Longevity is not sexy. Moderation in diet, exercise and sleep are what have kept cultures and civilisations in the East healthy for thousands of years, but they don’t necessarily add up to what we in the West currently pursue.
The current trends of Crossfit, Paleo, raw vegan and any other ‘extreme’ diet and exercise regimes are more popular than ever, but while they may lead to aesthetically pleasing bodies, supreme strength or dramatic weight loss, are they actually keeping us ‘healthy’? The answer is ‘probably not’, but ask yourself this, is it actually health you’re looking for, or is it looks, strength and weight loss?
A Generation of Instant Gratification
Living long isn’t always top of our list when it comes to health priorities when we really think about it; weight loss, muscle gain, energy levels and curing immediate disease are all more studied topics than simply living a long healthy, humble life. Even before we think about health, material wealth and social status are regularly given more importance than lifespan and general health and wellbeing. We live in an age where instant gratification is everything; fast food, instant messaging, TV ‘on demand’. We now even have something called Instaread, which gives the summary and key take-away aspect of a book in minutes. If you don’t have the body you want, you can now either pay someone to ‘whip you into shape’ at the gym, or undergo plastic surgery to add on, take off or re-shape body parts.
Within the business-focussed parts of the world – particularly, the UK, US and China – increasing the pace at which we work, stress levels are rising and health levels are dramatically falling. Our way of living – which includes hours sitting at a desk, driving a car or slouching on the sofa – has perpetuated the ‘need’ for convenience foods, pre-packaged meals and more chemicals and artificial saturated fats than ever before. What we need then is not just an overhaul of our daily diet, but an overall lifestyle change.
Live Fast, Die Young… Literally
Life is fast, and we are all moving towards the ‘promise’ of something, something that is coming ‘eventually’, some success down the line, something better than where we are now. The point is though; if we live life as though it were a race towards a finish line, we will literally race through life; it will be faster and it will end sooner than if we’d taken the scenic route and stopped to live along the way.
Allan Watts explores the race through life by comparing it to music:
Keys To Living Long
The Blue Zones, are parts of the world known for having populations with higher life expectancy than other areas, living healthy lives well into old age. Accumulatively, we can see that these areas of the planet all share a few things in common, and tend to value certain things in life more than others. Take a look at the diagram below.
Whilst everyone is unique and there may not be an exact blueprint to follow to guarantee a totally healthy life, it’s worth exploring how you could potentially optimise your own daily habits to cultivate your own health and happiness. Experiment with the following over the course of a few months and see how it makes you feel:
Pillars of Longevity
- Sleep Enough: Shawn Stevenson and Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington have both recently released very accessible books on how to get good quality sleep, and the proven benefits of it. Key points include cutting caffeine before 2pm, making sure you get enough daylight in the early hours of the day, turning down the lights at least an hour before bed, and ensuring your room is at a comfortable temperature. Click HERE for Shawn Stevenson’s book, and HERE for Arianna Huffington’s.
- Eat Enough, but not too much: intermittent fasting and moderation in diet has been key to living a long and healthy life for different cultures for thousands of years. Digesting food puts a certain amount of stress on the body, and whilst the body is trying to digest food, it can’t be clearing away toxins and reparing daily wear and tear. Night time is reserved for clearing away the debris of the day, and this is dome much more efficiently on a stomach that isn’t full.
- Stress Less: We’ve all heard that stress is bad for us, and there are endless effects of stress including increased blood pressure, digestive issues, heart problems, unhealthy weight gain, ‘brain fog’, muscle loss, and an increased likelihood of illness and injury. Choose something natural that helps you relax such as walking in nature, meditating, practicing Yoga or Thai Chi, and aim to do this every day.
- Reduce Animal Protein: Scientific studies have shown that dramatically reducing or cutting out animal protein has the ability to increase someone’s life significantly. Going ‘plant based’ is one of the most powerful ways to cure many illnesses and increase life expectancy.
There are now an abundance of studies showing that a vegetarian diet can allow someone to live around eight years longer than a meat-eater, which is similar to the life expectancy gap between a smoker and a non-smoker. The key points are that carnivorous diets contain more unhealthy saturated fat and cholesterol (a leading cause of heart disease) and vegetarian diets contain more fibre (an aspect leading to a longer life). “Consuming the amount of cholesterol found in just a single egg a day may cut a woman’s life short as much as smoking five cigarettes daily for 15 years, whereas eating a daily cup of oatmeal’s worth of fiber appears to extend a woman’s life as much as four hours of jogging a week”. – Huffington Post. Read much more on this topic HERE.
- Get Moving: I’m not talking about hours spent at the gym, high intensity workouts or lifting heavy weights, just make sure you move a lot each day in a natural way. Walk, dance, run, swim or climb trees, it doesn’t matter what it is, but having some form of movement you enjoy is important for optimal circulation, metabolism, digestion and your emotional wellbeing.
- Drink Clean Water: There are many theories as to what actually goes into our tap water, but for the most part, pesticides, chlorine, traces of plastics, fluoride and heavy metals are what you can expect. Steer clear of this by using a water filter, or even an alkalising water filter jug. To read more on the possible ‘added ingredients’ in UK water, click HERE.
- Eat REAL food: Perhaps one of the most important and easily controlled aspects is to eat food that is not processed and doesn’t contain any artificial chemicals or preservatives. Healthy fats, vegetables and fruits, and proteins are all healthy, however there are studies that show that digesting high amounts of protein can have negative and stressful effects upon the body, and a relatively low protein diet can add years to life. I highly recommend reading the very accessible book Food Rules by Michael Pollan.
- Socialise: Having a ‘support network’ of people around us is one of the most important things in life. Whether you consider yourself a ‘loner’ or a bit of a soclialite; knowing someone has got your back when you need help is always comforting. Humans are tribal by nature and thrive off relaxed communication. Positive communication and having a support network of friends and family releases endorphins and chemicals that switch on the parasympathetic nervous system – this is the system that helps the body to ‘rest and digest’, and strengthens the immune system greatly when it’s able to work properly.
- Limit your exposure to toxins: Living in a crowded city or town is absolutely necessary for most people, yes. However, there are some ways you can realistically and very dramatically how many toxins your body has to absorb. Swap branded moisturisers and soaps for natural, organic products. Get an alkaline filter for your water at home, drink from glass bottles instead of plastic, and instead of wearing man-made perfumes or aftershave, make your own with essential oils or simple rose water.