I’m a longevity doctor. Here are my 7 healthy habits to live longer

Living a long, healthy life may seem like winning a genetic lottery, but you have so much more under your control than you realize.

Only 25% of our chance of living longer is due to inherited genes, while 75% is due to environmental factors, says Dr. Luigi Fontana, professor of medicine and nutrition, and director of the healthy longevity research program at the University of Sydney in Australia.

“So the idea that your genes are the most important factor in shaping your lifespan is wrong,” Fontana tells TODAY.com.

“In 2023, we will have the knowledge to design a fantastic world where people are healthy. The chance of getting sick is still there because biology is not an exact science, but the risk is very low if you have a healthy lifestyle.”

Fontana outlines some ways to activate the body’s life-course pathways in his new book, “Manual of Healthy Longevity & Wellbeing.”

The goal is to prevent age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease. As people age, they pile up damage because the systems that control the body’s ability to repair itself weaken — but certain lifestyle choices can slow this process, Fontana notes.

He believes that up to 95% of cardiovascular disease and 70% of cancers are preventable based on his studies on exercise, calorie restriction, and high-quality diets.

But Fontana worries that prevention isn’t even taught in medical schools, with doctors focusing on diagnosing illnesses and usually treating them with drugs and surgery.

Here are some habits the longevity expert recommends for a longer life:

Monitor and control your waist size

This is even more important than tracking your weight, because every extra inch on your waistline means a buildup of belly fat, the worst type of body fat, says Fontana.

Known as visceral fat, it promotes inflammation, which is a major factor in aging, cancer, cardiovascular disease and many other chronic diseases, he warns.

Excess belly fat also causes insulin resistance and metabolic abnormalities, he adds.

“Every inch you lose, you reduce all of these factors,” notes Fontana. “It can be done with exercise and a healthy diet.”

He advises women to have a waist size less than 31.5 inches and men less than 37 inches.

It is still important to monitor for weight gain and deal with it quickly. But weight isn’t the best metric, because ideally you want to shrink waist circumference while increasing muscle mass, especially in the legs and glutes — the most powerful muscles in the body, says Fontana.

Don’t eat ‘everything in moderation’

“People say, ‘Nothing is bad. You can eat anything.’ I don’t agree, it’s like saying, ‘I can have a few cigarettes in moderation,’” warns Fontana.

“Everything in moderation” is not a dietary rule to follow for maximum longevity, he writes in his book. Eliminate junk foods, ultra-processed foods, refined grains, and sugary drinks from your diet as much as possible. There is no moderation with these foods.

Eat beans every day

Fontana follows the Mediterranean diet as the basis of its healthy eating plan for longevity.

Along with beans, Fontana’s food pyramid calls for eating a wide variety of colorful vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, fruits, low-fat yogurt, olive oil and avocado on a daily basis.

He recommends eating fish two to three times a week and enjoying small portions of cheese and a few eggs once or twice a week.

Meat or sweets should only be eaten occasionally.

Fontana always buys organic produce when he can to minimize his exposure to pesticides. “But if you tell me, ‘I can’t afford bio. What should I do?’ (I say) eat as many vegetables, whole grains and beans as possible, even if they are not organic.

He doesn’t take supplements because he gets his nutrients from high quality food. The only exception was a daily vitamin D supplement during the winter when he lived in the US to make up for the lack of sunshine.

Consider using the wonder drug for a healthy longevity

Humans and their molecular pathways have evolved over thousands of years with a lot of exercise — walking everywhere, lugging wood, fetching water from the well — so the modern sedentary lifestyle isn’t natural, Fontana warns.

He sports every day, alternating mountain biking with swimming and weightlifting. An hour of aerobic exercise each day is ideal, but shorter periods spread out throughout the day can provide benefits, he writes in his book.

Exercise reduces triglycerides and LDL “bad” cholesterol and raises HDL “good” cholesterol, notes Fontana. It lowers blood pressure and has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity.

When you exercise, you increase the mitochondria — the cell’s “powerhouse” — in your muscles. Mitochondria are essential for burning fat, so that you not only build muscle mass, but also burn more calories.

Exercise also increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which is important for memory and is a powerful antidepressant, says Fontana.

Go easy on the alcohol

Fontana does not drink alcohol. Studies suggest it’s not good for longevity and even small doses increase cancer risk, he notes.

“There’s no evidence that resveratrol in wine makes you live longer,” he says.

“If you enjoy your beer and your glass of wine, that’s fine. But you should drink this one occasionally… use it as a treat, not a regular everyday use.

Give your body a break from eating

When you eat, the calories are converted into glucose, which activates the production of insulin.

Between snacks and larger meals, people are in a consistently high insulin environment for many hours of the day. That’s not normal physiologically and activates pro-aging pathways, says Fontana.

Try to eat your calories in a limited time frame, maybe 10 hours, so your insulin and your glucose are low for the remaining hours of the day, he advises.

It’s okay to be a little hungry. It means that the body secretes the hunger hormone ghrelin, which inhibits inflammation.

“If you feel a little hungry, don’t run away to eat something right away. If you can, just wait because you know you’re activating this anti-inflammatory pathway,” says Fontana.

Think of your body as a Ferrari

Even a nice new sports car will have problems if you don’t maintain it. But if you know how to take care of it, the car will last a long time.

The same goes for your body, although maintenance in this case means a healthy diet and regular exercise.

“People say, ‘Who cares? I want to enjoy my life. I want to drink my wine. I want to stay on the couch eating chips,'” notes Fontana.

“Yes, you can drive your Ferrari without changing the oil. It is up to you. But you have to know that your Ferrari is going to have problems.”

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