The word longevity means “a long duration of individual life” or “length of life.” But what does longevity mean to you? We’ve all heard from friends and family that living a long, healthy life is a priority. That's a fair request, but how do we make it a reality? The current life expectancy for people living in the United States is 78.7 years old, depending on a variety of factors, such as diet, lifestyle, and environment. Due to advances in medicine and disease management, life span has vastly increased over the last century.
But longevity is much more than simply living beyond the average life expectancy – it’s living those later years in great health, maintaining memory and cognition, and remaining mobile and active. By practicing healthy behaviors, attitudes, and habits, longevity does not have to be a far-off vision.
How to improve longevity
What encompasses our potential for a long life is our attitudes, behaviors, environments, and habits. Though genetics play a role in our longevity, it only accounts for 25% to 30% of life expectancy. The rest is up to us! Every day, we have the opportunity to make decisions that support our health.
No one method for improving longevity is proven to work better than another. That’s IIN’s core concept of bio-individuality in action – the idea that underscores the importance of finding the diet and lifestyle practices that work for each individual. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to health!
Eight tips for living a long and healthy life:
1. Eat more plant-based foods.
Research shows that filling your plate with a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and seeds can lower the risk of disease and thus increase longevity. Dan Buettner, researcher and IIN visiting teacher, came up with the idea of Blue Zones – geographical locations where individuals live not only longer-than-average lives but longer, healthier lives.
He observed that one of the common threads in the lifestyles of people in these regions – Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; Ikaria, Greece; and the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – was a plant-based diet, focusing heavily on produce that was local to the region as well as healthy plant-based fats.
2. Reduce portion sizes.
Avoiding overeating is recommended to increase life span. A study published in 2018 looked at calorie restriction as a dietary intervention with potential benefits for health span improvement and life span extension. Researchers found that in the participant group that restricted calories (but sustained adequate macronutrient and micronutrient consumption) over two years, oxidative stress was reduced, supporting the theory that such stress can accelerate biological aging in humans.
3. Get (and stay) active.
Research indicates moderate exercise of at least 150 minutes per week, done regularly, can improve life span because physical activity reduces many risk factors for chronic disease. Not only does exercise improve your physical health, it also helps improve your mental state over time.
4. Prioritize stress management.
Stress, if not appropriately managed, can have lasting, unhealthy effects on the body. While some stress is normal and inevitable in our day-to-day lives, chronic stress can put a physical and emotional toll on the body, from increasing the risk of developing hypertension and heart disease to triggering pervasive feelings of anxiety or depression. Stress can also lead to detrimental behaviors, such as drinking, smoking, or overeating.
5. Sleep more.
Yes, sleep is that important! The research is clear – getting at least seven or more hours of sleep helps maintain health and contributes to a longer life span. Sleep (or lack thereof) can affect many aspects of health, such as memory and metabolism. Getting restful, uninterrupted sleep is key for lowering the risk of disease.
6. Nourish important relationships.
Spending time with friends, family, and those we care about can help increase longevity, not to mention decrease stress, improve emotional well-being, and contribute to your sense of belonging. Remember the Blue Zones? Individuals in these areas shared a deep sense of community and a desire to support their fellow neighbors, which Buettner recognized is an important aspect of life span and longevity.
7. Crowd out and limit unhealthy habits, such as smoking and drinking in excess.
Ever heard of “crowding out”? It’s another IIN core concept – prioritizing and filling up on healthier foods (and lifestyle habits) will “crowd out” and leave no room for the foods and habits that aren’t so healthy.
For example, utilizing healthy stress-management tools, such as meditation, exercise, or self-care, will hopefully replace unhealthy responses to stress, such as smoking or drinking heavily. Both of these habits increase aging in the body, as well as outside, when it comes to visible signs of aging.
8. Practice self-care (often).
Repeat this sentence: Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s true – putting you and your needs first will help you not only show up in the world as your best self, whether for loved ones or your career, but also positively impact your life span. Activities such as practicing daily gratitude have been shown to increase satisfaction in life, leading to an increased sense of purpose and a desire to prioritize health for the long term.
Supporting your longevity goals with an IIN Health Coach
Most of my clients want longevity and harmony in life, and as a Health Coach, I’m able to provide the support they need to make those goals a reality. One of the major aspects of my practice that I learned from IIN is to focus on primary food, the things beyond just the food on our plates. Feeding our lives with loving friendships, daily physical movement, and spiritual and inspirational practices are all ways to find balance in life and create long-term well-being. It's not an easy journey, but a manageable one, to ultimately live a long and prosperous life.