It’s been called the “Inuit paradox”: Inuit Eskimos get more than 50% of their calories from animal fat. Yet their cardiac death rate is half the U.S. average.
Why do people on a high-fat diet have such low rates of heart disease?
It’s been said 50% of what we “know” about health is wrong… We just don’t know which 50%.
In the last ten years, there has been a radical shift in how we think about diets, exercise and lifestyle. New advances in science and technology are redefining what it means to be healthy today.
1. Trust The Gut
The microbiome— the community of beneficial microorganisms inside our bodies — has become one of the hottest research areas in health.
With an estimated 100 million nuerons, the gut has been called the “second brain.” Micro-organisms in our gut produce mood-regulating chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This means poor gut health could be related to depression or anxiety.
The health of our gut bacteria has been linked to a wide range of chronic illness. Inflammation in the intestine is seen as the root cause of all neurodegenerative disease: Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s.
How can we maintain our gut health?
It starts with diet. Foods like turmeric and black pepper help reduce inflammation.
While, diets high in refined sugar are harmful to the gut, causing inflammation and reducing microbiota diversity.
An Israeli study showed that consuming artificial sweeteners like Splenda was linked to gain weight and higher risk of type 2 diabetes, due to the sweeteners’ negative effects on gut bacteria. So replace that Diet Coke with a green tea.
Probiotics, found in foods like yogurt, can improve gut health. Consumer health startups like Mother Dirt are delivering beneficial probiotics via a line of skin products, cleansers, and shampoo. There’s growing awareness of how bacterial imbalances can cause acne, eczema and other inflammatory skin conditions.
New companies like Viome are measuring gut health to deliver personalized recommendations for diet and lifestyle.
The better we take care of our microbiome, the better we’ll be able to prevent illness.
2. Learn From “Blue Zones”
The Cilento Coast of Italy, 140 kilometers south of Naples, is one of the world’s five “Blue Zone” regions — places inhabited by the highest ratio of centenarians. These communities are largely free of chronic illnesses like heart disease, obesity, cancer and diabetes.
What do Blue Zone people have in common?
- They move their bodies every day.
- They stop eating when they’re 80% full.
- They belong to faith-based communities and have close-knit families.
- Their diet consists mainly of grains, fruits, nuts and vegetables, with little to no refined sugars.
Would you like to live to 100? Steal a page from the Blue Zone lifestyle.
3. Sweat It Out
Don’t shrug off the sauna. A 15-minute sweat rest can make you feel like a new person.
A 2015 study showed that sauna use two to three times per week was associated with increased longevity and 24% lower mortality. It’s been shown to improve blood pressure and reduce risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
The principle of stress-response hormesis explains why high heat exposure, along with other stresses like fasting and exercise, may increase life span.
Scientists believe the heat of a sauna may activate heat shock proteins, which prevent neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s by helping proteins maintain their proper three-dimensional structure.
4. Chill In A Cold Shower
Cold exposure has been shown to improve cell health and reduce inflammation. It’s why pro athletes use ice baths after a game.
I’m no NFL lineman, so I’ve been following a less extreme approach: cold showers. For the last 30 seconds of my shower I turn the water as cold as I can. It stings at first, but I’ve gotten used to it — and I feel great after.
5. Embrace The Mind-Body Connection
Amy Cuddy, a Harvard psychologist known for giving one of the most-watched TED talks of all time, explains how simple things like breathing and posture impact our health in profound ways.
First piece of advice: Smile.
The mere act of smiling makes us happier. Laughing, too. The physical act of laughter stimulates our brain to make us feel better.
The field of “embodied cognition” describes how the mind reacts to the body. Our body is literally shaping our thoughts. Our emotions are linked to our facial and postural expressions.
Adopting dominant “power poses” can increase testosterone by 20% and decrease the stress hormone cortisol by 25%. The “victory pose” stimulates a relaxation response in the vagus nerve and down-regulates epinephrine release, making us feel more confident.
Even when we sleep, posture matters: People who wake up with arms and legs extended feel happier and more optimistic than the ones who start the day in a fetal position.
As Cuddy explains, “If you act powerfully, you will begin to think powerfully.”
6. Eat Good Fats & Cut Sugar
When experts studied the “Inuit paradox,” they identified omega-3 fatty acids in wild fish as the key to Eskimos’ cardiac health. These “good fats” reduce inflammation, thin the blood and prevent clotting.
We used to think a low-fat diet was essential for healthy living. This idea is now widely seen as untrue. Fat is an essential nutrient for our bodies. Mother’s milk, nature’s “perfect food,” is 50% fat.
Sugar has emerged as the super-villain in our diets. (Yes, even the natural sugar in fruit juice). Sugar negatively alters gut microbiota and spikes blood insulin levels. Some scientists think we should consider treating sugar addiction like the abuse of alcohol or cocaine.
Healthy eating can be boiled down to three words: avoid insulin spikes. Our body isn’t designed to process sugar in large quantities in a short time. Anything that sharply raises our insulin levels contributes to insulin resistance — a metabolic condition linked to hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and stroke.
Fortunately, we can reverse insulin resistance naturally through diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements.
Use fat as your body’s primary fuel, not protein. Only 15% of your calories should be from protein. Eat high-fiber foods that help slow down glucose absorption: vegetables, avocados, berries, nuts, and seeds.
Take omega-3 DHA and EPA fish oil supplements. The Eskimos were on to something: These super-fats are an essential tool for lowering risk of heart disease, inflammation and even cancer. They may even improve cognitive function.
7. Fasting For Slower Aging
If you live in New York, LA or San Francisco, you probably know at least one person who’s tried intermittent fasting.
What began as a cultish fad is hitting the mainstream: Fasting is one health trend that’s here to stay.
Going without food for 24 to 48 hours has been shown to reduce inflammation, lower blood pressure, and eliminate pre-cancerous cells. Along with exercise, fasting might be the closest thing we’ve got to a fountain of youth.
Bio-hackers in Silicon Valley have experimented with fasting for years. New apps like Zero provide tools to help align your eating schedule with your body’s natural circadian rhythms.
What do we gain when we temporarily starve ourselves?
Fasting results in a dramatic increase in autophagy (clearing away damaged cells to use for energy) and apoptosis (causing damaged cells to self-destruct). Both of these processes prevent damaged cells from becoming cancer cells.
The first time I tried fasting, I skipped breakfast and had six ounces of salmon for lunch. (It turns out you can have up to 400 calories and still get the health benefits of fasting.)
How’d it go? I was a bit grumpy at night. But I slept well. And the next day, I felt amazing. I was noticeably sharper, more alert and cheerful.
You don’t need to go all day starving yourself. Simply eating within a 10-hour window has been shown to improve sleep, increase weight loss and reduce cancer risk.
This could mean eating your first meal of the day at 8 a.m. and your last meal at 6 p.m. (No late night snacks!)
Try doing a short fast (24 hours) to see how your body responds. It’s a great way to lose weight, improve overall health and stay mentally sharp.
8. Hack Your Mitochondria
Another benefit of fasting: It can renew and strengthen your mitochondria.
Mitochondria are the cell-level energy centers for your body. Energy-intensive cells in the heart and brain have about 10,000 mitochondria per cell. If your mitochondria stay healthy, they’ll produce more ATP, and you’ll have more energy.
Just like cells, mitochondria accumulate damage with age, and this can accelerate the aging process. Declining mitochondrial health can cause fatigue, shrinking brain tissue and neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease.
The good news: You can maintain your mitochondrial health with diet and exercise. High-intensity interval training and yoga turbocharge your mitochondria. Nutrients like zinc, magnesium, and omega-3 fats help preserve mitochondria for brain health.
Your mitochondrial health is one of the most important biomarkers for aging. It can make you look five years older — or younger.