My grandfather passed away last month. He was 95—and independent, healthy, funny and mentally sharp, till the very end. My grandmother (his wife of 70 years), 91, is alive and well. At my grandfather’s funeral services, I marveled at the number of folks—family and friends—in their late eighties and early nineties who came to pay their respects. My grandpa had lived a good, long life. A lot of the people in his community seem to be enjoying that same healthy longevity. What’s the secret?
Sure, good genes have a lot to do with how long you’ll live. So does chance (my mother’s mom, for example, died as a result of a car accident). But more and more, research shows that healthy habits can keep you living longer and better. My grandfather had a great social network and was quick to laugh: two things that predict a long life, according to research. His parents immigrated to the United States from Italy (so did my grandmother’s) and he basically ate like a Mediterranean: he grew a huge garden and ate loads of vegetables and fruit; much of the meat he ate was lean game, such as venison. He enjoyed fish. Olive oil was, and still is, a staple in my grandmother’s kitchen.
What other good eating habits seem to predict a long life? According to research, there are a few more things you can do diet-wise to add years to your life:
Eat enough but not too much. Losing just 5 to 10 percent of your body weight can lead to better blood pressure, a decreased risk of diabetes and improved lipid levels (lower triglycerides and higher "good" HDL). Do you need to lose weight? Click here to calculate your body mass index and see if it's within the healthy range. To calculate the calories you need to maintain your weight, use this equation: your current weight (in pounds)× 12. If you subtract 500 calories per day from this number, you’ll shed about a pound a week; trim 1,000 calories and you’ll lose two pounds a week. Don’t go below 1,200 calories or you risk missing out on important nutrients.
Choose low-fat or nonfat dairy. Bad-for-you saturated fat isn’t just hiding in butter and lard and fatty cuts of meat. As writer and registered dietitian Karen Ansel recently pointed out in a story about the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans in EatingWell Magazine: “In a 2009 study in the Journal of Nutrition, when researchers examined the diets of 350,000 American men and women, they found that the death rate was 20 percent lower during the 10 years of the study in those who consumed lean meat, low-fat dairy and few added solid fats, even after other differences were accounted for.” Choose nonfat or 1% milk in place of whole or 2%. Eat cheeses sparingly—and go for lower-fat varieties when you can.
Related: Butter or Margarine or a “Buttery” Spread: Which Is Healthier?
Load up on whole grains. Upping your whole-grains intake could lengthen your life, suggests a 2011 study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers suspect a reduced risk of death from cardiovascular, infectious and respiratory diseases is due to the fiber from whole grains. Make these easy swaps for more fiber: whole-grain bread in place of white, oatmeal instead of cream of wheat, brown rice instead of white.
Of course, even a perfect diet doesn’t guarantee you’ll live forever, but I’m willing to take my chances…
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