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|The Seven Pillars of
by Jonny Bowden
The Seven Pillars of Longevity are 7 areas in which you can exert control over your destiny and ultimately increase the odds of living a long and healthy life!
1) Food: Eat Your Way to a Long Life
There are more elements in fruits and vegetables that can extend your life than science has been able to put its collective finger on. Some of their anti-aging value undoubtedly comes from the synergistic action of nutrients--antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties--some of which have not even been identified yet. And other benefits may even be incidental to the fruits and vegetables themselves, because people who eat lots of these foods tend to have other healthy habits as well, such as eating less of the junk foods that shorten life. Regardless, the effect on aging, disease, and health of a diet high in fruits and vegetables is absolutely incontrovertible and noncontroversial.
The results of a meta-analysis of nine different studies, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that the more fruits and vegetables people ate, the fewer heart problems they experienced. The review found a four percent decrease in the risk of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks, coronary death, and incident coronary heart disease for each additional fruit or vegetable portion consumed per day. That sure makes fruit and vegetable eating look like a powerful anti-aging strategy to me!
For whatever reason--the fiber, the anti-inflammatory agents, the anti-oxidants, the vitamins, the minerals, or some combination thereof--high fruit and vegetable intake consistently correlates with a lower rate of the diseases of aging. In fact, according to World Health Report estimates, up to 2.7 million lives could potentially be saved each year if fruit and vegetable consumption were sufficiently increased. Low fruit and vegetable intake is estimated to cause about 31 percent of ischemic heart disease and 11 percent of strokes worldwide. And if you want to talk anti-aging strategies, consider this: The recent Joint Food and Agriculture Organization/World Health Organization Expert Consultation on diet, nutrition, and the prevention of chronic diseases recommended that a minimum intake of 400 grams of fruits and vegetables a day (not counting potatoes!) would dramatically help prevent chronic diseases of aging, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. If there were a pill that would have that effect on aging, we'd all be lining up to take it at any price.
The wrong food choices stress our bodies. They cause our defenses to go into overdrive, our liver to work extra hard (trying to rid the body of toxins), our hormones to fall out of balance, and our immune system to be weakened. All of these responses contribute to aging. Food is also the primary delivery system for all those great antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, not to mention nutrients (such as resveratrol) that have the power to influence our "good" genes (and perhaps turn off some of our not-so-good ones). Our food selections also have a powerful influence on our hormones, which in turn have a powerful effect on how we age. Ultimately, food is probably the most powerful drug we have in our anti-aging arsenal.
2) MultiVitamins: Natural Therapy
I like to think of supplements as a technology, a kind of modern-day delivery system for nutrients. The more we know about the diseases of aging, the more we understand how specific nutrients can help. Often, the doses of those nutrients needed for a therapeutic effect are simply way more than are going to be available in the average diet, even a diet constructed according to the best longevity principles. Some nutrients are not even found in food in any appreciable amount (coenzyme Q10, alpha-lipoic acid, or carnosine). The realization that many nutrients in the ideal dosages have an almost pharmaceutical effect has led to wide use of the term nutraceuticals for these beneficial compounds. Therapeutic use of nutraceuticals can help support various systems in the body and protect them from the typical breakdown and malfunction that happens during the diseases of aging.
A comprehensive report released by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) found that consistent use of multivitamins with minerals and such single-nutrient supplements as calcium and antioxidants (vitamins C and E) demonstrated substantial positive impact on the immune systems of elderly people and played a key role in protecting eye and brain function and maintaining bone mass. Even doctors at Harvard Medical School now recommend that everybody, regardless of age and health status, take a daily multivitamin.
3) Detoxification: An Age Old Time Out
The almost ancient practice of detoxification has been around forever, whether as part of religious purification rites or as part of a natural healing program. The ability to give our systems a much-needed rest from the daily assault on our cells of toxic foods and environmental pathogens is a deeply valuable asset in our quest for a long and healthy life. Fortunately, we have a number of ways of detoxifying, from "cleansing diets" (which are usually just very sparse, nutrient-dense programs of whole foods) to infrared sauna.
The reason detoxification is a pillar of longevity is because it helps combat every one of the Four Horsemen of Aging: oxidation, inflammation, glycation, and stress. A ton of stuff has been written in the media in the last few years about detoxification and cleansing, some of it sheer nonsense and some of it sensible. Some critics claim that commercial "detox" products are nothing more than laxatives (sometimes true), while other critics claim that the body is constantly detoxifying anyway (true) and doesn't need any help (false). And finally, some argue that there's no way to effectively measure the toxins we supposedly eliminate through a detox program, and even if there were, there's no way to prove we've actually eliminated them (partially true, partially not). I think we can all agree that our bodies (not to mention our minds and souls!) are assaulted with toxins on a daily basis-from the air we breathe, the water we drink, the chemicals in our soil, the medications in our medicine cabinet, the hormones, antibiotics, and steroids in our meat, and the hundreds of other minor exposures we rack up just in the course of daily living. We can also agree that 1) this is not a good situation and 2) we don't help matters by eating bad food (fried foods, high-fructose corn syrup, and processed meats, the usual suspects). It's a good thing to give the body (and the mind) an occasional rest from the constant onslaught and perhaps a little help getting rid of the excess garbage that's accumulated.
My friend Elson Haas, M.D., author of The New Detox Diet as well as countless other important books, has been doing detox programs with his patients for three decades. "Detoxification is the missing link in Western nutrition," he told me. "People need to take a break from their substances. A detox can give the body a rest so it can rebalance."
4) Exercise: An Activity for the Ages
There isn't a long-lived society on earth in which the members are not active. They may not go to gyms, but they shepherd goats, climb mountains, tend gardens, milk cows, walk, and do all the other active things that people have done for eons. Exercise can help you control blood sugar, weight, and blood pressure. It can elevate your "good" cholesterol and reduce your risk of heart disease. It can even lower your risk for Alzheimer's disease. A single 30-minute bout of aerobic exercise can improve mood, measures of positive well-being, and vigor, even in people with major depressive disorder. It can certainly lower stress, and recent research shows that exercise actually helps you grow new brain tissue. Suffice it to say that exercise is one of the most effective "natural cures" on earth, and it is particularly effective against the vast majority of the diseases of aging.
5) Sleep: Listen to Your Internal Rhythm
Sleep is a big part of a longevity lifestyle. It's no secret that most of us don't get enough of it. Sleep affects how we work, how we relate to other people, how we make decisions, and how we feel in general. Not getting enough sleep can depress our immune system, raise our stress hormones, and contribute to weight gain.
Geneticists and anthropologists tell us that our specific human genome has only changed 0.01 percent in the past ten thousand years. Therefore, whenever possible, I think it makes sense to look to what our human genus was programmed for when it comes to basic things such as food, activity, and sleep. Prior to electricity, we listened to our biological rhythms, which were in sync with the rhythms of the earth. We slept when it was dark out and awoke when it was light. We spent plenty of time in the sun. We moved around a lot. And when it was dark, we sat around the campfire and went to bed and slept like babies. When the sun rose, we started the day. This, if you will, was the natural order of things. This is the factory-specified sleep pattern for healthy humans. It's been wildly disrupted--and we've paid a great price in health and longevity.
Sleep is essential to memory, mood, and cognitive performance, all markers for the youngevity lifestyle. All diminish as you get older unless you take good care of your sleep. Inadequate sleep is linked to increased anger, anxiety, and sadness, all diminishers of the quality (and potentially length) of your life. One study at the University of Pennsylvania showed that when subjects were only allowed to sleep 4.5 hours per night they exhibited significantly more stress, anger, and mental exhaustion.
The bottom line: Sleep matters. More than, perhaps, you realize. The old saying "I can sleep when I'm dead" used to be a badge of honor among Masters of the Universe types, but the irony is that those who live that way--ignoring the importance of sleep, with all its metabolic and hormonal anti-aging benefits--may find themselves dead sooner rather than later!
6) Stress Management: Not a Luxury
Stress kills. It usually doesn't kill quickly and dramatically but rather slowly, insidiously, and deliberately. Stress exacerbates virtually every disease of aging and many others as well, such as herpes, asthma, allergies, and acne. Stress slows down recovery from serious illness. Stress shrinks areas of the brain that are intimately involved with memory and thinking. It increases the risk of heart disease. It decreases the effectiveness of the immune system. It deeply deserves its designation as one of the Four Horsemen of Aging. Without a way of dealing with stress, there simply is no "living longer."
Managing stress is not a luxury; it's an important part of your longevity program (arguably the most important part of all). Stress reduction, or stress management, doesn't have to be done in expensive spas or yoga retreats. It can be as simple as walking in the woods, having dinner with friends, taking warm baths in candlelight, listening to relaxing music, or reading by the fireplace. Or it can be a more structured activity like doing deep breathing exercises or meditating.
Chances are that without even thinking about it too much, you could easily name a dozen things that you personally would find relaxing, enjoyable, and soothing. These dozen things would automatically lower your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones naturally. Take my advice: Do them! The longest-lived people in the world may not go to day spas or yoga retreats, but they have constructed their lives in such a way that their stress is naturally manageable. To the extent that you do the same--however that "looks" for you--you will be taking a huge step toward increasing the odds that you wind up living longer, better, and healthier.
7) Emotional Intelligence
Whenever researchers have investigated long-lived people, they've looked at their diets, their activity levels, their genes, all sorts of things that pertain to the individual. We know, for example, that those long-lived Russians up there in the Bulgarian mountains eat lots of yogurt (but no fish). We know that the folks in Okinawa eat tons of fish (but no yogurt). Ultimately, there are very few elements related to diet or nutrients or detoxification or even sleep that are absolutely universal among all long-lived people. Except one. There is one category of human activity that is absolutely universal among every culture everywhere in which people live long and are healthy into their ninth decade and beyond. It's the closest thing we have to a "universal truth" about anti-aging. And it doesn't have very much to do with what we eat, how we sleep, or how we exercise, except indirectly.
The absolute universal truth about anti-aging is that there is no anti-aging without a strong social fabric. Not one single long-lived society anywhere in the world is absent a set of strong social connections, including family, community, place of worship, and all the rest of the structures that go with living together as a cohesive group.
I found there really wasn't one specific label that captured all the "nonphysical" things we can do to extend life. So I borrowed a term from psychology--it's called emotional intelligence. Loosely defined, it's the sum total of everything in our lives that relates to our relationships with others, our relationship with ourselves (how we manage our emotions, for example), and our ability to communicate. If we can harness the power of emotions, we can use them to facilitate thinking, problem solving, communication, and connection to other people. All of these have profound implications for anti-aging. All of the other things I mentioned previously pale in comparison to the life-extending effects of being connected to other people, being part of a community, and learning to know and accept yourself. That's emotional intelligence, and it's the most powerful anti-aging tool of all.
Excerpted with permission from The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer ©2010 by Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., C.N.S., published by Fair Winds Press, a member of Quayside Publishing Group, Beverly, MA. Available in stores or visit www.fairwindspress.com
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