A Guide to Longevity
The word longevity means long life or life expectancy - the amount of time we have from birth to death. Many people believe that aging necessarily involves an abundance of problems and pitfalls such as menopause, wrinkles, gray hair, poor health, aching joints, illness, and diseases. But aging is a beautiful and natural process that does not have to be negative. In the wellness world, longevity refers not only to a long life but, more importantly, to a happy, healthy, and high-quality life. When we take care of our bodies, providing ourselves with the love and nourishment we need, we can age gracefully and enjoyably. This guide will discuss the various ways you can increase or improve your longevity to live a happy, beautiful, and longer life. We will touch on gut health, brain health, joint health, and bone health, as well as on the importance of exercise, lifestyle, and stress reduction.
Most people die not from old age but from preventable diseases. Three-quarters of all deaths are caused by illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s. If we begin to take care of our bodies in our younger years, we can often prevent these diseases, increase our longevity, and live beautiful and prosperous lives. Prevention, therefore, is the key to healthy longevity.
The importance of the health of our gut, aka our digestive system, cannot be understated. As Hippocrates once famously said, “All disease begins in the gut.” The level of functioning of the digestive system sets the tone for the whole body because this is where our food is broken down into nutrients, which are needed for energy, growth, and cellular repair throughout the body.
When the gut is not working properly (think gas, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea), the entire body is affected. This is because digestion and gut health have such a huge impact on all of the body’s systems and mechanisms. When we care for our gut properly, we are caring for our entire body.
The gut is also commonly referred to as the second brain. This is because the gut and the brain are intimately connected via the vagus nerve and various neurotransmitters of the nervous system. This is also known as the gut-brain connection. What we eat can either support cognitive function or it can cause symptoms such as brain fog, grogginess, and impaired cognitive function. It is said that constipation is one of the first main causes of Alzheimer’s disease (a common disease of the elderly which involves a drastic decline in cognitive and nervous system functioning).
Tools for Healing
Nourishment - focus on eating a nutrient-dense, whole foods, and plant-based diet.
Include: plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits, fiber-rich foods such as chia seeds and psyllium husks, whole grains such as quinoa and buckwheat, nuts like almonds and walnuts, seeds such as flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds, and herbs and spices. Drink plenty of filtered water every day.
Avoid: processed, packaged, and junk/fast foods, soda pop, sugar, table salt, bleached flours, caffeine, and alcohol.
Supplements - include a daily probiotic to feed and increase the good bacteria in your gut, as well as digestive enzymes at every meal or at heavier meals.
Include: probiotic-rich foods at least 1-2 times a day, such as an apple cider vinegar (in salad dressings or mixed with a bit of water before meals), sauerkraut, kimchi, and kombucha.
Herbs - lemon balm, peppermint, and ginger are excellent herbs to consume as a tea to soothe digestive upset. Digestive bitters can be a great way to stimulate digestion before meals.
Lifestyle - be sure to thoroughly chew your food to a paste before swallowing to increase digestive enzymes and improve digestibility. Avoid watching TV or using your phone while eating - it’s best to be fully present with your meal to optimize digestion. Eat smaller meals throughout the day rather than large meals that overwork the digestive system.
As previously mentioned, the health of the brain is directly related to the health of the gut. So as you are working on healing and supporting your digestion, you will also be healing and supporting the functioning of your brain. There are, however, additional ways that you can support your brain, which is so important as we age. Declining cognitive function is one of the most common illnesses seen in the elderly population, which means that it is so important to support the brain as early as we can to prevent diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s.
Tools for Healing
Nourishment - include plenty of healthy fats from wild-caught fish, free-range and organic eggs, as well as nuts and seeds and their oils. Also include plenty of fresh vegetables, fresh fruits, and filtered water (2-3L/day).
Avoid stimulants such as coffee, soda, sugar, cigarettes, and alcohol, as well as refined and processed foods.
Supplements - try an omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) supplement such as fish oil, and a multivitamin and mineral supplement.
Herbs - Ginkgo biloba, Rhodiola, Gotu Kola, and rosemary leaf extract are great to consume in capsule, tincture, or powdered form.
Lifestyle - exercise and general movement increase blood and oxygen flow to the brain and are critical for brain functioning. Reading and learning are also great ways to boost cognitive function.
Joint and Bone Health
Some of the most common ailments associated with and experienced in older age are arthritis, aching joints, and broken bones. Major causes of these issues are inflammation and poor nutrition. Proper diet and some extra support aimed at reducing inflammation will ensure you maintain healthy bones and joints.
Tools for Healing
Nourishment - include plenty of leafy green vegetables, antioxidant-rich berries, spices, and nuts and seeds. Avoid all allergens and foods that you’re sensitive to (common allergens include gluten, dairy, eggs, and nuts - do an elimination diet if you’re not sure to identify any allergies and/or sensitivities) and inflammatory foods such as sugar, and processed, fried, and junk foods.
Supplements - niacin, pantothenic acid, omega-3 EFAs, and antioxidants such as vitamins A, C, and E, selenium, and zinc are all supportive.
Herbs - turmeric is an amazing herb for reducing inflammation - drink it in a hot elixir or latte, or add it to your favorite dishes such as curries and stews. Other great herbs for reducing inflammation include cloves, Boswellia, cinnamon, sage, and oregano.
Lifestyle - weight-bearing exercise is excellent for improving the health of not only muscles but also bones and joints. Aim to include weight-bearing exercise 2-4 times a week. Rebounding, swimming, and yoga are also great exercises to keep your bones and joints healthy.
More tools for Lasting Health
Reduce stress - stress negatively impacts not just the mind, but the whole body. Prolonged stress actually causes a depletion of nutrients and the adrenal hormone DHEA. Low levels of DHEA and other vitamins and minerals are associated with various diseases and illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease, and aging in general.
Try: incorporating a stress reduction practice that works for you and your lifestyle. This can include yoga, meditation, walking, running, swimming, painting, drawing, deep breathing, or journaling. Herbs and supplements can also be used to reduce stress, including chamomile, valerian, Ashwagandha, Holy Basil, and B-complex vitamins. Most herbs are best in tincture and tea form and b-vitamins are best taken in their active form.
Exercise - as mentioned throughout this guide, exercise is crucial for a healthy mind and body. Regular exercise and movement will improve digestion, cognitive function, energy levels, bone health, and mental wellbeing. Aerobic exercise is great for strengthening the heart, improving mental function and blood sugar control while lowering blood cholesterol, heart rate, and blood pressure. This includes activities such as brisk walking, running, swimming, cycling, and rebounding. Weight-bearing exercise is also very beneficial, specifically for muscle mass and bone strength.
Try: including some form of movement every single day, with a focus on aerobic exercise. For example, you might start your day with a 10-minute walk in nature to reduce stress and connect with the earth.
Alkalize your body - acidity and alkalinity are measured on a scale of pH ranging from 0 (very acidic) to 14 (very alkaline). Various substances, organs, and systems within the body require highly-specific pH levels in order to operate. For example, the blood maintains its pH level very tightly, as even a slight change can lead to immediate problems and even death. As a result, other systems and organs can take up the extra acidity (as most people are generally overly-acidic, rather than overly-alkaline), causing them to suffer. An overly-acidic environment is supportive of disease and illness, while a more alkaline environment allows for homeostasis and healing.
Try: including plenty of alkalizing foods - fresh vegetables and fruits, primarily - while minimizing acid-forming foods such as processed, packaged and fried foods, meats, alcohol, and coffee. Deep breathing and hydration are also great ways to balance pH.
Just start, wherever you’re at!
No matter if you are in your 60s or in your teens, there is no better time to start improving your health and longevity than now. The sooner the better, but it is never too late. If the above advice feels overwhelming, don’t despair. Small changes can have a big impact. Start with one thing at a time and see where it takes you!