What is the secret to living longer? The most incisive factor is in our genes. We inherit longevity from our ancestors, through modified genes that protect against the risk of diseases related to aging. It’s quite common to find people with a high life expectancy within the same family tree. Genes help, but they are not enough. If we want to have a long and healthy life, we must have a healthy lifestyle and follow a well-balanced diet. The Mediterranean Diet is an excellent food model. However, if we want to go one step further in delaying the aging process and, thus, also reducing the risk of disease, it is necessary to add another fundamental aspect to our lifestyle: daily physical activity.
Several researchers have focused their attention on the analysis of centenarians: individuals who live to 100 years or more. The common denominator, in addition to a healthy diet, is always regular physical activity, even in old age. For example, the fishermen on the island of Okinawa, Japan, who never stop working and practice Tai Chi; in Loma Linda, California, the population walks often and trains in the gym; and in Costa Rica, individuals grow up doing physical labor. However, an example closer to home are the Sardinian shepherds who walk at least 8 km per day, going up and down the mountains; or in Calabria, where centenarians still walk to the olive groves.
The secret to live up to 100 years, is to choose your favorite physical activity. In order to stimulate the body to optimize its physiological functions, as well as promoting muscle maintenance, it’s important to choose one that involves movement of the whole body for at least 5-10 hours a week, but without exceeding it. So what are the most suitable activities to keep us healthy and live longer? If we think that our ancestors, since prehistoric times, moved at a brisk pace across vast territories, we can assume that physical activity for the human body is the fast walk par excellence. The advice is to practice a steady and regular walk at a sustained pace, for at least 1 hour a day: going to the workplace on foot, getting off one or two stops earlier on the bus or metro, walking everywhere we would normally travel by car, avoiding elevators and escalators, etc.
We can also add an aerobic workout, such as cycling, swimming or running, which can be done for at least 30-40 minutes every other day, and for up to 2 hours on the weekends. After the first 10 minutes of aerobic exercise, one should begin to sweat. However, it’s better to ride a bike than to run because running can be too hard on your joints, especially if you are not athletically prepared. Using a bike to get around town, as well as one at home to use every now and then is a good idea. Swimming is also a good alternative, although its beneficial effects in terms of longevity are still unknown. The most important thing is to stimulate and use your muscles every day, without exceeding so as to avoid damage.
Several studies link physical activity to longevity. That is, to increase your life expectancy, it’s important to practice moderate aerobic training, with movements that burn between 3 and 6 times more calories than when seated (3-6 MET), and with peaks of intense exercise (> 6 MET). The reduction in mortality is due to intensity and quantity: 150-300 minutes of moderate (300) or intense (150) aerobic activity. To strengthen the muscles, exercises (with or without weights) for an overload of 65-70% of the maximum load are advised. Finally, within 1-2 hours after each workout, it is essential to consume a meal that is low in carbohydrates, but contains about 30 grams of protein (to promote muscle growth).
By Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus editorial staff
Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus aims to make scientific dissemination by raising awareness among the scientific and non-scientific community of a healthy lifestyle and proper nutrition through the production of explanatory scientific articles, textual, infographics and multimedia content, and the dissemination of clinical activities scientific, informative and educational aspects of the Foundation and its team of professionals. Dietary pathways, scientific discoveries, clinical studies, treatments and technologies, national and international awareness events, prevention initiatives as well as Longevity recipes are just some of the topics addressed in articles and in-depth interviews published daily and written in collaboration with the Foundation’s specialists. Also active on social networks, Fondazione Valter Longo Onlus editorial staff also offers a monthly newsletter sent to all members, to stay up to date on the most interesting news related to the world of Health, Nutrition and Longevity.
Romina Inés Cervigni
Maria Liliana Ciraulo
Corinna Montana Lampo
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