At the end of last year, the CDC announced the life expectancy in the United States had continued to decline once again, a shocking fact in an age when we should seemingly be living forever. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, this decline is most likely due to sharp increases in suicides and drug overdose deaths. In 2017, the CDC announced that opioid use had reached epidemic levels, and the opioid crisis is far from being solved. Over-prescription of opioid medications, lack of access to treatment, and lack of access to mental health services are just a few of the underlying causes of the decline in life expectancy. But what if we could fight the decline in life expectancy by learning how to live to 100 and beyond?
Soon there will be more centenarians than ever before. In 2015, there were fewer than 500,000 centenarians living worldwide, but by many estimates that number will balloon to nearly 3.8 million by 2050. We have the medical technology to detect more diseases earlier and to treat them more efficiently and effectively than ever before. But even with all this medical technology at our fingertips, there’s still more we can be doing to live longer, healthier lives.
We are just starting to really understand the rise of the obesity epidemic and what can be done about it. Until very recently blame was placed on obese people for their own obesity, but the latest research is showing that is not likely to paint the full picture. According to the U.S. News Combating Childhood Obesity Summit, the prevalence of processed foods is coupling with genetics to create a perfect storm in the form of a growing prevalence of children growing into the cycle of obesity. Studies have shown that people who ate minimally processed foods with ingredients that were known and easily identifiable tended to eat less and to lose weight without trying, even with the same caloric intake and nutrient densities.
There are places in the world known as ‘blue zones’ where people routinely live longer than average, and one of the things they have in common is healthier diets. In the Nicoya region of Costa Rica, diets largely consist of corn, beans, and squash, and there is very little meat, eggs, and dairy in the daily diet. Similarly, in Loma Linda, California, residents follow a Biblical diet which also consists of very little meat, fish, and poultry and consists mainly of vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts. In Sardinia, Italy, residents eat a low protein, plant-based diet, while in Ikaria, Greece, inhabitants eat a Mediterranean diet that is very low in animal products, and in Okinawa, Japan the predominant diet is plant based.
What do all these places have in common other than very similar plant-based diets? The inhabitants routinely live longer than average, many to 100 years and beyond. Diet and exercise are shown from these regions of the world to have the biggest impact on overall health, while each of these regions also places an emphasis on mental health that is thought to be the secret sauce of the overall longevity. Each of these societies has its own emphasis on work, volunteerism, and having a sense of purpose and community in life.
If we all started to apply these lessons to our daily lives, what good might come of it? The worst that can happen is that we all live a little longer, so why not give it a try?
Hacking Longevity: How to Live Longer was originally published in Hacker Noon on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.