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By Alan Safdi, M.D., FACG
We all want to live a long and healthy life. I started this article with a simple list but ended up with a long dissertation since I think it is very important to explain some of the science behind these recommendations. This is by no means an all-inclusive list of lifestyle changes we endorse for health, wellness, and longevity, and we do not have the space here to go into all the science behind each of the tips. Remember that true science is always evolving, so please continue to stay up to date with our wellness and nutrition evidence-based medical blogs. In the meantime, here are ten tips to help you live a healthy and longer life.
1. Adopt habits of long-living populations. Look at the epidemiology of the populations that live the longest in the world. Some of the key common characteristics of these populations are: predominately plant-based diet with only occasional red meat, lots of legumes or nuts in the diet, a very active lifestyle, being involved socially with the community, friends, or volunteer activities, only occasional red meat, social support of healthy behaviors, no smoking, empowered women, and low stress levels.
2. An active and fun lifestyle is important. Exercise at least 150 minutes a week but remember to still have an active lifestyle beyond just going to the gym. Think about taking social walks with your significant other, children, or friends nightly. Park far away in a parking lot and always take the stairs if possible. Remember that taking the garbage out, gardening, mowing the lawn, and vacuuming is part of an active lifestyle. Those 150 minutes a week or about 22 minutes a day of moderate exercise will decrease your chance of early death by an amazing 31 percent. Exercise can improve sleep, blood pressure and bone density, and decrease the incidence of colon cancer and gallstones. Exercise may also prevent falls and broken bones by improving muscle strength, gait, balance, and reaction time.
3. Eat meat with no legs or two legs, but only occasionally four legs. Analysis of more than 1.5 million healthy adults demonstrated that following a Mediterranean diet is associated with a reduced risk of death from heart disease and cancer, as well as a reduced incidence of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The Mediterranean diet includes a ton of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, herbs and spices. They eat red meats and sweets rarely. Eggs, poultry and cheese in moderate portions are consumed daily to weekly. The Mediterranean diet had better outcomes for waist circumference, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, glucose, as well as reduced risk of metabolic syndrome. Eat whole foods and find healthy snacks such as nuts, fruits, vegetables, and remember to get enough fiber. A natural peanut butter sandwich with all fruit jelly on a whole wheat or grain bread cut into quarters also makes a nice snack. These populations eat slowly. The advantage of eating slowly is that it takes a while for our body to release the hormones that tell us that we are full. Remember Thanksgiving dinners when you feel terrible that you ate too much. That feeling often occurs an hour or so after finishing the meal.
4. Simple sugars are often hidden so read and study labels. Avoid simple sugars and added sugars. Read food labels carefully and understand the deceptive practices the food industry uses to hide use of simple sugars. People who had excessive amounts of added sugar in their diet carried greater risks of dying from cardiovascular disease. Observational studies have established a link between eating more added sugar (mostly in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages) and poor cardiovascular health, including increased weight gain and greater risks of obesity, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association’s recommendation is that added sugar should make up less than 100 calories a day for women and 150 calories per day for men. Through a median follow-up of nearly 15 years, those who had 10% to 24.9% of calories come from added sugar were 30% more likely to experience cardiovascular death than those with less than 10%. In addition, the risk of death during the follow-up period jumped to 175% for those getting 25% or more of their calories from added sugar. Hidden simple sugars may be labelled as agave nectar, turbinado sugar xylose, barley malt syrup, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, coconut sugar or coconut palm sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, dehydrated cane juice, dextrin, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltodextrin, malt syrup, maltose, maple syrup, molasses, palm sugar, rice syrup, sorghum or sorghum syrup. You can learn more about healthy beverages for active individuals here, and more on sugar in our everyday foods here.
5. Healthy poop is more important than you think. Keep your microbiome healthy. So what is microbiome? Your body contains about 10 trillion human cells and 100 trillion bacterial cells. On a cell count level, you’re only 10% human! We can’t ignore this microbiome since it is so important and a focus of a tremendous amount of current research. We are now beginning to understand that the microbiome is related to various aspects of human health; in fact, by studying one’s microbiome we can tell if you were breast or bottle fed, the mode of delivery as an infant, what you eat, how you will age, where you have been, and what medications you take. The microbiome is also related to illness. Many correlations have been established between alterations in the microbiome and various diseases including asthma, autism spectrum disorder, cardiovascular disease, IBD and clostridium difficile infection just to name a few. Intestinal bacteria can act in concert with diet to reduce or increase the risk of certain types of colorectal cancer. The function of the microbiome is to help the body rid itself of xenobiotics — chemicals not naturally found in the body often arising from environmental pollutants. A study found evidence that the composition of bacteria responsible for removing those chemicals was different in individuals with Parkinson’s. There is growing evidence showing a connection between Parkinson’s disease and the composition of the microbiome of the gut. A new study from researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows that Parkinson’s disease, and medications to treat Parkinson’s, have distinct effects on the composition of the trillions of bacteria that make up the gut microbiome. So how do you keep this part of your body healthy? A low-fiber diet may cause irreversible depletion of gut bacteria over generations. The proliferation of nearly fiber–free, processed convenience foods since the mid–20th century has resulted in average per capita fiber consumption in industrialized societies of about 5-15 grams per day, which is way less than the minimum 25-30 grams recommended. That’s as little as one–tenth of the intake among the world’s dwindling hunter–gatherer and rural agrarian populations. The Maasai tribe in Africa has the best poop. Exercise can definitely help since it has been shown that athletes had a significantly wider range of gut microbiota than men in comparison groups. Fermented foods and probiotics can help. Avoid indiscriminate use of antibiotics, which can kill off gut bacteria. Remember that feeding our bacteria with a high fiber diet may be better than any probiotic.
6. Genetic screening is appropriate for many patients depending on personal and family history. Do not forget to discuss a detailed family history, dietary history and exercise history with your primary care doctor during your routine history and physical exams.
7. Screening tests can save your life. Never forgo your routine recommended screening tests, including tests for colon cancer, skin cancer, lipid panels, 25 Hydroxy Vitamin D level, and, for women pelvic, pap, and breast cancer screenings when appropriate. There are many more recommended tests for your physical exam that we will not discuss now.
8. All of us are at risk for osteoporosis, including men. Bone density screening for osteoporosis or osteopenia when appropriate.
9. You cannot buy health in a bottle. Remember there is no magic pill for health. You will not find health in a bottle at the store. Populations that live the longest do not use dietary supplements, but live a healthy lifestyle. Two to four million deaths related to cardiovascular disease could be prevented a year if everyone ate optimal amounts of fruits and vegetables, while for cancer that number was approximately 660,000 deaths. The risk of heart disease, strokes and premature death decreased by 10.8 percent for each two-serving increase in consumption of fruit or vegetables – up to an intake of 8 servings per day. This does not include potato chips, French fries, or ketchup, which are some of the most consumed products in this category. Berries that have darker pigments are extremely important (i.e. blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, pomegranate, etc.) since they contain a large amount of important phytochemicals.
10. Excess weight is associated with numerous diseases, including cancer. We are all aware of the increased risk of heart disease, vascular disease, high blood pressure, gallstones, type 2 diabetes, and degenerative arthritis with obesity. Being obese or overweight at age 50 was associated with earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers found sufficient evidence linking excess weight to higher risks of cancers of the colon, esophagus, kidney, breast, and uterus. Limiting weight gain over the decades helps to reduce risk of cancers in the stomach, liver, gall bladder, pancreas, ovary, thyroid and meninges (the membrane around the brain and spinal cord), blood and bone marrow.
Are you interested in learning more about wellness and longevity? Consider joining Alan Safdi, M.D., FACG, and the Telluride Longevity Institute this summer for their wellness retreats. Dr. Alan Safdi, along with a team of medical, wellness and nutrition experts, The Live Longer Retreat Telluride will teach you medically based ways to prolong your life and prevent dementia, heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and obesity. In one week, this physician-run, physician-driven intensive retreat will give you the tools to change your lifestyle to live longer without major health issues! Learn more here.
Please feel free to share this list with friends and family. Email us with any questions, comments, or suggestions. Although we will not be able to personally answer each one, we will incorporate responses into subsequent blog posts. Happy living!
This article was written by Alan Safdi, M.D., FACG:
Dr. Alan Safdi is past chairman of the Section of Gastroenterology at Deaconess Hospital and served as co-founder and president of the Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute. Dr. Safdi is board certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology, and is a Fellow of the American College of Gastroenterology. He is former chairman of the Crohn’s and Colitis Medical Advisory Board in Cincinnati and still serves as president of Consultants for Clinical Research. He was also co-founder of eMerge Health Solutions, Consultants for Clinical Research, and outpatient GI and anesthesia programs.
The information included in my posts are for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Reading the information in my posts does not create a physician-patient relationship.
Alan V. Safdi MD, FACG
Co-founder Emerge Healthcare Solutions and Consultants for Clinical Research
Past President Ohio Gastroenterology and Liver Institute
President Nominations Committee Ohio GI Society
Served as Chairman Section of Gastroenterology at.Deaconess Hospital
President Consultants for Clinical Research
Past Chairman Cincinnati Crohn’s & Colitis Medical Advisory Committee
Former Medical Director Tri-State Endoscopy Center
Served as President of the Ohio Gastroenterology Society
Lectures Nationally and Internationally on Health and Wellness