Move. Eat Plants. Breathe mindfully. Fast. Sleep.

These 5 Pillars of Health are proven lifestyle factors that can extend the length of your healthy life by years. The best part? These are behaviors that are under your control and are fairly easy to implement. When combined, physical activity, eating more fruits and vegetables, getting more sleep, fasting or going without calories for longer periods overnight, and practicing mindfulness can help you beat a worrying global trend of unhealthy aging and premature death due to chronic disease. 

Join our challenge to live the #5Pillars4LIFE through Daily Challenges posted on the homepage of LIFEApps.io and in our Daily LIFE Challenges Circle in the LIFE Extend app! Participate every day in August and share your progress – use the hashtag #5Pillars4LIFE on social media – to get some mad LifeOmic swag! On August 31 we will be giving away t-shirts and more to the first five individuals to complete the most daily challenges!

Are You Living Your Best Life?

While we are generally living longer than humans did thousands of years ago, we aren’t taking full advantage of those extra years. Chronic diseases and frailty are negatively impacting our muture years. In fact, most recently there has been a decline in life expectancy (a measure of average age) for the U.S. population. The current life expectancy in the U.S. is just over 78 years. But many of these years are spent in poor health.

While the global average life expectancy increased by five years within the last decade, this increase is primarily due to improvements in childhood survival (a fantastic achievement for humanity). The bad news is that over this same time frame, the burden of chronic disease has increased. 

Non-communicable diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung diseases, diabetes and obesity are not only affecting a growing number of people, but are also starting to appear earlier in life. The prevalence of being overweight or obese, also a risk factor for other chronic diseases, has reached “unprecedented levels” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). More people are living more of their lives with chronic illness that affects their quality of life and ultimately shortens their lifespan.

“Contrary to widely held beliefs, developing countries are increasingly suffering from high levels of public health problems related to chronic diseases.” – World Health Organization

The most frustrating aspect of the chronic diseases that are responsible for a rising proportion of deaths globally (being the cause of 71% of all deaths globally as of 2018) is that they are largely preventable through lifestyle changes and early treatment. 

But there is also a ray of hope in their preventable nature. Early screening and lifestyle changes have enormous potential to increase the length of people’s healthy lives. What does this mean for you? It means that improving your physical activity levels, eating healthily, managing your stress levels and reducing any use of alcohol and tobacco could substantially improve your quality of life, lengthen your healthy years, reduce your body’s aging and your risk of dying prematurely.

The 5 Pillars of the LIFE Extend app.

Why 5 Pillars?

While small steps to moving more and eating better are critical factors in any health journey, it’s important that these small steps add up to sustainable lifestyle change. This is when magic can happen – you can achieve substantial weight loss, reverse prediabetes, significantly reduce your risk of heart disease, cancer and dementia, overhaul your mental health and sense of wellbeing, eliminate aging-related pain in your body, add years to your life.

The 5 Pillars of Health, which you can track and earn “LIFE Points” for in our LIFE Extend app, will help you ultimately overhaul your lifestyle to one that can help you achieve long healthy life. 

Physical activity, plant-heavy nutrition, intermittent fasting, adequate sleep (7-9 hours per night) and mindfulness-based stress reduction are biological sledgehammers, to use the words of Dr. Eric Verdin of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, that break down the walls of chronic disease. These 5 Pillars all have far reaching effects throughout the body, together improving aspects of your metabolism, your body’s self-recycling and self-repair mechanisms, your brain’s ability to recover from psychological stress, your memory, your immune system, your gut microbes and more. These health behaviors can even modify your DNA to make you more resilient to stressors that accelerate the aging process and cause chronic disease

The 5 Pillars also target aspects of metabolic health. Four key metabolic changes that increase the risk of chronic disease include:

  • Raised blood pressure
  • Overweight and obesity
  • High blood glucose levels
  • High levels of fat in the blood

Eating plants rich in dietary fibers, intermittent fasting, getting cardio exercise, getting adequate sleep and managing your stress levels all help with preventing these metabolic changes in various ways!

That means a serious reduction in your risk of developing disease if you incorporate all 5 Pillars into your life on a regular basis.

Celebrating their sports triumph
Extend your life with physical activity.

Extend LIFE by Moving

If exercise were a medication, it would be a multi-billion dollar anti-aging drug. Exercise reduces your risk for heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive decline. Exercise improves mental health and memory. It also keeps your bones strong and delays frailty, a big risk factor for early death.

According to WHO, insufficient physical activity is one of the leading risk factors for death worldwide. Globally, one in four adults is not active enough. In the U.S. the statistics are even more sobering – only half of adults are meeting national guidelines for aerobic physical activity while under a third are meeting guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

Getting more physical activity and avoiding sedentary time are two of the most important things you could be doing for your health and healthspan. The federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that for substantial health benefits, adults should:

  • Do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination
  • Spread aerobic activity throughout the week.
  • Do muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity and that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.

The LIFE Extend app encourages you to get at least 30 minutes of structured exercise per day. A mix of aerobic/cardio training and muscle-strengthening or resistance activities is best. 

“Seven of the ten most common chronic diseases are favorably influenced by regular physical activity. […] Lack of physical activity is linked to approximately $117 billion in annual health care costs and about 10 percent of premature mortality.” – Physical Guidelines for Americans

Learn more about exercise for health here.

Try some fresh veggies drizzled with healthy oils. Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.
Try some fresh veggies drizzled with healthy oils. Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash.

Extend LIFE by Eating Plants

A diet lacking in fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains is one of the leading causes of early onset disease. Regardless of what else you eat, eating more healthy plants can protect you against diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease (heart disease, stroke), some cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.

A review of a whopping 95 scientific studies investigating the health impacts of fruit and vegetable intake found that eating cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) reduced people’s risk of cancer and disease in general. The review also found that people who eat more apples and pears, citrus fruits, carrots and green leafy vegetables have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Fruit juices, dried fruits and fruit in a can don’t have the protective effects of raw and whole fruits. This is likely because raw and whole fruits and vegetables don’t contain harmful added sugars and they keep more of their dietary fiber than juiced or otherwise processed fruits and veggies.

Dietary fiber or “roughage” is a type of carbohydrate that isn’t easily broken down in your stomach – not without the help of microbes in your gut! (By the way, your gut microbes impact your heart health.) Fiber has all sorts of health benefits. It can reduce cholesterol, slow the digestion of other dietary carbs and keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. It even feeds “good” microbes in your gut that play a role in inflammation and brain health. Dietary fiber may be a critical part of why fruits and vegetables are so healthy for us.

“Fruits and vegetables are rich sources of vitamins and minerals, dietary fiber and a host of beneficial non-nutrient substances including plant sterols, flavonoids and other antioxidants and consuming a variety of fruits and vegetables helps to ensure an adequate intake of many of these essential nutrients.” – World Health Organization

In addition to getting people to consume less sugar, especially in the form of sugar-sweetened beverages, one of the World Health Organization’s global nutrition targets for 2025 is increasing people’s fruit and vegetable consumption. WHO suggests that people consume more than 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day to improve their overall health and reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease and certain types of cancer.

For reference, a large apple can weigh 100 grams; one cup of broccoli weighs about 90 grams. Eating 400 grams of fruits and vegetables per day means getting approximately 4 to 5 cups or servings.

Unfortunately, very few people eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. In the U.S., barely over 1 in 10 adults meet the daily fruit intake recommendations and even fewer meet the daily vegetable intake recommendations

The LIFE Extend app encourages you to get least five servings of healthy plants into your diet every day. A mix of different fruit and vegetable groups is best. 

For example, a healthy day might look like:

  • 1 raw, whole apple 
  • A cup of blueberries in a large bowl of oatmeal
  • A mixed greens salad with bell pepper and orange slices on top (ditch the creamy dressings for a mix of olive oil and balsamic vinegar)
  • Cooked beans or quinoa with roasted vegetables
  • Any other food you want, with a focus on whole grains, legumes, lean proteins and some dairy/yogurt.
Practice intermittent fasting by extend the amount of time overnight that you consume no calories - water, coffee and tea are fine! Photo by David Mao on Unsplash.
Practice intermittent fasting by extending the amount of time overnight that you consume no calories – water, coffee and tea are fine! Photo by David Mao on Unsplash.

Extend LIFE by Fasting

A growing scientific literature points to the importance of meal timing in improving sleep and other circadian (biological clock) patterns, preventing obesity, bolstering brain health and reducing the risk of insulin resistance and diabetes

Intermittent fasting is the practice of regularly resting your body from any calorie intake, for example for 12 to 16 hours overnight. (Pregnant women and people with diabetes should consult with their physicians about fasting and avoid fasting for periods longer than a normal overnight period of 10-12 hours). Periods of metabolic rest, including when you are sleeping and hungry, are a signal to your body to recycle, repair and remove damaged proteins and cells that can cause inflammation and disease. Fasting also kickstarts a process of fat burning called ketosis that can produce chemicals that reduce inflammation in the brain.

Most people in the U.S. eat over the course of 16 to 18 hours in a day. This leaves very little time for the body to do things that it can only do when your blood sugar and insulin (a chemical messenger activated when you eat) levels are low, such as recycle old cellular components. Fasting also promotes weight loss and increases the sensitivity of your cells and tissues to insulin. This helps protect you against diabetes. 

More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. More than one in three Americans are also obese. Traditional diets for weight loss are often restrictive and sometimes expensive interventions that are nearly impossible for us to stick to long-term. Intermittent fasting is a key alternative that is as easy as adjusting the timing of your meals (for example, eating all of your meals before 5 or 6 pm in the evening, or fasting until lunch every day) without changing how or even how much you eat.  

The LIFE Extend app helps you to fast on whatever schedule works for you, whether moderate overnight fasting to improve sleep and blood sugar control, alternate day fasting for weight loss, or prolonged fasting for managing inflammation and other health concerns. 

Sleep is an under-appreciated health behavior. Create an inviting sleep space for yourself. Photo by Sylvie Tittel on Unsplash,
Sleep is an under-appreciated health behavior. Create an inviting sleep space for yourself. Photo by Sylvie Tittel on Unsplash.

Extend LIFE by Sleeping

Sleep problems are an emerging global health issue. One in three people are suffering from short sleep duration in the U.S. National recommendations are 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night for adults. The prevalence of short sleep duration is higher among young adults.

While we might joke about trading sleep for productivity, short sleep is contributing to modern epidemics of obesity, diabetes, stress and mental health issues. Short sleepers are more likely to be obese and physically inactive. They are are more likely to report chronic health conditions including heart disease, asthma, depression, cancer and diabetes.

Sleep duration, mostly short sleep, and sleep disorders have emerged as being related to adverse cardiometabolic risk, including obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and cardiovascular disease.” – American Heart Association

According to WHO, inadequate and poor sleep lead to cognitive deficits and reduce your ability to handle stress and maintain a healthy immune system. Short sleep duration and disrupted sleep patterns seen in shift work are associated with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, mental health issues and neurodegeneration. 

To improve your sleep:

  • Get bright light exposure early while limiting it late in the day.
  • Avoid heavy meals, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol within a few hours of bedtime.
  • Exercise and stretch.
  • Establish a safe space for sleep where you do relaxing activities.
  • See a sleep specialist.

The LIFE Extend app helps you track your sleep and encourages you to get at least 7 hours per night. Learn more about sleep and health here.

Young woman practicing yoga outdoors
Practice being fully present in the moment, with mindful awareness of your breath and reactions, at least a few minutes each day.

Extend LIFE with Mindfulness

WHO recognizes stress as a critical factor in mental health and the onset of mental disorders including depression and dementia

Your body’s response to external stressors is a natural phenomena that can have positive impacts on your performance and even your safety – think studying for an exam or jumping away from a snake. But chronic stress is a different story. 

Chronic exposure to psychosocial stressors and focusing on negative emotions, relationship issues and perceived threats can lead to things like sleep disruption, anxiety, depression, chronic inflammation, immune system dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. If you often feel stressed, you aren’t alone. Nearly half of Americans report frequently feeling stressed. Anxiety, including anxiety about one’s health, is also on the rise in the U.S, as are feelings of depression.

Mindfulness meditation is one way that we can help better control how our minds and bodies respond to and recover from psychosocial stressors. Other stressors such as violence, abuse, poverty and pain are devastating conditions that require physical and structural interventions. However, mindfulness meditation can help us overhaul our perceptions of mild to moderate stressors in our lives, in ways that can improve our cognitive performance, mental and physical health.

Mindfulness is the practice of moment-to-moment awareness, without judgement, according to the UMASS Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program. It looks like “paying attention to your present moment experiences with openness, curiosity and a willingness to be with what is,” according to Diana Winston of the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. Mindfulness in practice involves focusing on one thing, such as your breath, having your mind wander and then having a mindful moment where you notice that your mind has wandered and you bring your focus back to your one thing.

Mindfulness activities like mindful breathing, yoga and meditation improve well-being, markers of stress, concentration, memory, inflammatory responses and overall mental health. They also help you better regulate your emotions and impulses, which can contribute to a lowering of your body’s stress responses to what you think, feel and do.

The LIFE Extend app guides you to get more mindful minutes into your day, whether through mindful movement, breathing or meditation. 

Learn more about mindfulness and health here.

 

Take the #5Pillars4LIFE Daily Challenge today! Learn more at lifeapps.io.