Longevity lifestyle habits
When it comes to designing a healthy routine, there are loads of workouts, mental-health practices and eating plans to choose from. Yet, for those who are aiming for the best practices of the longest and healthiest-living people, there are four main lifestyles to aim for, according to US writers Dean Ornish and Anne Ornish, the authors of UnDo It! How Simple Lifestyle changes can Reverse Most Chronic Diseases.
The authors present a simple, yet powerful, new unifying theory of health that helps to explain why the same lifestyle changes can reverse many different chronic diseases and how quickly these benefits can occur.
The key tenets of the book are these: eat well, move more, stress less, love more. It also breaks them down into actionable steps to get you on the road to better living. The book offers a path to sustainable health and lifestyle changes that can actually reverse chronic disease. You can frame your own experience by choosing to focus on what you can’t have and can’t do, or you can focus on what you can do and practise an optimistic and grateful approach to life, the book says.
With 70 recipes, easy-to-follow meal plans, tips for stocking your kitchen and eating out, recommended exercises, stress-reduction advice and inspiring patient stories of life-transforming benefits, the book empowers readers with new hope and new choices, including these four longevity lifestyle habits.
Any health plan should incorporate some kind of exercise, but the book’s plan is refreshingly simple. It splits recommended exercise into three categories: aerobic exercise like walking; strength training with resistance bands or lifting weights; and stretching. Staying physically active is the key. Fifteen minutes of moderate exercise such as walking, dancing or biking a day have been shown to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Chronic stress is bad for our bodies and minds. It contributes to disease, and research indicates that the mental turmoil caused by a too-long to-do list or one too many nights of poor sleep can compromise our body’s ability to regulate inflammation, which in turn can lead to or exacerbate depression. Luckily, there are many ways to manage stress, including meditation, breathing techniques, gentle yoga practices, prayer, gardening or dancing.
The way we eat is just as important as what we eat. The book stresses a whole-foods, plant-based diet as a healthiest way of eating. It’s low in bad carbs and bad fats and high in good carbs with enough good fat and very low in animal protein, if any. Food like vegetables, fruit, grains and beans benefit your heart, stomach and brain. Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of heart disease, prevention of type two diabetes, a reduced risk of cancer, and the prevention of Alzheimer’s among other diseases. You can opt for small portions of meat on occasion and generally stick to drinking water and coffee, however.
The authors drive home the essential importance of human connections and how love and intimacy can transform loneliness into healing. For them, people who feel lonely, depressed and isolated are three to ten times more likely to get sick and die prematurely from virtually all causes. A study has demonstrated that the dementia risk in people above the age of 75 was lowest for those who had various, satisfying social connections. They recommend establishing or joining a support group where anyone can talk about anything, and members can practise empathetic listening to anyone who chooses to share their thoughts. They emphasise that such groups are about connections, not correction. Everyone is just there to listen and to accept you as you are.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 16 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.