Throughout human history, people have been searching for the “fountain of youth” to achieve immortality, or at the very least, stave off aging and extend lifespan for as long as possible.
All kinds of wacky protocols and products exist, promising to add years to your life.
But, what actually works when it comes to living longer, and better?
Scientific research supports the importance of your eating habits in terms of what, how much, and how you eat when it comes to increasing your lifespan. The focus should be on prioritizing plant-based foods in appropriately sized meals that are minimally processed and contain no added sugars.
This article will explain the science-backed benefits of these eating habits, plus give you straightforward tips on how to make them a sustainable part of your daily routine.
- Plant-based and minimally processed foods lead to a lower risk of certain diseases and protect your cells against aging.
- You’ll have the most success adding in these habits if you start small, pick the habits that are easiest for you first, and then build on your success when you decide what habit to add next.
- Other lifestyle factors that impact longevity include getting regular physical activity and avoiding or minimizing alcohol and tobacco use.
The Science of Longevity And Nutrition
It’s probably not a surprise to hear that eating better can help us to live better, healthier lives. And when we live better, healthier lives, we are less likely to get sick, and less likely to experience chronic diseases that lead to death.
“Nutrition offers the means to improve health and well-being and among the predictive factors of successful aging, nutrition appears as one of the major determinants.”– Carlo Cannella, Department of Medical Physiopathology, University of Rome
So, eating better not only helps us to live better, it also helps us to live longer AND have better quality of life in those additional years.
This concept of maintaining a higher quality of life as we age is known as “healthspan” and not just “lifespan.”
The 5 Simple Eating Habits For Longevity
Here are five simple eating habits to help you live a longer, healthier life.
Habit #1: Go Plant-Based (Eat Your Vegetables)
Many people mistakenly think that a plant-based diet means giving up meat and other animal products to become vegetarian or fully vegan.
But, a plant-based diet can simply mean incorporating more plant-based foods such as vegetables and fruit into your diet, while continuing to eat some animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy.
Plant-based diets are rich in essential nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants, which have been linked to a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Studies have consistently shown that individuals who consume more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, tend to live longer and have a lower risk of premature death compared to those who consume a diet high in animal-based foods (and lower in plant-based foods).
Plant-based diets have various health benefits that may contribute to longevity:
- Lower in saturated fat and cholesterol, which can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease
- Higher in fiber, which promotes digestive health, helps with weight management, and reduces the risk of disease in the colon
- High in antioxidants, which helps support healthy skin and other tissues, and protects cells against damage and aging
Habit #2: Practice Mindful Eating
In our busy lives, we often eat on the go, or are distracted by screens or other activities that lead to mindless eating.
However, practicing mindful eating can be a simple yet powerful habit that can contribute to a longer and healthier life.
Mindful eating involves slowing down and paying attention to the sensations, flavors, and textures of food, as well as listening to our body’s hunger and fullness cues, without judgment or distraction.
Research has shown that mindful eating can lead to improved eating behaviors, such as reduced binge eating, emotional eating, and overeating, which can help with weight management and prevent obesity.
Mindful eating has also been associated with better digestion, increased satisfaction with meals, and improved overall well-being, which all contribute to overall health and longevity.
In addition, mindful eating can help us make healthier food choices, such as more fruits and vegetables (Habit #1).
By being present and fully engaged in the eating experience, we become more aware of the nutritional value of the foods we consume and the amount of food we consume.
Habit #3: Limit Added Sugars and Processed Foods
The overconsumption of added sugars and processed foods has become a major concern in modern diets and has been linked to numerous health issues, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and even premature death.
Limiting added sugars and processed foods in your diet can be a simple yet impactful eating habit for a longer and healthier life.
Added sugars are sugars that are added to foods during processing or preparation, and they can be found in various forms, such as sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and dextrose, among others.
Added sugars are commonly found in beverages, desserts, candies, and many processed foods, such as breakfast cereals, sauces, and snacks.
Studies have consistently shown that a higher consumption of added sugar is associated with an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic diseases.
Therefore, reducing your intake of added sugars can significantly improve your health and longevity.
Similarly, processed foods, which are often high in refined carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, sodium, and additives, have been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.
By limiting your consumption of ultra-processed foods and opting for whole, minimally processed foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (Habit #1), you can improve your overall health and increase your healthspan.
Habit #4: Practice Portion Control
In today’s culture of supersized meals and all-you-can-eat buffets, portion control has become a critical aspect of maintaining a healthy diet and promoting longevity.
Overeating, even healthy foods, can still lead to weight gain and other health issues, such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Practicing portion control requires you to be mindful of the amount of food you eat and being aware of your body’s hunger and fullness cues (Habit #2). It is important to listen to your body and stop eating when you are comfortably full, rather than eating until you are overly stuffed.
By practicing portion control, you can prevent overeating, maintain a healthy weight, and reduce the risk of chronic diseases, all of which can contribute to a longer, healthier life.
Related Article: 34 Tips For Getting Used To Eating Less (Science-Backed)
Habit #5: Stay Hydrated With Water
Our bodies are made up of about 60% water, and water plays a crucial role in many bodily functions, such as digestion, metabolism, temperature regulation, and transportation of nutrients from the foods that we eat to the cells that need them.
Dehydration can lead to a range of health issues, including constipation, kidney problems, and even cognitive impairment. Proper hydration is crucial for maintaining overall health and well-being.
Drinking water throughout the day, especially before and after meals, can also help with weight management. Water has no calories, and drinking it before meals can help you feel full, reducing the likelihood of overeating..
In addition to water, other healthy beverages, such as herbal teas, unsweetened coffee, and natural fruit juices, can contribute to your overall hydration without adding unnecessary calories.
However, it is important to limit or avoid sugary beverages, such as sodas, energy drinks, and fruit-flavored drinks, as they can be high in added sugars and contribute to weight gain and other health issues (Habit #3).
Drinking enough water is a simple yet essential eating habit that is often overlooked but can have a significant impact on your health and longevity.
Incorporating Longevity Habits Into Your Lifestyle
Tips for adopting these habits into your daily routine & strategies for making these habits sustainable.
When it comes to any new behavior you want to adopt, it’s important to make small changes at first rather than trying to do a drastic overhaul. These small changes are more likely to be sustainable, and they will add up to big changes over time.
Starting small can look like:
- Eating more fruits and vegetables by adding just one additional serving to your day.
If you don’t currently eat any fruits or vegetables, aim for just one serving, such as having an orange with your regular breakfast.
If you already eat 2-3 servings per day, try adding one more serving, either by making your existing servings a bit bigger, or adding a new fruit or vegetable.
- Eating mindfully by evaluating how many meals you have on the go or with distractions present.
If you currently eat breakfast in the car on the way to work, try and wake up earlier to have it before you get in the car. Or, if you watch TV or other screens while eating, commit to at least one screen-free meal per day.
- Reducing sugar intake by switching from sugar from 2 tsp to 1 tsp in your coffee, or making one sugar-free or lower-sugar swap in your groceries this week, like switching from a product with added sugar to the same product with no added sugar
For example, switching from a sugary peanut butter to all natural peanut butter.
- Practicing portion control by serving your meal on a slightly smaller plate, like using salad plates instead of dinner plates.
Or, ordering one size smaller than usual, such as getting a “tall” instead of a “grande” at Starbucks, or a small size fry instead of a medium or a large at McDonalds.
- Hydrating by starting your day with a large glass of water so that you’ll already have a headstart on your water intake in case the day gets busy.
It can also be helpful to fill up water bottles with the total amount that you want to drink throughout the day, and have them ready in places that you are likely to see them, such as at your desk, in your gym bag, and near your favorite chair.
Make It Easy
It’s also important to make your new habits as easy as possible so that they require little effort and become an automated part of your behavior – truly a “habit” that you do without thinking. A small change won’t necessarily work if it’s not also an easy change.
You don’t have to adopt all five habits at once, either. Pick the habit that seems easiest for you, and start there.
- For eating more fruits and vegetables, it doesn’t mean that you need to go to a specialty grocery store and get a new fruit or vegetable that you’ve never heard of. That can be fun, but it’s not necessarily easy and would require a major change to your routine.
Think about meals where you already eat a fruit or vegetable (or a meal where it would be easier to incorporate one), and start by adding there, even if it’s just having a bigger serving of the vegetables you already eat, rather than trying to remember to buy and prepare an additional vegetable.
- For eating mindfully, if your schedule requires you to drive a lot, it may not be realistic to stop eating while you are driving. Instead, mindfulness could mean thinking ahead to pack your meals, rather than grabbing takeout on the go.
Or it could mean that for the meals that you do get to sit down and eat at home, you commit to removing devices and really focusing on your food.
- For reducing sugar intake, taking things out of your diet can seem harder and more restrictive than focusing on what you’re adding in. Think about where you can add more plant-based foods in (habit #1) rather than cutting out sugary foods.
If you decide to have apple slices with cinnamon for dessert then you are thinking about adding a fruit, rather than taking away a cookie.
- For portion control, it can be easier to stick to a planned portion when the rest of the food is “out of sight, out of mind.”
This might mean packing up leftovers before you sit down to eat so that you’re not
tempted to go back for seconds, or at least dishing up plates from the stove rather than
having dishes on the table to serve yourself from.
- For hydration, try using technology to help you out. Set a timer on your watch or phone to remind you to drink at least 1 glass of water each hour.
Build On Success
Once you’ve successfully built one new habit, you get to decide whether you want to add a new habit, or “up the ante” with your current habit.
For example, if you successfully added one additional serving of fruits and vegetables, is your next action to add another serving, or is it to add an additional glass of water to each day?
Reflect on what habits are going well, and why, and how you can leverage that success to help you with other habits. Perhaps it has to do with the time of day, or a pre-existing routine you were able to add to.
Here are some long-term goals to work towards in each habit. Remember that you don’t have to try to reach the “end state” for each habit all at once!
- For eating more fruits and vegetables, a good goal is to aim for at least one fruit and/or vegetable at each meal and snack, for a minimum of 5 servings per day.
- For eating mindfully, if the majority of your meals can be eaten sitting down, with no screens, and last at least 15 minutes, that is a major win.
- For reducing sugar intake, getting to no more than 6 tsp (25 grams) for women or 9 tsp (36 grams) for men of added sugar each day, which is in line with the recommendations from the American Heart Association.
- For portion control, eating to “comfortable fullness” in a way that allows you to feel satisfied but not stuffed, allowing you to maintain a healthy body weight.
- For hydration, a general guideline is to drink the number of ounces that matches half your body weight in pounds (e.g. a person who weighs 160 lbs would aim to drink 80 ounces of water).
Other Lifestyle Factors That Affect Longevity
The other lifestyle factors that affect your longevity are:
- Body weight: each of the habits above made reference to how they assist in weight management because being overweight or underweight is associated with higher risk of chronic diseases and health conditions, which reduce lifespan.
Discuss with your doctor or other healthcare provider an appropriate healthy weight for you.
Recommendation: General guidelines suggest a “normal weight” BMI of 18.5-21.9 (neither underweight or overweight) to minimize risk of disease, thus giving you a better chance at a longer life.
- Physical activity: along with good nutrition, regular physical exercise is a key component when it comes to maintaining a healthy body weight. Plus, outside of any changes in body weight or body composition, exercise still helps to improve markers of health and fitness such as blood pressure and blood sugar.
This study showed that meeting the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans of 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) resulted in nearly the maximum longevity benefit: 31% lower mortality risk compared to sedentary individuals.
Recommendation: Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate activity per day, at least 5 days per week, to get the minimum of 150 minutes if you want to live longer.
- Smoking: if there is one surefire way to reduce your lifespan and healthspan, it is smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco products. Since the 1950s, death from other causes has dropped steadily, while smoking continues to mean a shorter life by 8 years on average, and 16 years for causes of death directly linked to tobacco use.
On the bright side, quitting smoking can reduce risk of dying by 24% within the first two years, and after 10-14 years, mortality rates are similar to people who never smoked.
Recommendation: If there was ever a time to quit smoking, today is the day, and if you never smoked, don’t start. This one change can add 8-16 years to your life.
- Alcohol consumption: similar to smoking, alcohol consumption is linked to higher mortality rates (greater likelihood of dying at a younger age).
Some older studies argued that there was a health benefit to light to moderate alcohol consumption, but even they could not recommend a safe or optimal intake, and newer analyses have called these findings into question.
Recommendation: If you want to live as long and as healthfully as possible, abstain from alcohol, or aim for no more than 1-2 drinks per week.
- Sleep: Sleep is an important determinant of health, and people who sleep less than 7 hours per night on average, are at higher risk of disease and adverse health conditions than those who sleep 7-8 hours per night.
“Sleep is a common under-recognized public health issue in industrialized countries across the globe.”Lisa Gallicchio, PhD
Recommendation: Get in the habit of a regular bedtime and wake time, in a cool, dark, quiet room that is devoted to sleeping. While you can’t force yourself to sleep, set the conditions to allow you to achieve 8 hours of sleep.
About The Author
Lauren Graham is a Precision Nutrition Level 1 certified nutrition coach. She focuses on helping busy professionals balance healthy eating and purposeful movement. Lauren has a background in competitive swimming and is currently competing as a CrossFit athlete. She has a passion for training, teaching, and writing.