Note: This article is a revised chapter from my recent book 10 Simple Principles of a Healthy Diet: How to Lose Weight, Look Young, and Live Longer
To enjoy the technological and scientific breakthroughs that will enable us to extend our lifespans beyond 100, we first have to wait for a few decades for all of that to happen. Fortunately, there is a lot we can do in between to ensure we stay healthy and increase our chances for longer life. Building and maintaining healthy habits is an issue of lifestyle. I thought it might be worth taking a closer look at my five favorite longevity habits and how my family and I implement these practices.
1. Loving Veggies
I’m a big fan of veggies. In my family we make sure plants represent the bulk of what’s on our plates, echoing the advice of numerous food experts. D. Craig Willcox, Ph.D., who co-wrote “The Okinawa Program”, suggests readers eat as far down the food chain as they can, which of course means consuming more plants. If I had to briefly describe my family diet, I would call it heavily plant-based.
However, for us, the diet staple isn’t grains, bread or potatoes, as is the case in many Western diets. Instead, it’s the sweet potato, which is packed full of essential vitamins and minerals without being packed full of calories, and a variety of cruciferous vegetables. We love all types of cruciferous vegetables, but Brussels sprouts and broccoli are among our favorites. We stir-fry them with garlic and a splash of tamari or steam them with lemon juice and olive oil.
Our kids need additional motivation, like most children do, to eat vegetables on a regular basis, so we use a carrot-and-stick approach. We try to add a whole plant garnish to each meal and add green leafy vegetables to their smoothies. Unfortunately for the kids, we have a “no sugar/no sweets” policy at home. Speaking of children, here is another list that will help you set up your kids for longevity.
2. Eating From the Ocean
Being born in a city on the Pacific Ocean and having spent the first 17 years of my life by the coast, I feel very comfortable with the idea of eating from the sea. Now, in my family, we consume around three servings of fish per week. We avoid farmed-raised fish. We buy only wild small-sized fish, that contain less mercury. We love sardines, anchovies, herring, mackerel icefish, wild salmon and sole. Kids often eat fish soups; adults opt for roasted or baked fish with herbs and garlic.
By emphasizing foods from the ocean, we get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 is crucial to preventing heart disease, the number one killer in the world.
3. Sticking To Small Plates
An important rule we follow in our household, taught by Confucious, is eat until you’re 80 percent full—a rule many of us would do well to follow. It has been shown that bigger plates and spoons lead to bigger portions and this means you eat more. In a study conducted by Brian Wansink, Koert van Ittersum, and James E. Painter, they concluded that “because people eat most of what they serve themselves, any contextual cues that lead them to over-serve should lead them to over-eat.”
Very often food becomes associated with your social life, or serves to cope with trauma or stress, or is used to “treat yourself.” Thus, overindulging gets confused or repackaged as self-care.
Really, we should eat to nourish ourselves, and nourishment actually comes from exhibiting some good old-fashioned self-control. Caloric restriction has been called “the most robust intervention for slowing aging.” By eating until we are 80 percent full with the help of smaller plates, we communicate the same principle far more accessibly.
In addition to a daily habit of eating less, my wife and I fast for 36 hours each week. We start our weekly, 36-hour fasting on Monday evening, and until Wednesday morning we only drink water and herbal tea. But you don’t need to be so radical!
4. Walking, Hiking, Biking
Walking and hiking are perfect examples of things we can easily incorporate into our daily routines. There’s no cost hurdle to taking a few more laps around the block. Yet many of us fail to do so. In my family, though, walking, biking, and hiking are part of our lifestyle.
Walk briskly for just 25 minutes a day and it could add seven years to your life! Walking has also been shown to have a meditative effect. In his early days at Uber, Travis Kalanick famously had a walking track on the fourth floor of the office; he’d walk around 40 hours per week. You don’t necessarily need to walk that much—you don’t even necessarily need 10,000 steps a day. But you do need to move your body consistently.
Try parking several blocks away from your destination or jump off public transportation a couple of stops ahead. Don’t use the elevator if possible, and take your meetings outside instead of sitting in a restaurant or your office. This is what I practice daily.
Sleep is crucial to longevity, while short naps can help boost brain function. One study found that taking short naps, exercising regularly, and walking improved “sleep health.” Unfortunately, the importance of sleep is underestimated in our society.
If you can’t fit in an afternoon nap because of your work schedule, at least make sure you’re getting sufficient sleep at night time! Cutting-edge companies, though, have already realized the importance of siestas. Google is among those providing nap spaces at its offices; “no workplace is complete without a nap pod,” its VP said. Recently, the New York Times even ran the article “Take Naps at Work. Apologize to No One,” citing improvements in productivity and engagement. Improvement in life span is a bonus.
We don’t take naps during the day in my family, but we pay extra attention to our sleeping routine. Our bedrooms are equipped to promote healthy sleeping. There is no night light or charging devices in the bedrooms, we have blackout blinds, comfortable pillows and mattresses, and the environment is always cool (the room temperature is between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit). All these conditions are required to promote good sleep quality. We also teach kids to engage in relaxing activities like reading a book before bedtime and stick to a schedule.
These are my five most favorite longevity habits, but the list doesn’t end here. There are many other important actions that are increasing our quality of life and wellness - I also love to call them longevity choices. If you are curious to find out more, take a look at my 10 Longevity Choices Infographic. Stay safe and healthy!