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Legend has it that the explorer Ponce de Leon wasn’t just looking to establish a Spanish colony in the new world.
He was looking for the fountain of youth. And 500 years later, the search is still on.
But what if I told you I know where you can find the fountain of youth?
That the fountain of youth is neither a mystery nor a mirage… and that you could build one for yourself?
The fountain of youth is a way of life — experienced by various groups of people around the world in communities in which being a centenarian is not unique. In fact, it’s expected.
What do these communities share?
The answer is they adhere to the four pillars of healthy longevity…
Pillar #1: Physical activity
People who live long lives move their bodies regularly. The good news is that these people aren’t marathon runners or triathletes. They’re physically active because that’s what their life demands.
They’re fishermen, farmers and other active people who live in little villages where they walk regularly to visit neighbors, friends, and family.
Pillar #2: Socially interconnectedness
People who enjoy a healthy, long life are active members of a social circle. They celebrate each other’s joys and come together to support each other in times of sorrow. And science show the opposite hurts your health…
In an analysis, which included data on more than 181,000 adults, researchers determined that loneliness and social isolation increase your risk of heart disease by 29 percent and increase your risk of stroke by 32 percent.
Pillar #3: An inner sense of purpose and joy
This might seem basic, but these people are happy. They follow their passions and participate in activities that give them a sense of accomplishment. It’s what the Japanese know as ikigai, and we know Japan is home to many centenarians.
Studies have shown that people who have a sense of purpose to their days sleep better and are at lower risk for heart attacks and early death.
Pillar #4: A whole food, plant-based diet
The people who experience healthy longevity are predominantly vegetarians – with meat, fish and dairy comprising a small minority of their caloric intake.
They rely on home-cooked food, made from local ingredients, often grown in their own gardens. Their foods are minimally processed and nutrient dense.
The result is an optimal diet that delivers high levels of whole food fiber, antioxidants, and those vital omega 3 fatty acids that are good for the heart and the brain.
Now that you understand that pillars and how they work, what simple things can you do to add not just years to your life, but life to your years?
A few suggestions for finding your own fountain of youth
- Make every movement you make more challenging. Park your car farther away from the store entry. Climb stairs instead of taking the elevator. Whenever you’re walking or biking, take the slightly longer route between here and there.
- Connect and reconnect with others. Pick-up the phone and call that person you’ve been meaning to call. We all need to give and receive love. Do what you enjoy. If you like to garden, garden. If you like to read, read. If you like your job, keep working!
- Eat lots of plants as close to their original form as possible. That means eating the apple – instead of the applesauce or drinking apple juice and eating steel cut oats instead of fortified puffed oat cereals. And make sure you’re getting lots of nuts and seeds – like chia, flax, walnuts, and almonds. This will all help ensure you’re consuming the vital nutrients that support a long and healthy life.
If doing it all seems overwhelming, as a physician, I would tell you to focus on diet first because nutrition is foundational to health and healing. And even small improvements can be transformative – if they are the right ones.
For example, one of our goals at Step One Foods is helping people understand how incorporating two snacks — high in whole grains, nuts, seeds and fruit — into your diet every day can be amazingly impactful.
People who live long well do so through small, daily acts of healthy behavior. And it’s the cumulative effect of those small acts over time that rewards them with better health.
So, every time you move your body, engage with others, do something you love, or eat a healthy snack, give yourself a pat on the back. You’re building your own personal fountain of youth.