4 things that could help you live a long, healthy life, according to a longevity scientist
- A researcher is studying the links between a diet high in added sugar and shorter a healthspan.
- Dr. Heidi Tissenbaum gave Insider her top 4 tips on how to live a healthier, longer life.
A scientist who has studied the link between eating added sugar and poor aging has shared her top tips on how to be healthy for as long as possible.
Dr. Heidi Tissenbaum, a professor in molecular, cell, and cancer biology at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, researches healthspan, or how we can live in good health for as long as possible.
Tissenbaum and her team have found links between added sugar and worse health over time in experiments on C. elegans, a roundworm that shares 40% of its genes with humans and so is used to model our healthspan.
In one 2021 study, they changed the diet of the roundworms and found that more sugar was linked to an increase in what are known as advanced glycation end products (AGEs), high levels of which are associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and Alzheimer's disease.
She said that there is no secret to defying aging, but there are things we can do to make sure we are healthier for longer. Tissenbaum gave Insider four pieces of advice that could extend your healthspan.
Limit added sugar in your diet
Owing to her research, Tissenbaum's biggest piece of advice is to limit the amount of added sugar you consume.
To do this, she stopped adding sugar to her morning coffee, and switched to a no added sugar breakfast cereal.
Check nutrition labels to see how much added sugar there is in your daily diet, she said. Insider previously wrote a guide on how to read nutrition labels.
Keep your mind and body active
Keeping your mind and body as active as possible are the basics of longevity, Tissenbaum said.
It's completely up to you how you do this, and depends on your normal levels of activity. For example, if you lead a particularly sedentary life, Tissenbaum recommended starting with getting up and down from your chair without touching the armrests ten times, because that's better than just sitting still.
"Sitting is the new smoking," she said.
As for the mind, she said to avoid doing the same thing every day, because it's the new connections that are made in our brains when we do new things that help keep our brains active. For example, one study found that older people who did activities such as reading, writing, word games, and attending educational lectures or courses were less likely to see their cognitive function decline.
Keep your blood sugar stable with whole foods
Tissenbaum also said that keeping your blood sugar stable is important. This is because when blood sugar spikes, the pancreas releases insulin to bring blood sugar levels back down. But this mechanism can wear out over time if it happens repeatedly, increasing the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Tissenbaum recommended those who can afford it to avoid ultra-processed foods, which are more likely to contain added sugars, and focus on whole foods, such as whole grain bread, fruits, and vegetables. Swapping juices or smoothies for whole fruits is a good start, because fiber is broken down when fruit is juiced or blended, meaning sugars can enter your body more quickly, causing blood sugar to spike.
She said that berries are particularly good for keeping blood sugar from spiking too high, and they also contain lots of antioxidants.
Try to be optimistic and find happiness
Making sure you're as content as you can be is also thought to be great for extending your healthspan, Tissenbaum said.
Whether that's with mindfulness, yoga, or a crossword, she said to do whatever makes your life feel full.
Being optimistic was associated with longevity, including living past the age of 85, in one study by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine.
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