There has been a huge focus on health and longevity in recent years which goes beyond conventional disease prevention. Just this year several books were published on health and longevity, which I love to see! Let’s break down just what this means. Many have heard the term lifespan, which is just as it sounds, how long of a life we live or how many years we spend on this earth. Healthspan is different. It is something I am infinitely passionate about and striving for in myself, my family and patients. Healthspan is how well one lives or the number of years a person lives in good health.
I think we can all agree that living to an old age doesn’t sound all that appealing if we are struggling with chronic disease and miserable for the last 20 years of it. The good news is, as science progresses, we know there are MANY things we can do to increase lifespan, but more importantly, healthspan.
Functional medicine is well suited to help increase both healthspan and lifespan by taking an individualized approach to health and wellness and utilizing truly preventive techniques to keep chronic disease away or reverse it. In Functional Medicine, we are looking at all systems of the body as a whole and their interaction with one another to create optimal health and longevity. Through personalized laboratory testing, supplements, medications, and a BIG focus lifestyle medicine we can optimize health at any age to live a longer, and more important, healthier life.
Many think that personalized medicine and “biohacking” has to be complicated. While data certainly can help, there is so much we can do with changes in daily habits and lifestyle that can make a huge impact on our health and longevity. These foundational factors are what we call in Functional Medicine “the bottom of the matrix” or the modifiable lifestyle factors : Nutrition and Hydration, Sleep and Relaxation, Exercise and Movement, Stress Management and Support and Connection.
Nutrition and Hydration: Nutrition often needs to be personalized and there is no BEST diet that fits every person but there are undeniable benefits to using a food first approach and eating real whole foods as a starting place. Some general nutrition and hydration strategies I often recommend may include:
- Considering a Mediterranean style eating plan which focuses on whole foods, omega 3 fats (fish, avocados, nuts/seeds, olive oil), plenty of plants (fruits and vegetables), high quality protein (grass fed beef, wild caught fish, and organic chicken), moderate amounts of dairy and low in sugar and processed foods.
- Focus on eat real, whole foods and limiting processed and ultra-processed foods.
- Eat the rainbow! A diet high in plants and phytonutrients is anti-inflammatory and good for the gut microbiome.
- Work on maintaining good blood glucose balance. If you are having a meal or snack that contains carbohydrates make sure to pair it with protein, fat and fiber to limit blood glucose and insulin spikes which can make you feel tired, foggy, and irritable. This means, aiming for regularly timed meals to avoid a blood sugar rollercoaster.
- Focus on getting adequate protein. The RDA of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is for sedentary, non-active adults. For active adults, my opinion is, this should be at a minimum doubled or closer to 0.8-1 gram per pound of bodyweight depending on activity level. (Remember 1 kilogram = 2.2 pounds).
- Maintain good hydration, ideally a minimum of half your bodyweight in ounces is a good place to start but you’ll need more if you are active (tip: adding electrolytes like LMNT, Nuun, or BodyBio E-lyte can help to boost hydration status).
Sleep: I wrote extensively on the importance of sleep and health (find that blog here) as well as how to achieve good sleep through sleep hygiene (here) and supplementation (here) but the importance of sleep cannot be understated. We know that poor sleep leads to increased risk of diseases such as cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative disease, such as Alzheimer’s. Lack of sleep or poor quality has both short term and long term health consequences. This is one key component that must be mastered to achieve optimal health and longevity.
Exercise and Movement: You cannot avoid exercise if you want to be a healthy and vibrant 60, 70, 80, 90+ year old. We begin to lose muscle and bone mass around age 30 so it is never too early to be thinking about building and maintaining muscle mass. The key to longevity in terms of exercise is having a well-rounded approach that incorporates cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and balance and flexibility exercises (ie: yoga, tai chi). This well rounded approach will help to not only maintain muscle and bone mass as we age but will also help us as we face day to day challenges that get more difficult with age such as going up and down stairs, getting up off of the floor or out of a chair, or going up and down curbs or a bumpy sidewalk. Plus, I don’t know about you but I plan to be hiking and enjoying the mountains for as long as possible!
Stress management: Life can be stressful, there is no way around it. Managing this stress is going to be critical for good health and longevity. When we are stressed day in and day out, our body is pumping out cortisol, our leading stress hormone, which leaves us constantly in a state of fight or flight. This affects many downstream processes in our body including nutrient status, hormone production and digestion. Using a mindfulness practice like meditation, prayer, journaling, gratitude, yoga or even just deep breathing can help flip the stress switch off and allow your body to relax. Incorporating even just 5-10 minutes a day can make a dramatic difference.
Social Connection: This is important throughout life but more important as we age. Research has shown that finding and maintaining social connection is critical to health and longevity. Social isolation increases the risk of premature death from all causes and this risk may compare to smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Social isolation is associated with a 50% increase in dementia and a 29% increase risk of heart disease. These statistics paired with the obvious association of loneliness and having higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide make it imperative that we find and maintain positive social connection, meaning and purpose throughout our lives.
There are many researchers out there that have been pioneering work in the health and longevity field. My favorite for many years has been Dr. Peter Attia whose book, Outlive: the Science and Art of Longevity, (link) was just released a couple of weeks ago and is an absolute must read if you are interested in preventing disease and optimizing health to live a longer, healthier life.
If you are looking for a practitioner to work with to point you in the right direction in all of these longevity and lifestyle areas and help you on the medical front, book a free 15 minute consultation to see if Wild Rice Wellness and a Functional Medicine approach is what you are looking for!