In recent years, the motivation for healthy habits like veggie-heavy diets and regular exercise has shifted from present-day benefits to those more long-term in nature. And we’re not just interested in extending our lifespan, but our health span, too—aka the length of time we are not only alive but alive and well. Most of us want to “die with our boots on,” as my grandfather would say—able in both mind and body.
As such, longevity research has become a major focus in the wellness world and this year, we learned quite a bit about how to optimize our daily lives now for the benefit of our future selves. Below, a rundown of the best tips we’ve accumulated in 2020 for living your healthiest life into your 80s and beyond—because there’s a lot to live well for… just ask President-Elect Joe Biden, who is 78!
It’s no secret that human beings were designed to be a lot more active than most of us currently are in our modern-day, screen-heavy existences; however, you don’t need to give up hope of a long life if you’re pressed for tons of time to move each week. This year, a new study published infound that those who engage in moderate or vigorous exercise 150 minutes per week had lower all-cause mortality.
That translates to just 22 minutes of moderate-to-intense exercise per day. Those who got these 150 minutes per week showed a lower risk of early death from all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and cancer mortality.
Benefits were especially notable in those who tended toward the more rigorous side of the equation, opting for running, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) routines, or something equally as taxing. The takeaway there is that if you are doing lower-impact exercises, it might help to throw a few more hardcore (think: quick and dirty) fitness routines into the mix as well. Not sure where to start? Here are nine such workouts you can try now (or January 1, because resolutions).
Any exercise is better than none, so if there’s a format you love and that gets you moving, you should one hundred percent stick to it. But if you’re open to new things or are already a devotee, research this year shows that HIIT workouts are the most effective form of fitness from a longevity standpoint.
The study looked at the effects of two weekly HIIT workouts per week on 70 to 77 year-olds and found that all-cause mortality was 36 percent lower in that group than in the study’s control group (which did whatever kind of exercise they liked). Thirty-six percent!
The specific HIIT routine the study’s participants engaged in was the 4×4 format, which divides each workout into a 10-minute warm-up period followed by four high-intensity intervals. Each interval consists of one to two minutes of extreme exertion, at about 90 percent of maximum heart rate, followed by a three-minute period at about 60 percent of heart rate. The session then concludes with a cool down period. If you want toe try one out, here are four to get you started.
Technically, research just shows that if you can do this one move easily, that in and of itself is a good indication of longevity: the squat. So while this doesn’t necessarily show that doing squats will increase your lifespan, it stands to reason that one way to ensure you can do them easily is to, , do them—and frequently.
One of the reasons it’s such a good exercise—both to practice frequently and as a longevity predictor— is that it’s functional, meaning we sort of need to be able to execute squat-like movements regularly in everyday life when, for example, we move from sitting to standing. Plus, we sit too much, and therefore the parts of our bodies, e.g. the glutes, which squats activate do not get nearly the amount of work they were built to take on.
It’s critical, however—for knee health especially—that you squat with proper form; here’s how.
It’s not always possible for everyone to engage in high-impact exercise like HIIT or running, but that doesn’t mean they’re screwed from a longevity perspective. In some cases, people might want to choose exercises that are gentler on their joints, which is not the same thing as being easy.
According to a cardiologist, there are five types of low-impact cardio that’ll work you out hard without irritating aging or injured parts of your body: swimming, walking, cycling, rowing, and elliptical. Or, here’s a 25-minute low-impact cardio workout you can try from home today.
Ultimately, the best fitness routines are a mix of a number of different modalities, and exercising for longevity is no different. According to Aleksandra Stacha-Fleming, founder of NYC’s Longevity Lab, a gym that works with people of all ages to create workouts that help their bodies age properly, your regular workouts should typically include a smattering of the following: cardio, for your heart; strength-training, for your bones; and anything that works your flexibility and mobility, e.g. yoga. Get workout vids for each here.
According to Dan Buettner, longevity expert and author of , the longest-living people in the world don’t obsess over or restrict what they eat; however, they naturally consume nutrient-dense foods as a way of life. The six such foods Buettner thinks you should stock up on ASAP to follow their lead are nuts, vegetables, fruit, tofu, fish, and alt-milk. Find out more about why here.
You might want to add a jar of canned hearts of palm to your shopping list the next time you’re try to stock your fridge, too. The ingredient is nutrient-dense, antioxidant-rich, and packed with minerals like potassium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. Most importantly, it’s Blue Zones diet-approved, meaning it’s a longevity-booster, too. Try these 9 recipes to make use of your next hearts of palm haul.
Buettner also has thoughts on what should be found in your freezer if you hope to emulate the world’s centenarians. His top five picks include a lot of the same things you should simultaneously keep fresh in your fridge, like fruits and vegetables, and nuts fall into both categories, too. Additionally, Buettner recommends keeping bread (bless you, Buettner!) and whole grains on ice, too. Get a few recipes made with each ingredient on this Buettner’s freezer list here.
Buettner even shared what he keeps in his own kitchen— specifically when it comes to his pantry. What you’ll find there includes staples such as beans, legumes, whole grains (specifically steel-cut oats and brown rice), nuts, and seeds. You should keep canned greens in your pantry, too.
Excess inflammation is an enemy of healthy aging, and plants are packed with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. According to herbalist Rachelle Robinett, nutrient-dense herbs are, therefore, a great supplement for anyone looking to enhance the longevity benefits of their diet. Specifically, she recommends ginger, turmeric, spirulina, chili peppers, and ginseng—find out more on why here.
People in the Blue Zone of Okinawa, Japan, also consume an herb called otani-watari, which can be boiled and added to stir-fries, soups, and salad.
Whatever Buettner, who’s made his life’s work longevity, is eating regularly, I’ll have, too. Fortunately, this year he shared his favorite go-to meal, which just so happens to be a one-pot Ikarian Longevity Stew packed with legumes and superstar veggies. Get the recipe here.
You may have noticed a theme in the above tips, which is that they heavily emphasize fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains; however, the longest-living people in the world aren’t necessarily vegans. Instead, they adhere to the Mediterranean Diet, and recent research has strengthened the link between it and longevity.
The study found that the Mediterranean diet may be linked to lowering inflammation markers and increasing both brain function and gut health—and therefore improving the aging process overall.
Essentially, the Mediterranean diet does call for substantial amounts of those aforementioned fruits, veggies, whole grains, and nuts. It also adds olive oil as a key component alongside fish and encourages a reduction in the consumption of red meat and saturated fats.
Need a little help making shifting your eating habits to better reflect this diet? Try the Blue Zones’ specific daily, weekly, and monthly guide for eating more like the longest-living humans on the planet.
If all of the above sounds like a lot, consider this; according to Buettner, there are six golden consumption rules to follow if you want to live longer, and TBH, they’re not very restrictive. The first is to drink wine after 5 p.m., ideally with friends or loved ones and a meal. (Um, twist my arm!) The second is to eat mostly plant-based foods, which at this point feels a bit repetitive, so… duh. The third is to forget fad-diet brainwashing and carbo load to your heart’s desire, as long as your carbs of choice are derived from grains, greens, tubers, nuts, and beans. The fourth is to eat less meat, as mentioned prior, and the fifth is to stick to just three beverages—coffee, that aforementioned wine (okay, yes), and lots and lots of water. Find out what the last—and least obvious—golden rule is here.
The Dalai Lama might not be a longevity expert per se, but he is doing pretty well at the spritely age of 85. One of his top six tips for extending your lifespan is to maintain a consistent sleep schedule. And even though he starts his day at 3 a.m., his 7 p.m. bedtime ensures he gets a solid eight hours of sleep per night.
One less-easy-to-imitate characteristic of those occupying the world’s Blue Zones is that they retain a sense of purpose throughout their lives. In America, we tend to put older people to pasture, so to speak, and they are less naturally integrated into family and community life, too.
One way to hack a sense of purpose in our (cold, heartless) society—not just when you’re older but at any age—is to volunteer. Research shows that helping other people can actually help you to live a longer life. “Our results show that volunteerism among older adults doesn’t just strengthen communities, but enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness,” Eric S. Kim, PhD, research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release about the study. Find out more here, including how to adapt this hashtag-goals habit to pandemic times.
According to Buettner, people in the Blue Zones, or longest-living areas of the world, garden well into their 90s and beyond. “Gardening is the epitome of a Blue Zone activity because it’s sort of a nudge: You plant the seeds and you’re going to be nudged in the next three to four months to water it, weed it, harvest it,” he says. “And when you’re done, you’re going to eat an organic vegetable, which you presumably like because you planted it.” Find out more on the research behind this here.
Not to state the obvious, but the Dalai Lama’s longevity routine also includes regular meditation. And while he practices for seven hours a day, research shows that just five minutes per day can reap benefits such as sharpening your mind, reducing stress and, importantly, slowing aging.
The Dalai Lama considers compassion to be one of the keys to happiness, and science says it has pro-social benefits, too. These might help us live longer lives, as humans thrive in the communities many Americans find it more difficult to build than those living in the Blue Zones do. Showing concern, care, and empathy to others can endear you to them and ensure that when the shoe is on the other foot, you’ve got others to lean on, too. This reciprocal relationship gives you that aforementioned sense of longevity-endowing purpose, too.