Notorious B.I.G.’s classic hip-hop album, Ready to Die, just turned 24 years old on September 13th. I clearly remember when the album came out. I was a precocious teenager who loved all things hip-hop. When I first heard “Juicy” and “Big Poppa,” I knew Biggie was going to land on everyone’s top 10 favorite emcees list.
But, when I saw the album cover with a baby on it and the title Ready to Die, I knew I had to hide to cassette tape from my parents. Regardless of how great the album was, “ready to die” wasn’t an appropriate message for a teenager. Honestly, it’s not an appropriate message for anyone.
As much as I love the album Ready to Die, I’m not ready to die yet—my wife would kill me if I died this early. In this post, I’ll break down some evidence-based tips that may extend your life (emphasis on may, they definitely didn’t teach us miracles in medical school).
What’s the average life expectancy for someone in the United States?
Currently, according to the CDC, the life expectancy for the average person in the U.S is 78 years old. An average of 78 years isn’t that bad? Bear in mind that 84 years (the average in Hong Kong) is the highest life expectancy for any country. However, it’s important to note that these are averages—some people live longer, others live shorter.
For the people who are living longer, are they just genetically gifted or are they living longer because they are living differently than everyone else?
Genetics is definitely a factor, but it’s one out of many. The Danish twin showed that genetics determined only 20% of our lifespan. Ultimately our lifestyles are a huge factor in determining our lifespan (at least the other 80%). We know that the foods we eat can clearly impact our longevity. In fact, a study from JAMA estimated that 650,000 people die per year from diet-related diseases.
These diseases include diabetes, heart disease, strokes, et cetera. It’s also clear that a poor diet is a common link between these conditions. Sadly, the road to living 100 years probably isn’t paved with burgers and fries (at least not for most people).
People who do live to 100 years and beyond tend to have a few things in common according to studies involving people who live in blue zones. Blue zones are geographic areas that have the highest clusters of 100-year-olds and people who remain healthy well into their 90s.
Where are the blue zones?
Working with National Geographic and a team of demographers, anthropologists, and researchers, Dan Buettner discovered 5 places on the globe that had the highest populations of people living 100 years (and remaining healthy throughout their lifetime). These areas include the following places:
- Ikaria, Greece – a tiny island in the Aegean sea that also has the lowest rates of dementia
- Okinawa, Japan– home of the longest-lived women
- Ogliastra region, Sardinia – a small Italian island
- Loma Linda, California – a small area in southern California near San Diego. It boasts the highest concentration of Seventh Day Adventists, a religious group that mostly consumes a plant-based diet
- Nicoya Penisula, Costa Rica– it has the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality
What are the lifestyle habits that residents in blue zones have in common?
- Move naturally. Long-lived people expend a lot of energy throughout their day just by walking and doing household chores. They don’t necessarily spend a lot of time in gyms. I imagine they probably spend less time sitting (see my post on the dangers of sitting)
- Purpose. Knowing why you wake up in the morning, may give you more mornings to wake up to.
- Downshift. Stress is unavoidable. Learn how to manage it. In the blue zones, people routinely engage in practices that help decrease stress. “Okinawans take a few moments each day to remember their ancestors; Adventists pray; Ikarians take a nap; and Sardinians do happy hour.”
- 80% Rule. People in the blue zones stop eating when they are 80% full. They also eat their smallest meal in the evening or late afternoon. Translation: don’t eat late at night and don’t eat too much.
- Plant slant. People in blue zones eat their veggies. If there were a blue zone diet, beans would be the cornerstone. Meat is rarely consumed, typically only 5 times per month (listen up flexitarians).
- Wine. Moderate alcohol intake is typical in the blue zones (except 7th Day Adventists). Drinking a glass of wine a day is healthy. Binging at the club on Saturdays is not. (Check out my post on wine headaches).
- Community. Of the centenarians interviewed, only 5 of 263 did not belong to a faith-based community. The denomination didn’t matter. Even if you’re atheist, you may want to check atheist support group or something.
- Loved ones first. Successful centenarians put their families first. Aging grandparents and parents weren’t in nursing homes. They remained a vital part of the family structure. Centenarians also typically committed to a life partner (another reason my wife would kill me if I died early).
- Right tribe. The world’s longest-lived people had a crew of friends that were committed to each other for life. I doubt facebook friends are going to have the same impact #IJS.
Besides living 100 years, are there any other evidenced-based lifestyle habits that can extend our lives, even just a little?
5 habits that may add years to your life
Researchers out of Harvard recently published a research study that highlighted the impact of adopting 5 health habits by the age of 50 on longevity. They focused on the following lifestyle-related factors:
- Never Smoking
- Maintaining a healthy body weight
- Engaging in regular physical activity (~30 minutes per day)
- Eating a healthy diet (one rich in fruits and vegetables and low in meat and ultra-processed foods)
- Moderate alcohol intake
The researchers found that people who adhered to these low-risk lifestyle-related factors at age 50 could extend their life expectancy by 14 years for women and 12.2 years for men.
What’s the bottom line?
If you want to live a little longer, these tips may help:
- Don’t smoke
- Drink a moderate amount of alcohol—not too much
- Enjoy your friends, family, and a community
- Find a purpose for living
- Eat fruits and veggies and not a lot of meat
- Stay physical active
I left off the most important tip, sign up for emails from the doc’s kitchen (I hate email so you won’t get many from me).
Eat right and stay woke!
I am a physician and trained chef. I specialize in gastroenterology and nutrition. Currently I work as the Associate Director of Adult Nutrition at the University of Chicago.