses to handle stress. For example, the residents of Okinawa, Japan have had their share of stresses. What sets them apart is that they have learned to effectively cope with it — it’s not the situation; it’s how you choose to experience it. Implementing effective stress coping skills does not need to take months or years or therapy or counseling. We simply need to change our mind about how we choose to perceive the situations, events, and people that touch our life.
Aside from good stress coping mechanisms, the final piece of the puzzle that the data has shown is that people who have meaning in their life are happier, healthier, and live longer. For example, many people in our society do not accept aging, do not age gracefully, and basically get to a state where they feel useless and worthless. This is a negatively powerful message to send to our body, and thus it is no surprise we get the results we get of progressive breakdown. On the other hand, people who have hobbies, creative outlets, interests, or passions are sending their body a message of being worthy, needed, and appreciated. Not surprisingly the body delivers just that. As the narrator pointed out: we need to have something meaningful to get out of bed for every morning. This is especially essential as we age, otherwise our mind and our body moves into a state of deterioration.
The film then examines the residents of Glasgow, UK, where people’s life expectancy is the lowest in the world—people are barely living to 60! Upon studying this population scientists concluded that in this case it is neither the diet nor the lifestyle that includes drinking and smoking, but actually an evolutionary change in the genetics of the people of Glasgow. A mutation that was once beneficial is now acting like an over-active immune system (autoimmune disease), which eventually turns the body on itself.
The final part of the film examines the Okinawans who emigrated to Hawaii, to determined if they were holding up their excellent health and longevity. Unfortunately the research shows that when the Okinawans emigrate to other countries, but especially to the Western world, and adopt American eating habits, their health and longevity is greatly compromised. Even back home, the young generations are not exhibiting the amazing health that their grandparents did, as they indulge in Westernized diets and lifestyles—lots of fast food, animal food, and sugar, smoking and drinking, and little physical activity. When researchers study Japanese women, they find that prevalence of breast cancer increases in second generation Japanese women as they adopt American eating habits. What is interesting to mention is that the effect of an American diet is worse on healthier people who emigrate into it, then on those who were brought up on it. It is unfortunate that the new generations do not see the urgency in changing their lifestyle habits, but we need to look no further then at our own lives and countries. Most of us have access to the right information or even examples of excellent health and longevity and yet choose to do nothing about it.
The secrets of a long life can be found by observing the people who have it.
Film: How to Live to 101
10 Guidelines for a Long and Healthy Life
Based on the findings presented in this documentary, as well as applying the common thread from other world studies, I have compiled the following 10 tips for living a long and healthy life.
1. Consume lots of fruits and vegetables
Study after study point to the positive, overwhelming and unquestionable benefits of eating fresh fruits and vegetables in large amounts each day. They have numerous health benefitting properties that help us prevent many diseases and keep our bodies working optimally.
However, one must keep in mind that in today’s times due to current farming practices and known negative effects of pesticides, one needs to choose only organic produce to get the most out of your fruits and vegetables.
2. Consume plant proteins
For decreased weight and chronic disease problems that stem from the problems associated with animal products, including systemic acidity, it is optimal to center our diets around plant, not animal proteins. Plant proteins are widely available in nearly all plant foods, especially beans, grains, nuts, seeds, leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables. As for soy specifically, contrary to popular belief, soya proteins are not all bad. Japanese and other Asian cultures have been eating them for centuries and reaping the benefits, without any obvious negative health effects. We cannot say the same in our culture, as the negative health effects are obvious due to our high reliance on animal protein and processed food.
3. Don’t Overeat
As mentioned in the discussion above, it is now well documented that low calorie diets keep our bodies working better and longer. This does not mean, however, that we eat processed foods with the labels “fat free” or “zero calories” and the like, nor does it mean that we count our calories. What it does mean is that we are mindful of our portion sizes, eating until we are about three-quarters full, that we do not overeat, and that our meals are plant-based, which are naturally low in calories, as opposed to animal-based meals. The benefits of such eating positively effects every area of our health, helping us to maintain a healthy weight and drastically reducing our chances of chronic diseases.
4. Know your genetics
Genetics is not beyond us or out of our hands. Our genetics are very much within our control in terms of how they are going to be expressed. Just because we may be predisposed to something, does not mean our body will express it.
Get to know about your genetics through your parents and grandparents, and become proactive about what you learn. If you find that you have a tendency towards a particular condition, take action via healthy lifestyle habits to prevent those genes from being expressed. For example, if you find that you have a family history of heart disease, do not continue eating the same diet that your family members ate or leading the same lifestyle habits. Optimize your diet given the abundant and empowering information we know today and act upon other healthy lifestyle habits that prevent heart disease. No matter what your genetics may indicate, there are many things we each can do to reduce or completely eliminate the chances of having them impact us in negative ways and engage the superhealing capability that is within each one of us.
5. Exercise regularly
Our bodies were meant to move and be active, not sedentary. From an early age to a ripe old age, we all need constant movement for our body to last and function properly. It truly is a “use it or lose it” concept. We must find ways of incorporating periods of activity into our life and decrease periods of inactivity. Vigorous exercise is recommended three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes, during which your heart rate should be increased. However, each day we should be taking a walk, at the very least, and finding other ways that work with our lifestyles to infuse physical activity that includes resistance and flexibility training.
6. Avoid smoking
This point also comes as no surprise, as today we know without any hesitation that smoking is disastrous to every area of our health and longevity. It ages us faster and makes us more susceptible to respiratory illnesses, heart disease, cancer, and common infections, among many other negative effects. We cannot continue to smoke and try to optimize the quality of our life and health at the same time. If you are currently smoking, here is a free video resources to help address quitting smoking effectively.
7. Avoid drinking alcohol
This point may surprise many, given that we live in a society that both promotes and advertises alcohol openly. However, the sooner we learn the full story and see beyond the propaganda, the better. Alcohol is a toxic substance to our body; no and’s, if’s, or but’s. There is only a small benefit for those who consume diets high in fat, especially animal fat and fried or oily food, but only if the alcohol is kept to a minimum and includes something like red wine. Otherwise, one drink a day is not going to offer us help, rather it will put more strain and stress on your body. The damage is ever more extreme if periods of any kind of binge drinking are involved.
We need to know that nearly 60% of the world’s population does not consume any alcohol. This figure includes those who choose a lifetime of abstinence from alcohol and those who may have chosen to drink in the past. I am proud to share that I am part of this large statistic, and share this to challenge the belief that many of us have yet to shake: that all people drink alcohol. Definitely not so. Our lives have the potential to flourish in ways most of us cannot imagine when we remove alcohol from them. We no longer hide behind this substance or use it to pacify ourselves, rather we gain an enhanced sense of awareness, meaning, and courage, and take accountability for our choices and conscious life creation.
8. Adopt a plant-based lifestyle
Just like with alcohol, our society is heavily set up for animal product consumption. These is a good time to put into perspective what most of society does and how most of society lives. We are sicker and fatter than ever. So if we want to explore the potential of our body and enjoy optimal health and longevity, we cannot continue to follow the herd.
By adopting a whole-food, plant-based diet, we experience tremendous benefits for our weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure and reduce our risk of all chronic diseases and acute infections. We experience better mental clarity, vitality, energy levels, and overall wellbeing. So whether you go vegetarian or vegan or simply cut down on all animal products in your diet, the key is to eat mostly plants.
9. Have a well-developed spiritual life
Many people may undermine this reason, but faith in a higher power has been curing the incurable for centuries. This does not mean we should belong to or practice some religion, but rather, that we need to have a strong connection with our spiritual side. When we know that we are more than our mind and more than our body and that there is more to life than this physical experience, it is then that we began to cultivate a meaningful foundation for life. This spills over into every area of our being. It strengthens us, it gives us courage and hope, and motivates us to live to our fullest; honoring who we are right now and taking the best care of ourselves that we can.
10. Have effective strategies for coping with stress
Don’t be fooled by this point being last as it is probably the most important of all the 10 guidelines. We know, with certainty today, that stress creates toxic chemical reactions in our body that impede our health in most serious and diverse of ways.
We first have to know that stress is not “what happens to us”, but how we perceive what happens to us. Therefore, dealing effectively with stress means working on our mind with the power of our thoughts and emotions. It also means having positive outlets that can infuse us with better energy and provide for some clarity, like long, leisurely walks, exercise, laughing, meditating, doing yoga, or spending time in nature.
For optimal health and the chance to live a long and healthy life, we need to pay attention to all 10 guidelines and keep optimizing our lifestyles as necessary for us. If you are just starting out and trying to turn your health around, be sure to give yourself realistic goals and perhaps master incorporating one guideline into your life daily life routine at a time. Otherwise, you may get overwhelmed and the whole list may end up being too tedious and impossible to achieve.
Ultimately, what kind of habits you want to engage in, what kind of diet you want to eat, and how you will choose to treat your body is your choice. We must simply remember that with every choice comes a consequence and in today’s world it is very difficult to use the excuse “I wish I knew otherwise” or “I didn’t know”. The right information and examples of alternate ways of living are all around us, but it is up to us to apply them in our lives. In the end, know that it is not about focusing on the quantity of our life but on the quality of our life that should be our guiding motivation.