Last Updated: February 27, 2024

Inside this Article:

First Things First: Eat a Balanced Diet

We have all heard this most of our lives.  Simply put, the better you eat, the longer you are likely to live.

A lean, healthy diet will help lower the risk of chronic disease while providing plenty of health-protective nutrients.

The Centenarian Study: Lean Is Key

The New England Centenarian Study at the Boston University School of Medicine observed the lifestyle factors of Centenarians to determine the “secrets” of a long and healthy life. The study has shown that almost all people who reach the age of 100 are lean, especially men. Obesity may be considered an actual risk factor for early death, so maintaining a healthy weight is one of the most important dietary goals.

Lessons From Okinawa

Okinawa, a group of 161 Japanese islands, boasts the world’s longest living people. They have the lowest rates of heart disease, stroke, and cancer (some of the leading causes of death in the United States). The average Okinawan woman lives to the age of 86 and the average man to 78, compared with 79 and 72, respectively, in the United States. Residents of Okinawa typically die of natural causes rather than disease. Okinawans eat an average of seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily, along with seven servings of grains, two servings of soy products, omega-3 fatty acid-rich fish several times per week, very few dairy products, and little meat.

Okinawan cuisine - Japanese Cuisine

Nuts for a Long Life

Researchers tracked 34,000 adults in California beginning in the 1980s (Fraser & Shavlik, 2001). After 12 years, they linked the subjects’ consumption of nuts five to six times per week to a longer-than-average life expectancy. Frequent nut consumers lived 1.5 to 2.5 years longer than nut avoiders. This could be due to the protective fatty acids, excellent mineral content, and wealth of phytonutrients.

Mediterranean Diet: Worth a Try?

Last year, the Archives of Internal Medicine observed the lifestyle habits of 380,000 Europeans to determine which people passed away when, how, and why. This study found that the closer the person’s diet conformed to the traditional Mediterranean diet, the lower their risk of death. In fact, mimicking the traditional diets of Greece and southern Italy cut the risk of death from all causes by 20%.

Seeing Green

Age-related macular degeneration is prevalent in seniors aged 65 and older. This progressive disease compromises vision, making it difficult to see details and recognize faces. Studies have shown that a combination of beta-carotene, vitamin C, vitamin E, and zinc can reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration by about 25%. These nutrients are abundant in healthy diets with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts.

Spice It Up

Many recent studies have focused on the health-protecting properties of herbs and spices. Sage, oregano, turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon have all been shown to lower fasting blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. Better blood sugar control means prolonged health and lower risk of damage from diabetes-related maladies.

Dried Fruit: Nature’s Candy

Dried fruits such as figs and dates are chock-full of fiber and potassium, which help regulate blood pressure. They pack in many times more antioxidants than other fruits. A 2004 Harvard study showed that eating three or more servings of high-antioxidant fruit per day lowered the risk of age-related maculopathy by 36%.

Keeping the Brain Sharp With Açai Berries

The açai berry is the highest antioxidant fruit in the world. Age-related diseases of the brain such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease have no cure, but research suggests that diets rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds may lower the risk of developing age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Such compounds, notably anthocyanins, are abundant in berries and may have the ability to lower oxidative stress and inflammation, thereby promoting brain health.

Nutrient - Acai berry

Ginger for Healthy Joints

Older adults at risk of or suffering from arthritis may want to try ginger to extend pain-free years. Ginger is known to exhibit anti-inflammatory effects that work directly on the joints to help relieve arthritis.

Go Fish?

Researchers at Harvard weighed the risks and benefits of consuming fish. They concluded that the disease risk-reduction benefits of consuming one to two servings of fish per week outweighed the potential harm from mercury exposure, possibly helping to extend healthy years. A myriad of studies have focused on the beneficial effects of the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish. These fats help reduce inflammation and protect the integrity of cell membranes.

Green Tea Covers the Bases

Green tea drinkers reap the benefits of the prevention of cancer, heart disease, skin conditions, atherosclerosis, stress, viruses, arthritis, and type 2 diabetes. Green tea’s bioactive chemicals protect the body from oxidative damage while maintaining the integrity of the cells’ DNA. No wonder so many healthy older adults worldwide drink green tea.

Green Tea - Tea

The Big Picture

We all want long, healthy, disease-free lives, and we all know that healthy eating, stress management, exercise, and other positive lifestyle habits help us move closer to this goal.

Although eating healthy can seem overwhelming, you can start by making small additions to your diet to start reaping the benefits from nutritious foods. Small, positive changes over time can make a big difference in the long run.

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