A long, healthy life with a relatively quick and painless death. Sounds like what most of us want, right? But with all the conflicting nutrition information, combined with our sedentary lifestyle, the quest for a long life, free of chronic disease can seem like a daunting task. In fact, I frequently hear people utter versions of “Everything will give me cancer or some other disease, so I’m just going to eat whatever I want and not worry about it.” In truth, while death is inevitable, chronic disease can usually be put off or avoided with five simple, but not necessarily easy, steps.
A recent study found just 5 steps significantly increased the number of disease-free years of life:
30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous activity daily
No more than 1 – 2 alcoholic drinks a day
A more nutrient-dense diet
BMI 18.5 – 24.9
People who regularly performed 4 to 5 of these steps lived an average of 12 (men) to 14 (women) more years without cancer, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Realize that a higher nutrient diet was loosely defined, and based on self reporting in periodic questionnaires. So while more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and nuts and seeds were defined as higher quality, and more red and processed meats, and other processed foods were considered lower quality, the diets of the nearly 150,000 people varied significantly. In other words, having a preponderance of healthy foods matters, but no specific food was shown to be more healthful than another. And, no doubt, plenty of less healthy food was eaten in smaller amounts.
So, the eating part isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s not complicated either. Nor is it super restrictive. If we simply ate more real food, mostly plants, that would cover the nutrition (thanks Michael Pollan). A 30 minute brisk walk (with the dog perhaps?) would cover the exercise. Limiting alcohol consumption and not smoking are well known (though not always easy) health habits. And if you are practicing all of the above, you are likely in the healthy BMI range.
As we’ve talked about before, nutrition can seem complicated, and there are a lot of ramifications of different eating patterns. But, the human body is incredibly resilient and can overcome a lot of obstacles when we make sure that the majority of what we are doing is helping our bodies. In America, we are surrounded by lots of unhealthy choices, from processed, sugary foods, to couch potato behavior, but the road to a healthy, long life really is pretty straight forward. But not easy.