Published June 15, 2020, 7:07 p.m. by Jagdeep singh
If exercise could be bottled up and sold as a drug, it would be a billion-dollar business. Decades of studies show that just 30 minutes of moderate to intense daily physical activity lowers your risk for physiological diseases (like heart disease and cancer), as well as psychological ones (like anxiety and Alzheimer’s). According to Joyner, many of the newfangled longevity elixirs aim to prevent mitochondrial dysfunction, or the breakdown of a cell’s ability to properly use energy, which is a normal part of aging. “But people who exercise can double the number of mitochondria in their skeletal muscle and improve its function throughout the body,” he says. “This is why exercise has such a potent anti-aging effect.”
Avoid stuff that comes wrapped in plastic. “Foods that undergo ultra-processing tend to see much of their nutritional bounty stripped from them,” says Yoni Freedhoff, an Ottawa-based obesity doctor and author of The Diet Fix. Another reason to avoid processed foods is related to energy density, or calories per gram of food. “Generally speaking, ultra-processed foods are much higher in energy density than foods made from fresh, whole ingredients,” says Freedhoff, “which isn’t great for maintaining a healthy weight.”
Freedhoff’s ideal diet for health and longevity? “One that is rich in whole foods that in turn are especially filling. You can keep calories at bay while maximizing nutrition,” he says. “This means a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, fish, and leaner meats with regular but not excessive consumption of fruits, nuts, and healthy oils.”
A mounting body of evidence is revealing that hanging out with friends and family doesn’t just make you feel good in the moment—it’s also good for long-term health. Social connections are associated with reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol, improved sleep quality, reduced risk of heart disease and stroke, slowed cognitive decline, lessened systemic inflammation, and improved immune function.
In a 2010 study published in PLOS Medicine, researchers from Brigham Young University followed more than 300,000 people for an average of 7.5 years. They found that the mortality risks associated with loneliness exceeded those associated with obesity and physical inactivity and were similar to those associated with smoking.
Americans spend more than $30 billion every year on dietary supplements, yet the vast majority don’t work and may even cause harm. A 2016 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association cited more than 20 years of research and concluded that “studies evaluating dietary supplements have yielded predominantly disappointing results about the potential health benefits, whereas evidence of harm has continued to accumulate.”
Though supplements are often pristinely packaged in alluring promises, Freedhoff says that “it’s smart to have a policy of ‘just say no.’ There simply aren’t any supplements with sufficient evidence behind them to support their use in a person who doesn’t have a particular proven deficiency or need.”
Regardless of what the biohackers may tell you, you simply cannot nap or intermittently sleep your way to optimal health and functioning. It’s only after you’ve been sleeping for at least an hour that anabolic hormones like testosterone and human growth hormone—both of which are critical to health and physical function—are released. What’s more, a 2007 study published in the journal Sleep showed that with each additional 90-minute cycle of deep sleep, you receive even more of these hormones. In other words, there are increasing marginal benefits to sleep, and hours seven through nine—the hours most people don’t get—are actually the most powerful.
Deep sleep is also beneficial to mental health. Researchers from Harvard found that it’s only during deep sleep when your brain combs through, consolidates, and stores all the information you came across during the day. “There’s a reason all the bodybuilders and super-intellectual people I know are obsessed with sleep,” says Joyner. “Sleep works wonders.”
In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild, her mom tells her that the cure for much of what ails her is to “put [herself] in the way of beauty.” Turns out she was right, at least according to the latest science. Time in nature is an antidote to the ill effects of stress, prevents and in some cases even helps cure anxiety and depression, and enhances creativity. Though the exact causal mechanisms are not yet known, researchers speculate there is something unique about nature—perhaps related to the fact that we evolved to be in it—that puts both our bodies and minds at ease, promoting physical and psychological restoration and subsequent functioning.
Smoking is associated with dozens of types of cancer, as well as heart disease, dementia, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. According to the American Cancer Association, smoking causes one out of every five deaths in the United States, killing more people than alcohol, car accidents, HIV, guns, and illegal drugs combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, your body literally starts repairing the damage caused by smoking within days of stopping.
Like smoking, excessive alcohol use is associated with a number of chronic diseases, such as liver cirrhosis, throat cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Drinking too much also impairs sleep and daily function. The good news is that if you enjoy alcohol, drinking reasonably—one drink per day for women and up to two for men—carries minimal risk. “Moderation is key,” says Joyner.