The field of longevity science right now is exploding with research and possibilities.
However, it’s not just about a longer lifespan. A lot of the research shows increasing healthspan — the length of your length being healthy, active, and mentally sharp — as well.
Whether it’s exercise, diet, or lifestyle, there are lots of emerging and solidifying strategies that can help you live a longer, healthier, life.
Here are 5 of dietary interventions that can help you live longer and healthier. Many of them are relatively simple, others will require some time to adjust to.
While longevity science is complicated and there’s still lots to discover, we can sum up the mechanisms of the interventions into two buckets.
1) Eat nutritious foods
This may sound obvious, but one of the best ways to feel better and live longer is to eat the foods we’ve all been told to eat forever, and avoid processed crap. This is not controversial, nor is it new. But, if your goal is lifespan or healthspan, it’s essential to start here.
2) Hormesis, or, “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
The overarching breakthrough in longevity science has centered around the reality that when our body is stressed in some way, it activates mechanisms that make our cells boost their defenses.
Modern life in most of the developed world doesn’t challenge our cells. We’re well-fed, we can adjust the temperature to make us comfortable, and we don’t need to push ourselves physically. Most longevity interventions involve challenging ourselves, whether that’s cold showers, maximal effort exercise, or caloric restriction (which we’ll talk about today).
As we’ve talked about at length in other articles about building sustainable habits, if you want your changes to stick with you, focus on one at a time until it’s ingrained into your routine.
Here are 5 interventions to help you live longer and be healthier.
A 2017 study published in the prestigious journal Nature looked at all the existing research available on caloric restriction and its links to possibly living longer.
The results were simple: species from flies to mice, restricting calories leads to a longer life.
Of course, this can be taken too far, as malnutrition is not the same as caloric restriction. But the conclusion is obvious: if we overreact, we’re not going to live too long.
Now, tracking calories and macros is a whole separate discussion. Today, instead, we’ll offer a few practical tips so you don’t overeat without even realizing it.
One of the easiest ways to eat less is to eat slower. Not only does taking our time with food help us enjoy it more and digest better (chewing is a key part of digestion), it will also lead us to simply eat less overall.
When we eat quickly, as most of us do, we don’t give our brain time to send the message that we’re not hungry anymore. As a consequence, we fork down our food and go for seconds. If we had just waited, we would feel satiated.
Make eating a conscious action. Aim to chew your food fully, place your silverware down in between bites, and stop watching Netflix while you eat.
Okay, of course, the occasional alcoholic beverage is not the end of the world, but frequent alcoholic beverages will skyrocket your calories and it won’t leave you feeling satiated at all.
On top of this, alcohol causes huge blood sugar spikes which are terrible for your health. Also, alcohol is a poison, so there’s that too. If you drink a lot currently, in this article we have strategies for alcohol withdrawal.
This also means you should limit the juices and sodas you drink. If you’re addicted to soda, start by switching to diet.
With the exception of a protein shake, drinking calories shouldn’t be a part of your regular routine. Doing so will help you consume fewer calories without even noticing.
This brings us to the next diet intervention for longevity: intermittent fasting.
“I.F,” as the cool kids call it, has been a hot topic for a while now. While it’s been talked about extensively for fat loss, it has a lot of research on longevity specifically.
For example, this 2012 study on mice showed that mice who were restricted to an 8-hour per day feeding window lived longer.
However, because IF tends to cause us to eat less overall, it begs the question whether this is just a result of the caloric restriction.
On a practical level, if it works, it works. And intermittent fasting has shown other independent benefits. If you’d like to give intermittent fasting a try, it will have a host of benefits, one of which may be deceased caloric intake.
A 2021 study in Nature showed benefits in fasting from 12 hours to 48 hours. That means even 12 hours is a good place to start. 16 hours and 20 hours also have shown numerous benefits.
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” This is a quote from food journalist and author Michael Pollan, and it concludes its deep investigation into how to eat healthy. In six words, that’s a damn good summary.
Look, we don’t need to talk about how healthy vegetables are. On a more specific level, we know that many plants have a “xenohormesis” effect, which is an idea coined by Dr. David Sinclair that we should eat stressed foods. Stressed-out fruits and vegetables have developed healthy micronutrients like antioxidants in response to their stressful environment.
On a practical level, we recommend having a salad for lunch every day. This is a modest shift, and one that guarantees you’re getting in a good amount of vegetables.
Another clear dietary intervention that can help us life longer and healthier is to limit blood sugar spikes.
In fact, blood sugar levels have one of the clearest links towards all-cause mortality, per this 2017 study review.
So yeah, once again, sugar is bad. Groundbreaking. I could tell you to stop eating croissants and all of that, but I think a simpler framework is to actually test your blood glucose levels.
Get them checked when you go to the doctors, and fast beforehand so you get your “fasting glucose levels.” 24/7 continuous glucose monitors are entering the mainstream. So that’s a technology you can look into.
If you’re eating mostly plants, as a consequence your blood sugar will be in good shape.
This intervention is smaller and less important, but it does come specifically from the latest longevity research. The branched-chain amino acids, in particular leucine, is responsible for activating the “mTOR” pathway.
This is the pathway that clever fitness marketers have called “the anabolic switch.” Basically, it’s what signals our body for growth. This is great if you want to build muscle, but as we talked about in the intro, our body needs some stress (hormesis).
It’s not good to always activate mTOR, from a health perspective.
Going back to the idea of hormesis, when we have an abundance of amino acids, like after a big steak, it signals to our body that it’s a time for growth. Times are good and we don’t need to conserve our resources.
To enter a hormesis state and encourage our cells to boost their defenses, we have to challenge our cells. As Dr. David Sinclair writes in his book, Lifespan, “When our ancestors were unsuccessful in bringing down a wooly mammoth and had to survive on meager rations of protein, it was the shutting down of mTOR that permitted them to survive.”
Yes, mTOR helps build muscle, and it needs to be on sometimes, but always striving to activate mTOR by taking BCAAs, which have questionable benefits for muscle gain as it is, probably has more downside than upside.
While some of this may be new, the reality is that a lot of the longevity research aligns with what we’ve known: eat plants, don’t eat too much, limited processed foods that spike your blood sugar. That’s the basis.
There’s a lot we haven’t talked about here either, like plant vs animal proteins and vegan diets vs carnivore diets. Those are discussions for another day, and if you have questions about them feel free to sound off in the comments.
For now, keep mastering the basics, one healthy habit at a time.