What does it take to live to 100, or beyond? Turns out, it likely involves much more than just eating whole grains and getting on a treadmill a few times a week.
It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to isolate and replicate the many factors that help people live long, healthy lives. This is for two reasons:
First, because when we look at the regions of the world with the longest-living people, it’s hard to separate diet and exercise from culture, community, and place.
For example, if long-living villagers in rural Japan take 10,000 steps over the course of a day, does that mean an office worker in Vancouver who squeezes 10,000 steps in during her breaks would get the same health benefits?
Second, it’s super tough to prove that any given factor causes increased life expectancy. Are those villagers living a long time because they take 10,000 steps a day, or because they make all sorts of other healthy decisions and lifestyle choices that increase their lifespan?
As difficult as it is to pinpoint the factors that lead some people to see their 100th year, there are a few things we do know - thanks to studies that investigate regions with unusual longevity, and long-term research that looks at the outcomes of different lifestyles and diets over time.
For the longest, healthiest life possible, this is what you can do right now:
The research shows that long-living people all over the world eat a balanced diet, low in processed food and high in complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fats, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Beans are a key ingredient - they’re the cornerstone of every longevity diet around the world. Nuts are also very common.
Another common thread is less sugar. While people in long-living regions tend to consume as much naturally-occuring sugars as North Americans (for example, as in fruit), they consume only one fifth of the added sugar (as in cookies).
Eat full meals
Biochemist Valter Longo, who runs the Longevity Institute at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, says the research shows that we should all be sitting down to full meals.
The regions with the longest-living people in the world have slow-eating cultures, where meals are shared among family and friends.
When we sit down and eat a full plate of food, our bodies “get the message that they're full,” making us less likely to graze and snack later.
Fast at night
Longo also found that long-living people tend to fast for about 12 hours every day. That means they stop eating in the early evening, and rest overnight until breakfast the next day.
Although there is research that shows that longer periods of intermittent fasting (up to 16 hours) may help some people burn fat, for longevity, you shouldn’t be skipping breakfast. Studies show that skipping breakfast is associated with increased risk for overall mortality and cardiovascular disease. Need healthy breakfast ideas? Here are some of our favourites (aside from a quick Rumble, of course!).
It should come as no surprise that to live a long time, you shouldn’t be spending your days on the couch. But getting up and moving isn’t enough - studies show that exercising at a moderate to vigorous level of intensity for several hours each week could extend life expectancy by as much as 12-14 years.
When it comes to exercise, every little bit helps. So start with small, achievable goals like a daily walk and work your way up from there.
Don’t smoke, and moderate your alcohol
It’s never too late to make healthy lifestyle changes, and that includes quitting smoking or regulating your alcohol intake.
While the jury is still out on whether moderate alcohol intake actually improves life expectancy (or if it's just associated with long-living people who happen to be healthy in other ways), we do know that too much alcohol is a bad thing. A big 2018 study found the longest life expectancies among women who consumed no more than one alcoholic drink a day, and men who consumed no more than two.
While eating well and exercising are incredibly important to a long, healthy life, research also shows that where you live matters.
Healthy, long-living people tend to live in areas with lots of social infrastructure - that is, buildings, parks, neighbourhoods and places that encourage connections between residents.
Well-connected people live longer. So talk to your neighbours, join a social group, volunteer, and call your friends. Stay connected to your community, and you’ll be healthier AND happier in the long run.