Category Archives: longevity

Diet Tips for Weight Loss

Obesity and risk of death [1]

Heart disease and cancer are the two largest causes of death, and obesity is responsible for increasing the occurrence of these two diseases.  Eating less to achieve a normal weight may help to lengthen your life by avoiding these two diseases. The graphs above show that the risk of death increases in direct relation to the Body Mass Index (BMI), which is a measure of obesity.

The practice of eating less is often called Calorie Restriction (CR).  CR is the most effective nutritional intervention for slowing aging and preventing chronic disease in experimental animals.  In humans, CR with adequate nutrition protects against abdominal obesity, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases.  Data obtained from individuals practicing long-term CR show a reduction of metabolic and hormonal factors associated with increased cancer risk.[2]

All you have to do is eat right.  Your diet should have all the necessary nutrients and just enough calories to balance your level of activity.  To lose weight, you need to eat less than what your body needs so that your body fat can be burned off.  Here are some tips that can help you lose extra pounds and maintain a normal weight.

  • Keep records of the food you eat to increase awareness of your eating habits.
  • Weigh yourself regularly, at least once a week, and adjust your diet accordingly.
  • Exercise regularly.  Increased physical activity helps to burn calories.
  • Eat on a regular schedule and avoid snacking between meals.
  • Sit down to eat and eat slowly.  It takes about 15 minutes for your brain to feel the effect of food.
  • Chew food thoroughly before swallowing.
  • Eat from a small plate and avoid second helpings.
  • Leave the table after eating to avoid the temptation of extra food.
  • Store food out of sight.
  • Don’t shop when you’re hungry.
  • Plan social events around something besides food.
  • Drink water or low calorie beverages.  Sweet drinks can undermine your diet.
  • Limit consumption of fats, sweets, and alcohol.  Reduce dessert portion sizes.
  • Increase consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes.

Use the diet calculator

[1] Adams KF. et al., Overweight, obesity, and mortality in a large prospective cohort of persons 50 to 71 years old, N Engl J Med. 2006 Aug 24;355(8):763-78,  PMID: 16926275

[2] Omodei D, Fontana L., Calorie restriction and prevention of age-associated chronic disease,
FEBS Lett. 2011 Mar 11, PMID: 21402069

Stages of life by decade

Although a lifetime may seem long, it does not seem so when we examine it in terms of decades rather than years.  Only one person in 10,000 lives beyond their tenth decade.

First Decade (age 0 to 9) Age of dependency.  Our mothers must feed us and clean us. We learn to walk and talk. We start our education.

Second Decade (age 10 to 19) Discovery of sexuality. Raging hormones awake our awareness of the opposite sex.  We have to learn to channel our primal impulses within the rules of society.  Our ability to think logically starts to develop.

Third Decade (age 20 to 29) – Early adulthood. We feel independent. We try to find a comfortable niche within society with our first real job and our own partner and family.

Fourth Decade (age 30 to 39) – The prime of life. We have figured out how the world works.  We think that we know what we want. We raise our children, and we plan for our future.

Fifth Decade (age 40 to 49) – Middle age. Although we don’t feel old during this decade, the chances of living to twice this age are not very good.  We may have a mid-life crisis that forces us to evaluate our life and try to make it better, but it is not easy to change because we have to live within the constraints of our work, family structure, and social environment.

Sixth Decade (age 50 to 59) – Age of biological decline. We become aware of wrinkles, gray hair, arthritis pains, menopause, and decreased libido.  We listen more carefully to advertisements about Cialis and Viagra. We become eligible for membership in AARP.   We need reading glasses.

Seventh Decade (age 60 to 69) – Retirement age. We become eligible for Medicare.  If we are lucky and have planned well, we can stop working and start traveling or doing community service.  If we have not saved enough to afford retiring, we have to continue working.  If our health is not good, we now take medicines for diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Eight Decade (age 70 to 79) – Age of decreased mobility. The little pains of twenty years ago have increased so that now they impede what were normal activities.  Visits to doctors become more frequent.  We may need a cane, hernia surgery, or cataract surgery.  Our age spots are harder to cover.  Our circle of friends starts to shrink as they start to die.  Heart attacks, strokes, and cancer take their toll.

Ninth Decade (age 80 to 89) – Age of assisted living. Even if we can still take care of ourselves, we may need somebody to help us clean the house, go shopping for us, or prepare our food.  Health problems become more severe.  We may become incontinent and have to wear adult diapers.  Most people will not live beyond this decade.

Tenth Decade (age 90 to 99) – Pre-centenarian. Congratulations!  if you have made this far, it means that you have good genes, fewer or less severe health problems than the average person, and good family support.  If you are still active, you may live to be a centenarian. The life expectancy at age 90 is 3.8 years, and by age 99 the life expectancy drops to 2.1 years.  Every day may be a struggle for life.  There can be digestive problems, cardiovascular problems, mobility problems, or immune system problems on any given day.

Learn about Longevity Science

How to Age Gracefully

Antonio Zamora – Age 67

A large percentage of people who are retired or close to retirement take medications for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, digestive problems, and other chronic conditions that have developed over their lifetime.  If you listen to the drug commercials during the national evening news, this is normal, but it should not be.  Many of the diseases that we associate with old age are the result of bad diet, exposure to harmful chemicals, and lack of exercise.

Optimum Nutrition
Your diet should include enough protein and essential fatty acids to maintain a normal weight.  The large number of overweight people all around us distorts our notion of what is a normal weight.  Use this Body Mass Index (BMI) Calculator to determine whether your weight is in the normal range.

BMI Calculator

Learn about Optimum Nutrition

You should engage in 30 minutes of vigorous exercise at least three to four times per week.  Exercise improves your coordination and your muscle strength.  Exercise also keeps you lungs and circulatory system in good working condition.  But be careful.  Avoid getting injured from strenuous or high-impact exercises.

Keep Active Socially and Mentally
As you age, you will need to maintain a good social network.  Many people who live to a ripe old age become depressed when they feel isolated as their friends and relatives start dying.  You can keep engaged by volunteering to teach young people, or by participating in social organizations that make you feel useful.

Try to stay healthy
The two most common causes of death are heart disease and cancer.  If you can avoid these two dangers, you have a good chance of living a long life.  Many cardiovascular diseases can be avoided by maintaining a normal weight and exercising regularly.  The risk of cancer can be reduced by avoiding substances that damage your cellular DNA and cause tumors, such as the chemicals in tobacco.

Learn How Others Do It!
One of the best ways to learn how to age gracefully is to constantly explore the concept with those who are indeed aging gracefully. You can always read about famous people and celebrities, but remember that with vast wealth comes the ability to hire all sorts of people to keep you looking and feeling fabulous.
Read about the oldest person alive and see what helps “normal” people age gracefully.

Learn how to reduce cancer risks through diet and lifestyle changes

Protein Restriction or High Protein for Longevity?

Studies have consistently shown that dietary restriction (also called calorie restriction) reduces oxidative damage to mitochondrial DNA and increases maximum longevity.  Only protein restriction is responsible for the decrease in oxidative damage; the restriction of carbohydrates or lipids does not reduce oxidative stress or increase maximum longevity.  Some studies have looked at the amino acid components of protein and have found that reduced intake of the amino acid methionine plays a major role in the decrease in mitochondrial damage and increase in longevity.

Some researchers conclude that the intake of proteins (and thus methionine) of Western human populations is much higher than needed, and that decreasing the levels could reduce tissue oxidative stress and increase healthy life span in humans.[4]  While this recommendation seems to make sense theoretically, it also is in direct conflict with the statistical findings of nutritional surveys.

The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein, established by the Food and Nutrition Board of the United States National Academy of Science, is 0.8 g protein/kg body weight/day for adults, regardless of age.  The 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals[1] found that protein intake was significantly below recommended levels.  The following table has the percentages of white males and females below 75% of the RDA and below 100% of the RDA.  The percentages of deficient black Americans were even higher.

Protein Below 75% Below 100%
20-39 5.3 15.3
40-59 6.6 18.5
60 and over 10.4 29.6
20-39 10.4 27.5
40-59 13.0 29.8
60 and over 15.8 35.9

The statistics show that the deficiencies increased with age.  A large proportion of senior citizens are seriously deficient in meeting their minimum essential protein requirements and suffer health problems and complications like:

  • Sarcopenia (muscle wasting; weakness, poor balance)
  • Osteoporosis (weak bones; fracture and hospitalization)
  • Dementia (loss of mental function; loss of cognition)
  • Immune dysfunction (vulnerbility to infectious disease)

Inadequate protein intake results in loss of body cell mass, decreased muscle function, and lower immune response.  On the other hand, supplementing the diets of patients with hip fractures with 20 grams of protein decreased time in a rehabilitation hospital and reduced the rate of loss of bone mineral density.  Higher protein intakes were associated with decreased risk for hip fracture in postmenopausal women.  A study of 2066 men and women aged 70–79 years found that participants in the highest quintile of protein intake lost approximately 40% less lean mass than did those in the lowest quintile of protein intake.  The study concluded that dietary protein may be a modifiable risk factor for sarcopenia in older adults.[3]

Concerns about potential detrimental effects of increased protein intake on bone health, renal function, neurological function and cardiovascular function are generally unfounded. In fact, many of these factors are improved in elderly ingesting elevated quantities of protein. An intake of 1.5 g protein/kg/day, or about 15-20% of total caloric intake, is a reasonable target for elderly individuals wishing to optimize protein intake in terms of health and function.[2]

There are some practitioners of Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition (CRON) who are experimenting with various approaches for reducing protein.  Besides lowering the proportion of protein in their diet, they may also select vegetable sources of protein which are generally lower in methionine than animal proteins.  The consequences of misjudging the minimum protein requirements with advancing age can result in shorter life rather than longevity.  Thus far, the evidence for greater health in old age seems to be on the side of higher protein levels, and let us not forget that methionine is considered an “essential” amino acid.

Learn more about Amino Acids and Proteins

[1] 1994-96 Continuing Survey of Food Intake by Individuals

[2] Wolfe RR, Miller SL, Miller KB, Optimal protein intake in the elderly,
Clin Nutr. 2008 Oct;27(5):675-84. Epub 2008 Sep 25, PMID: 18819733

[3] Houston DK, Nicklas BJ, Ding J, Harris TB, Tylavsky FA, Newman AB, et al, Dietary protein intake is associated with lean mass change in older, community-dwelling adults: the Health, Aging, and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 87, No. 1, 150-155, January 2008

[4] López-Torres M, Barja G, Lowered methionine ingestion as responsible for the decrease in rodent mitochondrial oxidative stress in protein and dietary restriction possible implications for humans, Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 Nov;1780(11):1337-47. Epub 2008 Jan 18., PMID: 18252204

Balancing Daily Life with Calorie Restriction

Yesterday, an old friend invited me for lunch.  The lunch consisted of a bowl of creamed cauliflower spiced with curry powder, a pickled herring rollmop on a slice of French baguette, and a tossed salad with lettuce, radishes, two kinds of olives, quartered tomatoes, and vinaigrette dressing.  Overall, it was a very tasty and healthy lunch.

And then came dessert… There were some chocolates and mini-cupcakes.  I ate half a cupcake, which was basically two small bites, and my friend ate the other half.  She went to the refrigerator and pulled out a container with individually wrapped ice cream bars covered with dark Dove chocolate.  I declined.

My friend, who is quite thin and survived World War II, cocked her head slightly to one side, and with a sly smile asked me “Do you think that you will live one extra day if you don’t eat this?”  Knowing that there are no guarantees in life, I took the ice cream bar and enjoyed it.

Many of the things that happen in life are highly improbable.  If you think about how you met your best friend, or how you met your wife or husband, you will find a long trail of events that had to coincide for things to be the way they are today.   The probability of each of those events is very minuscule, and the combination of all of them together could almost be regarded as a miracle.  By planning for the future, we feel that we are in control of our life, but undoubtedly along the way, circumstances beyond our control will arise that will change our whole life.  We will adapt, and we will continue planning.

Learn about Calorie Restriction

Nutrition enhances longevity and requires financial planning

Last July, Larry Haubner from Fredericksburg, Virginia celebrated his 107th birthday.  He credits his longevity to good nutrition and exercise.  Haubner exercises daily using some old equipment that he keeps in his room and he takes no medications.  The doctor who treats him for free says that he is in good health and that he will probably live a lot longer.

The only problem is that Haubner is broke.  The assisted living center where he lives costs $3,500 per month.  Two years ago, supporters raised $56,000 to help Haubner stay at the center, but the money has run out, and he is still alive.  Haubner never married and has no surviving family or friends who can help him financially.  He receives $1,200 in monthly pension and Social Security payments, but that is not enough to cover his expenses at the assisted living facility.  Without more help, he will have to apply for Medicaid and move to a nursing home.

Calorie Restriction with Optimum Nutrition (CRON) has been shown to extend longevity in many species.  There are many people practicing caloric restriction with the objective of living longer lives in good health, but Social Security is also running out of money.  In recognition of the fact that people are living longer, the age for receiving Social Security has been progressively extended.  Retirement age used to be 65, but it is now 66 for persons born between 1943 and and 1954.  The retirement age will be 67 for those born after 1959.

As Americans get older, the number of people paying into Social Security is decreasing, and the Social Security trust fund will begin to spend more money than it takes in through tax revenue in 2016.  The trust fund from which Social Security payments are made will be unable to pay retirees full benefits by 2037, and the program that subsidizes disabled Americans will run out of money in 2020.

If you are planning to live a long life, you better save a lot of money to finance your old age.

Learn how to budget your income

Excess abdominal fat increases risk of death

Large abdomen

Several studies have found that people with excess abdominal fat have a greater chance of dying from cancer or heart disease than people with smaller waistlines.  A Harvard study of 44,000 women in the Nurses’ Health study found that women with a waist size equal to or greater than 35 inches (89 cm) were approximately twice as likely to die of heart disease as were women with a waist size less than 28 inches (71 cm), regardless of their Body Mass Index (BMI). Similarly, women with a waist size equal to or greater than 35 inches also were twice as likely to die of cancer as were women with a waist size less than 28 inches.

Another study examined the association between waist circumference and mortality among 154,776 men and 90,757 women aged 51-72 years in the NIH-AARP Diet and Health Study.[1]  A large waist circumference was associated with an approximately 25% increased mortality risk for both men and women.  The waist circumference-mortality association was found in persons with and without prevalent disease, in smokers and nonsmokers, and across different racial or ethnic groups (non-Hispanic Whites, non-Hispanic Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians).

People with a normal BMI and a large waist circumference, 40 inches (102 cm) for men, and 34.6 inches (88 cm) for women, had approximately 20% higher mortality risk than those with normal BMI and normal waist size.

Many scientific studies focus on the absolute size of the waist instead of calculating a measure that provides the anthropomorphic proportions of the subjects.  The average height of persons in the U.S.  is 176.3 cm (69.4 inches) for males, and 162.2 cm (63.8 inches) for females.[2]  From these measurements, we can calculate that the Waist-to-Height ratio associated with 20% higher mortality is 0.58 for males and 0.54 for females.  In general, a normal Waist-to-Height ratio is less than 0.50.  Waist-to-Height ratios of 0.55 and over indicate excess abdominal fat which is associated with early death.

[1] Koster A, Leitzmann MF, Schatzkin A, Mouw T, Adams KF, van Eijk JT, Hollenbeck AR, Harris TB, Waist circumference and mortality, Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Jun 15;167(12):1465-75. PMID: 18417494

[2] Human Height

One glass of wine per day may cause cancer

Glass of Red Wine

The waffling and inconsistency of medical advice is making us neurotic.  Not too long ago, medical science was telling us that we could live longer by drinking one or two glasses of red wine per day.  Researchers said that Frenchmen were relatively free from cardiovascular disease in spite of eating fatty foods because they drank wine with their meals.

Scientists then discovered that red wine contained resveratrol which is a compound that increases longevity.  Even people who did not drink started a habit of drinking one glass of red wine with supper in order to live longer and avoid heart problems.

The latest research tells us that all of these studies overlooked something awful.  Even one alcoholic drink per day increases the risk of cancer.[1]  Researchers who studied more than 1.2 million middle-aged women for an average of seven years in the U.K. estimated that alcohol consumption could be responsible for as many as 11% of breast cancers in women. Cancer epidemiologist Naomi Allen, one of the researchers, said:

“There were no minimum levels of alcohol consumption that could be considered to be without risk.”

Drinking is not as bad as it seems.  The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has completed an extensive review of current scientific knowledge about the health effects of moderate alcohol consumption. It found that the lowest death rate from all causes occurs at the level of one to two drinks per day. That is, moderate drinkers have the greatest longevity.

The NIAAA’s conclusion that moderate drinking is beneficial to heart health will be included in the next revision of the dietary guidelines to be issued by the U.S. government.

Drinking alcohol may slightly increase the risk of breast cancer. However, Dr. Lorraine Gunzerath of NIAAA emphasizes that women should weigh the small increase in breast cancer risk (one percentage point) against the sharp decrease in heart disease risk (40%) resulting from moderate drinking. Also important is the fact that about 4% of American women die of breast cancer while about 50% die of heart disease.

[1] Allen, N.E. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, March 4, 2009; vol 101: pp 296-305.

Conversation with a 95-year old

Lillian Marion
Lillian Marion

This weekend, I met Lillian Marion, a lady who recently retired at age 95 from her business as an interior designer for very famous people.  She would have continued working, but her son, who is a plastic surgeon, told her that she should retire because he was afraid that she could fall and break a hip.

So what does Lillian do now?  She travels from New York to Las Vegas and to Atlantic City.  She spends time at the casinos, stays up all night playing the slot machines and has a great time even though she has not won any big jackpots.

I told her that I belonged to the Calorie Restriction Society whose members starve themselves because research shows that eating less increases lifespan, and that the members are also interested in finding out about the lifestyle of older people to find out whether it takes more than genetics to live a long life.

When I asked to what she attributed her longevity, she said that every day she walked six or seven blocks and ate some ice cream.  What else does she eat?   “I don’t eat anything that I don’t like”, she said.  I observed what she took from the buffet.  She selected pan-grilled scallops on a bed of rice, a small tuna salad sandwich, and some smoked lox that she left on the plate.  She drank some tea with cream, and had a puff pastry topped with glazed fresh fruits on top, but she gave away the fruit because she does not like fruits.

Lillian walks with a cane, some of the joints in her hands have been slightly deformed by arthritis, but she is vivacious and her mind is clear.   She takes pride in dressing very well, as you can tell from her designer glasses and exquisite brooch and rings.  If you get her talking about politics, watch out!  She has some strong opinions.