When it comes to living a long life, demographers, epidemiologists, gerontologists and other researchers on aging have long puzzled over the theoretical question of the maximum potential for human lifespan, along with the host of proposed practices we can implement that help us achieve that potential. There is, after all, in the past decade alone a veritable laundry list of tactics we can use to make ourselves more age resistant, from nutrients, vitamins and pills such as Vitamin D, aspirin, metformin, magnesium, pterostilbene, resveratrol, blueberry extract, nicotinamide riboside and rhodiola to lifestyle practices such as shivering our asses off, self-imposed starvation, fecal transplants, strict veganism, injecting into ourselves growth hormone, testosterone, stem cells, exosomes, the blood of younger healthy humans and speaking of younger humans, simply “having more children”.
Fact is, compared to the Biblical Methuselah, who purportedly lived to the ripe old age of 969, we don’t seem to be moving the anti-aging dial much. In fact, researchers estimate that in the U.S. today, the average adult life expectancy is still only about 77 years and, disturbingly, now plummeting due to high rates of chronic diseases (many of which are preventable with simple lifestyle changes you’ll learn about in this article). Currently – despite the Chinese lore of the recently perished “256-year-old” Li Ching Yuen, the longest-lived modern person in the world on actual record is Jeanne Calment of France, who died in 1997 at the exact age of 122 years and 164 days.
Yet, when we observe nature, some amount of immortality, or at least a significant amount of enhanced life extension, appears to be achievable. Take the naked mole rate, for example. The naked mole rat’s cells themselves seem to make proteins – the molecular machines that make bodies work – more accurately than us humans, preventing it from developing age-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s. Unlike humans, the way these ugly little creatures handle glucose doesn’t seem to change with age either, reducing their susceptibility to diseases like diabetes.
The naked mole rat isn’t the only animal scientists are now probing to pick the lock of long life. With a rampant metabolism and a heart rate of 1,000 beats a minute, the common hummingbird should, on paper, be riddled with rogue free radicals (the oxygen-based chemicals that make mammals old by gradually destroying DNA, proteins and fat molecules), but the tiny birds seem relatively bulletproofed against heart disease. Then there are lobsters, which seem to have evolved a protein which repairs the telomere tips of their DNA, allowing for a decreased rate of telomere shortening that most animals are incapable of.
Finally, as if rats, hummingbirds and lobsters weren’t enough to make us longevity seeking humans a bit jealous, we mustn’t forget one animal on Earth that may hold the master key to immortality: the Turritopsis dohrnii, also known as the “Immortal Jellyfish”. Most jellyfish, when they reach the end of life, die and melt into the sea, but not the Turritopsis dohrnii. Instead, it sinks to the bottom of the ocean floor, where its body folds in on itself – assuming the jellyfish equivalent of the fetal position – and regenerates back into a baby jellyfish in a rare biological process called transdifferentiation, in which its old cells somehow transform into young cells.
So is there a human equivalent of the type of immortality “powers” these animals seem to have tapped into? Many in popular anti-aging and longevity circles have suggested that – in the next several decades – we could indeed unlock the secrets to living to approximately 120 to 140 years old, and many biohackers and anti-aging enthusiasts such as Peter Diamandis, Peter Thiel, Larry Page, Elon Musk and Tony Robbins and even lil ol’ me are striving to live greater than 160 years old.
The purpose of this article is not to delve into the relatively advanced longevity secrets of these fringe biohackers, but instead to reveal everything you need to know about why the world’s more traditionally living longevity all-stars not only live longer but also tend to live better. They have strong connections with their family and friends. They’re active. They wake up in the morning knowing that they have a purpose, and the world, in turn, reacts to them in a way that propels them along. An overwhelming majority of them still enjoy life. They share these common behavioral and lifestyle characteristics, such as family coherence, avoidance of smoking, plant-based diet, moderate and daily physical activity, social engagement, and situations where people of all ages are socially active and integrated into the community, despite all of them being from different areas of the world and of different races, nationalities and religions.
That’s not to say that biohacking for longevity and better living through science isn’t beneficial. After spending nearly two decades deeply immersed in the health, fitness, nutrition and longevity industry, I’ve come to a growing realization that an open embrace of both the modern science and the ancestral wisdom could indeed allow one to live a long and healthy lifespan that rivals and even exceeds that of our ancestors. Perhaps that’s why my children and I engage in wild plant foraging (a longevity tactic you’ll learn more about in this article), but do so using a plant identification smartphone app that allows us to identify everything from mushrooms to plants with incredible accuracy, allowing us to tap into a bit of better living through science to not get poisoned or make fatal mistakes our ancestors might have while foraging; why I own a quaint and simple, off-grid, barn-style home in the forest where we grow most of our own food, yet fill that barn with tens of thousands of dollars of modern anti-aging biohacking equipment; and why the last time I disappeared into a seven day high-country elk bowhunt in the mountains of Colorado, I had a neurofeedback brain training device neatly tucked away into my camouflage backpack.
But in this article, rather than learning about fancy devices you can spend tens of thousands of dollars or fringe biohacks that will get you plenty of weird looks from your neighbor, you will discover exactly how to use proven ancestral tactics to live a happy, long and fulfilled life. So you can think of this article as a cookbook for longevity that gives you all the low-hanging fruit and teaches you all the basics of living a long and happy life.
12 Basic & Natural Habits To Enhance Longevity
Enter Dan Buettner, author of the book “Blue Zones”. Buettner’s goal while writing his book was to discover certain populations in the world with the highest number of centenarians (people who live over 100) and to then teach the world how to use the lessons learned from these populations. The five blue zones where Buettner and his team of researchers discovered the longest-living people on earth include: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Icaria, Greece and the Seventh-day Adventists in Loma Linda, California. Buettner discovered several shared characteristics that seemed to overlap in each of these zones, including:
-Lack of smoking
-A high intake of wild plants
-Legumes, usually prepared ancestrally using methods such as soaking, sprouting or fermentation
-Constant moderate physical activity, not as “canned” exercise sessions or gym workouts, but as a natural part of life (gardening, yard work, walking, bicycling, etc.)
-Family relationships and social engagement (despite less use of the social media, people are extremely socially active and integrated into their communities in the same ways you learned in my recent article on the growing epidemic of loneliness.
Other key characteristics Buettner identified were low to moderate alcohol intake (especially wine and other fermented beverages), caloric moderation and fasting, a strong life purpose, low amounts of stress, and engagement in a spiritual discipline, religion or belief in a higher power. So how can you practically implement these habits into your own life? Here are a 12 of my favorite potent and highly effective strategies, and some of the more common Blue Zone strategy “roadblocks” I’ve seen people run into during my own consulting and coaching.
1) Don’t smoke.
Allow me to clarify: there are some cases in which smoking can be beneficial. Think back to last week’s article on nootropics and smart drugs in which you learned about how to smoke or vape loose leaf tea, organic tobacco, essential oils, and marijuana. In moderation, the anti-stress or energy-enhancing benefits of this practice likely outweigh any cons derived from exposure to heated, potentially carcinogenic compounds, especially when vaping. In addition, as you learned in that article, it really isn’t the nicotine in cigarettes or cigars that is harmful. But unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re no doubt aware of the proven dangers of smoking.
In other words, don’t smoke – period.
In addition, limit as much as possible your exposure to secondhand smoke, and if you live in an apartment complex, work in an office, or frequent areas that expose you to smoke or other similar airborne pollutants, then use the air filtration and NASA-researched houseplant tips you learn about in my Ritual and Routine article, and also increase your intake of whole-food plant-based antioxidants or full-spectrum antioxidants from supplements. If you have been smoking, the good news is that much of the damage can be reversed, as I discuss in this podcast (an oldie but a goodie!) and as you can read about here.
2) Eat wild plants.
Aside from the Seventh Day Adventist population of Loma Linda, California, most centenarians aren’t vegans or vegetarians, but most do follow a predominantly plant-based diet, usually as a result of a dependency on their own homegrown or locally grown foods. Long-lived Sardinians, Nicoyans and Okinawans tend to consume nutrient-dense produce they grow in their own gardens and supplement them with smaller amounts of animal protein foods, along with traditional staples including legumes, ancient grains such a quinoa, amaranth and millet, sweet potatoes and corn tortillas.
Wild plants deliver plenty of fiber including the natural anti-cancer agent insoluble fiber, antioxidants, oxidized cholesterol reducers, blood-clotting factors and essential minerals. Perhaps most notably, wild plants include natural built-in defense mechanisms that subject the body and gut to mild amounts of stress, causing a hormesis response that can allow the body to better mount and build it’s own antioxidant defenses (yes, this means trace amounts of elements such as saponins, lectins, glutens and other controversial compounds are actually good for you in trace amounts). One excellent book that explores this topic is “Eating On The Wild Side” by Jo Robinson, which even teaches you to cut up or tear apart plants such as kale several hours prior to eating them so that the plant believes it is being attacked by a wild animal and thus amps up its own natural plant defense mechanisms that then mildly stress your body upon consumption.
In contrast to wild plant intake, red meat is typically eaten only a few times a month – notably during holidays and festivals – in many of the blue zones, although sheep or goat milk, eggs, and fish are eaten often, usually two to three times per week. The animal products that are consumed tend to be raised locally, grass-fed, pasture-raised, wild-caught and free from many of the harmful substances commonly used in Westernized meat and dairy supply, like antibiotics and growth hormones. I personally consume 20-25 plant portions per day, and I’d recommend you hearken back to my latest daily habits article to review how to implement a good blender with breakfast, large salads with lunch, and plenty of vegetables with dinner to pull this off. Author Michael Pollan’s recommendation to “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants” is, therefore, sage advice, especially for those with genetic predispositions to thrive on a higher vegetable, lower meat intake. In addition, when meat is consumed, rather than simply consuming the muscle portions that inevitably contain high methionine with low glycine, which can be a mortality risk factor, consume the more glycine-rich “offal” portions of the animal, such as the organ meats, marrow and bone broth.
3) Avoid processed, packaged foods.
Refined carbohydrates, artificial flavors, processed vegetable oils, and even frequent use of natural sweeteners are very rare in longevity hotspots. It’s not that those living in the blue zones never let themselves enjoy guilty pleasures, it’s just that these are typically antioxidant-rich treats such as local red wine (consumed at 1–2 glasses per day), sake, coffee, herbal tea, or simple desserts such as nuts, cheese and berries or grapes. Soda, sports drinks, candy bars, and packaged baked goods – including giant bags of sweet potato chips or bottles of sugary superfood kombuchas – simply aren’t prevalent in these diets.
A nutritional evaluation of diets in the blue zones demonstrated a high consumption of whole, real foods of the type that your great-grandparents would have recognized and a nutritional profile very similar to the Mediterranean diet, with foods low on the glycemic index, usually free from added sugar and high in natural fats and wild plants. The way I like to think about this is to look into what your ancestors would have eaten, including looking at your genetic history using a service such as 23andme to see where your ancestors actually lived, then to eat a genetically appropriate diet based on what your ancestors would have consumed.
For example, in my case, as someone from a predominantly Northern European ancestry, I eat plenty of fermented foods, meats, fish, eggs, berries and raw dairy, without a large intake of citrus fruits or other foods my ancestors wouldn’t have likely encountered in their local habitat. If you’re of Scandinavian origins, your ancestors had good access to fish rich in omega-3s and vitamin D, so you likely need a diet higher in fish and vitamin D for optimal longevity. Certain genes can also influence these decisions. For example, MTHFR mutations that create a poor ability to methylate tend to cluster in regions and populations where a group’s traditional diet was rich in folate. In a study of humans from sixteen different regions across the world, Mexicans, Hispanics, Italians and Chinese were more likely than others to carry MTHFR mutations that increased the need for dietary folate. So if you come from Chinese heritage, or your grandparents migrated from Italy or your dad was Hispanic, you should probably eat more folate-rich foods, such as leafy greens, organ meats, and pastured egg yolks.
Or take the AMY1 gene, which codes for salivary amylase production. Salivary amylase digests starch and carbohydrates, and more AMY1 copies you have, the more salivary amylase you produce when you eat carbohydrates. The more copy numbers you have, the more likely it is that your ancestors ate relatively high amounts of starch and the more likely it is that you can handle a slightly higher carbohydrate intake. Populations that are traditionally more agricultural, such as Japanese and Europeans, or populations that are high-starch foragers, such as the Hazda tribe, have all been shown to possess higher AMY1 numbers compared to lower-starch consuming populations, which includes areas of Turkey, Congo and Tanzania. If your ancestors came from a region that ate more carbohydrates, you can likely thrive on natural starches such as sweet potato, yam, plantain, other roots and tubers, fruit, and rice.
One final example is that of the lactase persistence gene. Lactase is an enzyme that enables an adult to be able to digest lactose without getting gut distress, diarrhea and all the other mayhem that can happen in a state of lactose intolerance. As you can imagine, cultures that have not traditionally raised dairy livestock, including countries such as Asia, Africa and most of India, rarely carry the lactase persistence gene. In contrast, if you’re of European descent, you’re probably lactose tolerant. Eating according to your ancestry is fascinating, isn’t it? For an even deeper dive, I recommend reading “Returning to an Ancestral Diet” by Dr. Michael Smith and “The Jungle Effect” by Dr. Daphne Miller.
4) Eat legumes.
A legume is a dry fruit contained within a shed or a pod of a plant, with the most well-known legumes including beans, peas, peanuts, and alfalfa. Beans, in particular, seem to reign supreme in many Blue Zones, including a high consumption of black beans in Nicoya; lentils, garbanzo, and white beans in the Mediterranean; and soybeans in Okinawa. This raises an eyebrow among many nutritionally savvy folks, especially in an era of the popular Paleo diet, which frowns upon beans and legumes due to the high amount of gastric irritants and natural planet defense mechanisms such as phytates and lectins.
But the fact is, legumes are high in non-meat protein, high in vitamins and minerals, high in appetite-satiating, gut-supporting fiber and, just as significantly, a slow-burning carbohydrate source that does not cause a large amount of glycemic variability. It’s actually unclear whether legume longevity is conferred from the inclusion of “slow carbs” with the exclusion of blood-sugar-spiking, refined carbohydrates such as white flour, or whether the nutrient density of legumes is what makes them so special. I suspect it’s both. Regardless, if you want to include a daily dose of legumes in your diet, I’d recommend you use the same type of ancestral preparation techniques used in longevity hotspots, including sprouting, fermenting, and soaking, like this.
5) Incorporate low-level physical activity throughout the day.
Centenarians in the blue zones tend to lead very active lives, yet rarely set foot in a gym or complete a formal exercise program. Instead, being active is simply built into their life: they walk on average five to six miles a day, farm, garden, spend time in nature, do many chores with their hands instead of machines and tend to be get spurts of high intensity movement or structured movement by engaging in enjoyable exercise that rarely involves pounding away miles on a treadmill or inching their back under a barbell for a squat, such as yoga, tai chi or qi gong, soccer, hiking and other games or social sports.
Take Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, a Japanese longevity expert and physician who recently died at the ripe old age of 105. In a New York Times story on Dr. Hinohara, he describes daily habits such as always taking the stairs (he did it two steps at a time) and carrying his own packages and luggage (my own “rule” for myself through every airport and up the stairs of any hotel I stay in if my room is on the fourth floor or lower). Incidentally, in case you’re interested in what this fellow ate, 130 pound Hinohara’s diet was relatively spartan: coffee, milk and orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil for breakfast; milk and a few biscuits for lunch; vegetables with a small portion of fish and rice for dinner; and exactly three and a half ounces of lean meat twice a week.
In my last article on my daily habits, you can learn plenty about how I hack my environment using everything from standing workstations to kettlebell swings to keep replicate this same type of ancestral gathering, gardening and hunting-esque movements throughout the day, despite being relegated to a traditional post-industrial office setting. In stark contrast, my wife Jessa spends her day hauling alfalfa for the goats, feeding the chickens, pushing around wheelbarrows full of compost and rocks, chopping wood, fixing fences, planting trees, raking, shoveling, pulling weeds and gardening. Admittedly, I’m a bit jealous of her routine, since she spends most of the day in the sunshine and fresh air working with her hands in a very ancestral way, but at the end of the day, we’ve both achieved a similar amount of low-level physical activity.
The way you should think about it is this: unless you are a professional athlete or one of your prime goals in life, your own personal Mt. Everest, is to train for and complete a triathlon, an obstacle course race, a Crossfit qualification, or some other modern day equivalent of a warrior training for battle, visiting the gym by the end of the day should be an option, not a necessity. Indeed, research backs this up, showing that it doesn’t matter how hard you exercise at the beginning or the end of the day if you have your butt planted in a chair for eight simultaneous hours during the rest of the day.
6) Prioritize social engagement
Let’s face it: you’ve already learned just about everything you need to know about the importance of social engagement (and the growing epidemic of loneliness) in this article I wrote a few weeks ago. For most of the blue zones, this type of family, love and relationship importance comes naturally because social connectedness is ingrained in their culture. Compared to most Westernized, hyperconnected societies, they tend to be much more engaged with, conscientious of and helpful to each other and more willing to empathize, express feelings and wear their emotions on their sleeves.
For example, Okinawans have “moais,” which are groups of people who live together their entire lives, spending time talking, cooking and supporting each other. Sardinians often finish their days in a local bar, where they meet with friends for a glass of red wine. Seventh-day Adventists mingle with one another weekly or even daily as in religious practices and observation of the Sabbath.
Family is also very important for people living in the blue zones. For example, during that weekly day-long sabbath the Seventh-day Adventists observe, much time is spent focusing on family, God, socializing and nature. Nursing homes and hospice are rare in the blue zones because people are expected to honor, value and take care of the elderly, especially older family members. As a result of their pivotal role in society, elders are far more likely to have a social network, frequent visitors, and trusted caregivers, resulting in less stress, more purposeful lives and ultimately, a longer lifespan.
7) Drink low to moderate amounts of alcohol (especially wine).
Four of the Blue Zones engage in moderate and regular alcohol consumption. Take the Sardinians, for example. They are famous for their regular consumption of a regional red wine called “Cannonau”, a type of dry wine that contains two to three times the flavonoid content of other wines. Not familiar with the term “Cannonau”? It’s actually known elsewhere and more popularly as Grenache! Consuming wine with or before a meal can assist the body with the absorption of the artery-scrubbing flavonoid antioxidants in the wine, and studies have shown that consumption of wine as part of a Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancers. Regular low-level physical activity boosts these benefits even more. According to a study in the European Society of Cardiology, moderate wine drinking combined with regular physical activity is a potent combination for cardiovascular disease prevention. As a matter of fact, Sardinian shepherds often walk up to five miles a day to tend to their flocks – and often carry along a lunch of unleavened bread, fava beans, Pecorino cheese and a local Cannonau wine.
You’re no doubt also familiar with resveratrol, a polyphenol found in the skin of grapes that may protect the body against oxidative damage that places it at higher risk for cancer, heart disease, and dementia, and can also combat the formation of plaque found in the brains of dementia patients. This may also be why weekly consumption of alcohol is also associated with better cognitive function in old age. Plenty of additional research backs up the link between wine intake, low stress, and longevity.
This type of frequent, moderate alcohol consumption, as you learned in this article, one of my own nightly habits – most often accomplished via a digestif and bitters rich Moscow Mule or an organic, biodynamic glass of red wine. As a matter of fact, I have one drink just about every night, very rarely have two or more drinks, and – since I began this practice six years ago – have never once been drunk or experienced a hangover (aside from my very brief holiday stint of immersive journalistic investigation of hangover pills for this Men’s Health magazine article). Don’t care for alcohol, or have a sordid history with the beverage that makes it something you need to be careful with?
The good news is that tannin-filled, anti-oxidant rich beverages such as coffee and tea may also confer similar benefits. Sardinians, Ikarians, and Nicoyans all drink copious amounts of coffee (you can read about all the anti-aging benefits of coffee here), and people in every Blue Zone drink tea, including Okinawans, who nurse green tea for much of the day, and Ikarians, who thrive on frequent consumption of rosemary, wild sage, and dandelion tea.
8) Restrict calories and/or fast.
Calorie restriction (CR) is a reduction in calorie intake that, notably, is not necessarily associated with malnutrition or starvation. Long-term calorie restriction has been associated in multiple studies with better weight management and aging, as well as a reduced risk of diseases related to metabolic health, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Intermittent fasting (IF) is probably the most popular way of achieving CR, and simply involves alternating cycles of eating and fasting. One type of IF called alternate-day fasting (ADF), involves alternating days of fasting and feasting, usually by eating regularly one day and then fasting for 24 hours until dinner on the following day, often for two to three sessions per week. Daily time-restricted feeding (DTRF) is another type of IF, and in this scenario, all food is consumed within a three to 12 hour period every day. For example, a 16:8 diet involves consuming all food within an eight-hour window and fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day. Then there’s the “fasting mimicking diet” (FMD), made popular of late by researcher Valter Longo. In this scenario, rather than abstaining from food completely as you would during a traditional fast, you consume small amounts of food throughout the day (about 40% of your normal intake), and, surprisingly this seems to produce many of the same therapeutic benefits of complete traditional fasting. A typical FMD lasts about three to five days and is repeated for two to four times throughout the year.
While they are unlikely to be familiar with or throw around terms such as CR, “IF’ing”, DTRF, ADF or FMD, centenarians in locations Nicoya, Sardinia and Okinawa tend to eat relatively small portions of whole foods, consuming a low-to-moderate calorie diet by being mindful of their hunger and avoiding calorie-dense, fat and sugar-laden processed and packaged foods. Okinawans practice the traditional cultural rule of “Hara hachi bu,” which means eating until they are only about 80 percent full. Typically, most meals are consumed within an 8-12 hour feeding window throughout the day, referred to by researchers as a compressed feeding window – the same window also observed in many of the new, Westernized forms of fasting or calorie restriction based diets, most of which involved 12-16 hours of not consuming calories during any given 24 hour period of time.
So why do all these different forms of fasting seem to work so well? The most up-to-date research on fasting suggests that it all comes down to your mitochondria, the tiny power plants inside our cells. Inside your cells, mitochondrial networks generally alternate between two states called “fused” and “fragmented”. Calorie restricted diets and fasting promotes homeostasis induces a healthy fluctuation between these fused and fragmented states, allowing the mitochondria to live longer and also increase fatty acid oxidation, allowing for less free radical production and less damage occurring to the cells and to the mitochondria contained with them.
From a practical standpoint, I personally implement fasting in two ways: 1) an intermittent daily overnight fast of twelve to sixteen hours, leaving me with an eight to twelve hour daily compressed feeding window; 2) a weekly or bi-monthly 24 hour fast from dinnertime to dinnertime. To maintain the adequate availability of recovery nutrients during these fasts, I’ll “cheat” with occasional low-calorie recovery or energy-enhancing nutrients such as essential amino acids, exogenous ketones, minerals, a multi-vitamin and bone broth. As an active athlete, this approach, compared to quarterly 3-5 day water fasts or an FMD approach is a far more sustainable scenario for frequent training and high levels of physical activity. Another population that needs to take a careful approach to fasting extremely lean individuals with low stores of essential body fat, people prone to eating disorders, and women who are dealing with adrenal fatigue or hormonal imbalances. For these populations, the risks and stresses of fasting may outweigh many of the benefits. My podcast with Dr. Jason Fung titled “The Complete Guide to Fasting: How To Heal Your Body Through Intermittent, Alternate-Day, and Extended Fasting” is an excellent resource that takes a deep dive into fasting, along with Dr. Fung’s comprehensive fasting book “The Complete Guide To Fasting”.
9) Possess a strong life purpose.
Research has indeed proved that people who know their life and have a clear purpose for which they wake each morning live longer lives. An 11-year NIH-funded study that investigated the correlation between having a sense of purpose and longevity showed that those who expressed having a clear purpose in life lived longer than those who did not, and stayed immersed in activities and communities that allowed them to be involved in fulfilling that purpose. This idea of “why I wake up in the morning” even has specific language behind it. Okinawans refer to purpose as “ikigai” (translated as reason for being) and Nicoyans as “plan de vida” (reason to live).
My own purpose in life is to empower people to live an adventurous, joyful and fulfilling life. Need help identifying your purpose? Read my article “Five Quotes I Live By, Three Keys To Happiness, Two Questions To Ask Yourself & One Must-Do Thought Experiment.” and “12 Practical & Proven Ways To Heal Your Body From The Inside-Out.” – two resources in which I take a deeper dive into purpose and walk you through the entire process.
10) Have low amounts of stress.
It’s a well known and heavily researched fact that chronic stress leads to inflammation and serves as the foundation for nearly every age-related disease. Centenarians in most of the world’s longevity hotspots don’t avoid stress but do have built-in systems that allow them to manage stress on a daily basis. For Sardinians, this might mean a glass of wine and a social dinner with family or friends at the end of the day. For Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, it could involve a quiet nature walk on Sabbath day.
For Okinawans, it’s the concept of Taygay (translated “easy going personality”, which is based on the idea that life simply unfolds at its own pace. In Okinawa, if an event is scheduled to begin at noon, that personality may mean that people on Okinawan time begin showing up 30 minutes to an hour later, which isn’t necessarily something I recommend if you don’t want to get fired from your job, but you get the idea: ruthlessly eliminate haste and hurry from your life.
For the most potent stress-reducing tips, simply read my article “The Ultimate Breathwork Ninja Guide: How To Banish Stress & Kiss High Cortisol Goodbye“.
11) Engage in a spiritual discipline, religion or belief in a higher power.
In this comprehensive article on the importance of belief in a higher power and caring for your spiritual side and soul, I describe how much more meaningful and hopeful life can be when we believe that our story has a great Author, rather than believing that everything we see and experience is meaningless and without purpose, or that we are simply a bunch of chunks of spiritless flesh and blood floating through space on a giant rock, then eventually dying and passing away into nothingness.
While many would scoff at the belief that there are gods and demons, spirits and angels, and even one single almighty Creator of the planet, research has indeed shown a connection between longevity and faith. One study entitled “Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-Aged Adults” analyzed the relationship between a religious practice, stress and death in middle age, and controlled for socioeconomic factors, health insurance status and healthy lifestyle behaviors. The researchers found that churchgoers have a significantly lower risk of dying, and after adjusting for age, sex, race and chronic medical conditions, churchgoers were 46% less likely to die in the follow-up period after the study compared to non-churchgoers. Non-churchgoers had significantly higher rates of blood pressure and ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol, along with a significantly higher mortality rate.
It turns out that data from the Blue Zones backs this up. All but five of the 263 centenarians Buettner interviewed for the book belonged to some type of faith-based community, along with research showing that attending faith-based services four times per month can add four to fourteen years of life expectancy. In all Blue Zones regions, centenarians were part of a religious community. I can’t sum it up any better than Buettner, who concluded that:
“People who pay attention to their spiritual side have lower rates of cardiovascular disease, depression, stress, and suicide, and their immune systems seem to work better…to a certain extent, adherence to a religion allows them to relinquish the stresses of everyday life to a higher power.”
In the Bible, 1 Peter 5:7 recommends to “cast all our cares upon Him”. Being able to trust in and talk to a higher power is certainly something that has given me a great deal of hope and direction in life, and, frankly, I believe that a religious practice that includes spiritual disciplines such as fasting, meditation, prayer, silence, solitude, worship and study is magnitudes more meaningful than a salad of wild plants, a glass of wine or a dose of sunshine.
12) Remain reproductively useful.
This last natural strategy for optimizing longevity simply makes logical sense: don’t become reproductively useless. In other words, the more consistently you can send your body and brain the message that you are still a valuable, contributing member of society, particularly when it comes to propagation of your species, the longer nature seems to want to keep you around. Don’t retire. Don’t quit learning new things. Don’t surround yourself with older, sedentary people in a nursing home or hospice setting. But do continue to have sex, have children, or both.
Take, for example, the tiny town of Acciaroli, Italy, where one in eight citizens is over 100 years old. The elders in this particular blue zone aren’t your average centenarians – they are healthy above average, consistently happy and, you guessed it, horny. In the findings of a recent study into why these residents live so long is the observation that “sex is rampant” (incidentally, the study also noted that very high consumption of the wild herbs parsley, sage and rosemary is prevalent in this region).
Let’s take a closer look at what research has to say about this idea. In this fascinating paper on proposed models of aging, one form of aging – referred to as the Kirkwood and Holliday model – describes mortality as increasing in direct correlation to decreasing fertility (a drop in hormones, child-bearing, sexual frequency, etc.) According to this model, the more an organism invests in the maintenance of their biology, the slower this decay is in both survival and reproduction. Furthermore, this model posits that if there is an age after which future gains in reproduction are zero, then at this age it can never be optimal to invest in maintenance and that it would always be optimal to invest everything that is left into reproduction. In other words, when it comes to prioritizing your anti-aging efforts, having sex or making babies would actually trump taking care of your body in other ways! A form of this model is also known as the “reproductive potential hypothesis”, which holds that lifespan regulation has evolved in such a way as to maximize individual reproductive success, and research has indeed shown that women who bear children late into age or simply bear more children, period, experience enhanced longevity.
This seems to be backed up by laboratory research from Dr. Michael Rose, who recently explained his theories on the “evolution of aging” to me at a cocktail party at the “Ancestral Health Symposium” (check out his website 55theses.org for a fascinating treatise on this entire topic). Dr. Rose proposes that aging is not a positively selected, programmed death process, and has not evolved for “the good of the species” as many would think, but instead, aging exists because natural selection is weak and ineffective at maintaining survival, reproduction, and cell repair as we enter old age. In the paper “Evolution of senescence: late survival sacrificed for reproduction.”, he describes how senescence (the process of deterioration with age) is detrimental to reproductive success. The damage that occurs during aging clearly shortens lifespan, but longevity can also be shaped by selection for an increased number of what are called “lifetime reproductive events” (e.g. the number of times you reproduce or possibly attempt to reproduce.
In his book, “Does Aging Stop?”, Rose suggests that aging can indeed stop or plateau in later stages of life, pointing to studies of the demographic data in his large-scale fruit fly experiments, along with data for humans, which supports the hypothesis that acceleration in death rates can indeed halt in later life. While Rose has plenty of tips for enhancing this plateau (including the controversial idea that grain and agriculture consumption could possibly accelerate the damage), one of his more potent suggestions is to have plenty of children and/or plenty of sex early in life, then continue to have children as late as possible into one’s life, or at least to engage in frequent sexual intercourse to as ripe an age as possible. For multiple reasons, including all the anti-aging benefits of sex that you can read about here, I’m a fan of this idea, although I don’t see any issues with using contraception so you don’t actually have dozens of children running around your house, which I’d suspect may trigger a potentially stressful law of diminishing returns when it comes to longevity.
Of course, the quite possible fable but intriguing Li Ching Yuen, the “oldest man in the world” mentioned earlier, who purportedly lived to the ripe old age of 25, was said to be a much-loved figure in his community, marrying 23 times and fathering over 200 children. If it turns out that the story of Yuen is true, he may be the best example of the fact that maintaining reproductive usefulness with age could be a very good idea indeed.
While the daily practices above, such as high plant intake, avoidance of packaged foods, calorie restriction, social support, and family are incredibly important to a long life, the fact is that we now live in a modern era in which those basic anti-aging tactics can now be combined with more advanced tactics and “biohacks” used by the longevity and anti-aging community. In future articles, I will address more advanced tactics that can be implemented for longevity, including practical recommendations for implementing:
–Intermittent fasting, cyclic ketogenesis, protein-sparing modified fasts, and other forms of caloric and selective macronutrient restriction.
-Strategic use of “hormetic” stressors, including hyperoxygenation, wild plant and herb consumption, pulsing molecular hydrogen, beta-hydroxybutyrate and ketone supplementation, cold thermogenesis and cryotherapy, heat and sauna, UVA and UVB radiation.
-Caloric restriction mimetic drugs, supplements and herbs, including rapamycin, metformin, MitoQ, resveratrol, pterostilbene, ketones and other traditional blood sugar stabilizing nutrients such as bitter melon extract, Ceylon cinnamon and apple cider vinegar.
–Stem cell transplants, along with peptides, prolotherapy, cow thymus injections, platelet-rich plasma injections and placenta (yes, placenta!) delivery options to mimic the anti-aging effects of stem cell.
-Blood transfusions from umbilical or placental sources to simulate fascinating research in which the blood from young mice injected into old mice caused a significant anti-aging effect.
-The sweet spot between excess growth hormone and enough growth hormone to maintain anabolism as one ages, including strategies such as bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, testosterone and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, colostrum, dairy extracts, injectable growth hormone precursors and growth hormone pulsing compounds and more.
-Upregulating intake of activators of “sirtuins”, a family of genes that increase the efficiency of an organism to fight stress like excess heat or lack of food maintaining its power of natural defense, maximize the chances of survival of an organism, increase longevity and health if remaining activate, and deemed as “longevity genes” because they lower the risk of diseases causing old age. These include blueberry, dark chocolate, green tea and resveratrol.
-Biohacks and strategies that address mitochondrial degradation, mitochondrial aging, and excessive formation of reactive oxygen species (ROS’s), including Pau D’ Arco bark tea, NAD injections and supplements, fenugreek, fish oil, CoEnzyme Q10, glutathione injections and supplements and other potent antioxidants, all of which can serve as compounds that specifically limit or mitigate mitochondrial damage.
-Sulfur intake: Perhaps the most important anti-aging pathway in the body is Nrf2. Activating Nrf2 unleashes many antioxidant pathways, increases glutathione, and has been shown to trigger the “anti-aging phenotype” in animal studies. Foods in the brassica family, which includes broccoli, kale, cabbage, cauliflower, and Brussels sprouts, all contain sulforaphane, a potent Nrf2 activator. Another Nrf2 activator is curcumin, found in turmeric, the primary spice in Indian curries.
-And much, much more!
But in the meantime…
…do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about any of these basic, natural and easy habits to enhance longevity? Leave your comments below and I will reply!