Although genetics determines many factors, there’s still a significant amount that will help to improve health and wellbeing.
For instance, smoking, alcohol intake, diet and fitness all have an impact on health – for better or worse. Let’s take a look at some of the things that have been shown to improve overall quality of life.
The lifetime benefits of physical activity
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that just 2.5 hours of moderate activity or 1.25 hours at vigorous intensity each week could extend life by 3.4 years. And people that engaged in a physical activity at twice this level gained an additional 4.2 years of life. 1
The study deems moderate activities as those during which a person can talk but not sing. Vigorous activities are those during which a person can say only a few words without stopping for breath.
The NHS recommends that adults aged 19 to 64 years old should do two types of physical activity each week, aerobic and strength exercises, to stay healthy or improve health. 2
These include doing at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity such as cycling or brisk walking every week or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity such as running or a game of singles tennis every week.
The NHS rule of thumb is that 1 minute of vigorous exercise provides the same health benefits as 2 minutes of moderate exercise.
The long-term effect of eating less
A clinical trial has shown that people who reduce their calorie intake by 15% over two years experienced a significant decrease in their metabolism. They developed a lower core body temperature, lower blood sugar and insulin levels, and significant drops in hormones that moderate metabolism – which are all markers linked with slower ageing and a longer lifespan. 3
The Okinawa Centenarian study of a Japanese village that has one of the world’s highest centenarian ratios discovered that they follow a general principle of ‘eat only until the stomach is 80% full’. The result is that elderly Okinawans eat about 1,900 calories a day throughout their lives. 4
What’s healthy and what’s not
There’s plenty of research that shows eating a healthy diet can help achieve a longer lifespan. Simplistic advice is to consume more vegetables and less meat and fats.
But while we know we should aim to include more vegetables, salads and fruit in our diets, there’s still some confusion over good and bad fats.
Essentially, good fats are unsaturated fats that are found in vegetable oils (olive, canola, sunflower, soy, and corn), nuts, seeds, and fish.
Bad fats contain trans fats and are often found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated oil. However, many food manufacturers are now trying to use alternatives to hydrogenated oil.
Saturated fats are not as bad as trans fats but are far more unhealthy than unsaturated fats. Therefore, the following saturated fats should be eaten in moderation: butter, cheese and red meat.
Good carbs and bad carbs
As with fats, there’s some confusion over what good and bad carbohydrates are.
Complex carbohydrates such as vegetables, wholegrains, beans, quinoa, oats, brown rice, nuts, seeds, and whole fruits take longer to digest and release energy slowly making them healthy options.
Simple carbohydrates including cakes, pastries, some breads and other refined foods are digested quickly; avoid these in excess as they lead to weight gain. Some vegetables, fruits, and milk are also considered simple carbs, but as they contain essential nutrients and protein, they respond more like complex carbohydrates when digested.
Maintain a healthy weight and body shape
At any age, beneficial changes will impact on lifespan. At the forefront of these changes is reducing weight and increasing fitness.
As you can see from the above, simple actions can improve quality of life and lifespan – so why not make a healthy start today?
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Physical activity guidelines for adults:
1 Leisure Time Physical Activity of Moderate to Vigorous Intensity and Mortality
2 Physical activity guidelines for adults
3 Pennington Biomedical Research in Baton Rouge, La.
4 The Okinawa Centenarian