If reputable scientists were to prescribe a healthy lifestyle, what would they include?
July 31, 2012 10:56 AM   Subscribe

What are the most significant lifestyle changes I can make to improve my chances of maintaining a high quality-of-life throughout (a hopefully long) life?

I want to hack my quality of life. More specifically, I want to determine what DATA-SUPPORTED changes I can make to improve my mind-body health in the long term (I'm 25, and I want to live to a spry 100! or at least a spry something)

Some changes I'm considering:
-eat more antioxidant/nutrient-rich foods, especially greens, berries, fish, etc.
-stop drinking alcohol (or drink VERY sparingly, e.g. 1-2 units/month)
-reduce my sugar and refined grain consumption
-meditate daily
-practice yoga several times a week

Things I already do:
-weight train
-various forms of cardio
-eat appropriate portion sizes/maintain a healthy weight

The thing is, I don't want to severely impact my short-term quality of life for something that might only create mild to moderate improvements in the long term, or make a change that helps one thing but hurts another. So for example, if it's sufficient to reduce my sugar consumption to moderate levels vs. cutting it out entirely, I don't want to eliminate my nightly piece of chocolate or occasional creme brulee because that would just make me sad. As another example, I enjoy getting my cardio from 10-20 miles of running weekly, but I don't want to destroy my joints while I improve my heart health.

I am almost certainly overthinking this, I realize, but it feels like there's so much science and no way to sift through it all to come up with the appropriate Rx for life. What am I missing? Extremely specific suggestions are welcome, as are generalized suggestions that have some data to support them. If there are quality-of-life links that go beyond just the physiological (e.g. close friends/family relationships), please bring those on as well!
posted by dynamiiiite to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
Walk more.

It is what the human body is designed for. Some things, like breathing, function best when walking. Somewhere, I have seen articles indicating that walking lengthens life and keeps your brain more functional, longer. I do not happen to have any at my fingertips but this is supported by research, not just my personal opinion.

I do a lot of walking these days. It has done good things for my health and brain function, so I tend to notice articles about the benefits of walking, which are more substantial than most people would think at first glance.
posted by Michele in California at 11:03 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

No one knows for sure, dude (or dudette). Some people SAY they know, but they only have suspicions - they don't KNOW-know. A doctor friend of mine likes to say the following: "You need to do TWO THINGS: don't smoke and wear your seatbelt. If you don't do those two things, everything else you do is as good as useless."

IANAD, but if I had to augment that statement, I'd add the following:

- DO NOT BECOME IDLE. Work, volunteer, whatever: but don't stop being an active, relevant participant in the world. There have been MANY studies demonstrating the positive effects of people remaining engaged in their world/community as they age.
- Limit your sun exposure - sunscreen plus protective clothing. The sun-melanoma link is as strong as it gets.
- Take fish oil. It ain't that costly if you get it at Costco, and it's one of the only supplements I've seen whose effects do NOT appear to be 90% placebo/inconsistent.
- Skip yearly physicals unless you have ongoing medical conditions. They are often more likely to hurt than help (see also: overdiagnosis of prostate cancer).
posted by julthumbscrew at 11:04 AM on July 31, 2012 [4 favorites]

-stop drinking alcohol (or drink VERY sparingly, e.g. 1-2 units/month)

research against this (there are many more articles, just google it)

other than that, looks good.

I'm a big fan of intermittent fasting which has a lot of research on its health benefits in animals and humans. Mark's Daily Apple post on it
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 11:05 AM on July 31, 2012

Alcohol Use Patterns and Trajectories of Health-Related Quality of Life in Middle-Aged and Older Adults: A 14-Year Population-Based Study

CONCLUSION: Persistent moderate drinkers had higher initial levels of health-related quality of life than persistent nonusers, persistent former users, decreasing users, U-shaped users, and inverted U-shaped users. However, rates of decline over time were similar for all groups except those decreasing their consumption, who had a greater decline in their level of health-related quality of life than persistent moderate users.
posted by griphus at 11:08 AM on July 31, 2012

(Of course, if you have a family history of liver issues or alcoholism, that's a different matter.)
posted by griphus at 11:09 AM on July 31, 2012

From your list: Meditate. No contest. Long term, it's probably the most awesome thing you can do.

From me to you: volunteer. Doesn't really matter what it is, but it should involve you and your time, and be at least moderately physical (soup kitchen, habitat for humanity, etc). For sheer enjoyment of life, very few things beat helping other people. Kindness tends to compound at a crazy rate, so it won't just improve your quality of life.
posted by Mooski at 11:09 AM on July 31, 2012

Wear sunscreen. Even if it's cloudy out, even if you're only going out for a few minutes, put sunscreen on. If you're outside for a long time or you're sweating, reapply it. Spend lots of time outside, because fresh air and sunshine are good for you mentally and physically,but protect your skin, which is your largest organ. Skin cancer is no joke. Plus, preventing sun damage will ensure that when you're healthy and happy at 100, you look as good as you feel.
posted by decathecting at 11:14 AM on July 31, 2012

Floss floss floss! And brush twice a day. Teeth & gum problems can lead to heart problems.
posted by jabes at 11:19 AM on July 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh and also get married.
posted by jabes at 11:26 AM on July 31, 2012

Consider reading Drop Dead Healthy, the author spends a year trying to answer the exact same question that you are asking. I haven't read it, but apparently he gives some conclusions that seem sound to the people whose reviews of it I've read.

Here is a podcast episode with an interview with the author.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:34 AM on July 31, 2012

If you are interested in extending your lifespan, reading the literature on calorie restriction might be useful (although I am not sure how this balances out with quality of life for most people!)
posted by unlaced at 11:48 AM on July 31, 2012

Sell your car and buy a bike. Or move somewhere where you can walk most errands. Neither of these things will mess up your joints like running.
posted by bradbane at 11:50 AM on July 31, 2012


My mom has a *lot* of mobility issues and her doctors and physical therapists all say that those could have been mitigated if not avoided by developing and maintaining flexibility and core strength, as one does in yoga. For me it has a lot of other benefits but avoiding what's happening to my mom at the relatively young age of 60 is the main one.
posted by stellaluna at 12:33 PM on July 31, 2012

Quality of life is a really subjective thing, so the ways to maximise that will depend on how you define it. You've already determined that your chocolate and creme brulee are more important in the short term than their likely effect in the long term - you should be considering these trade-offs for everything you decide to do.

There's actually a whole branch of psychology dedicated to what makes people feel happy, and I think that's an important part of quality of life. I think it's most often called 'positive psychology' if you want to google. There's a lot of research around and often it's on quite concrete actions you can take very easily.

Positive Psychology at Tufts gives a set of activities that are designed to increase happiness. It also has a load of resources for you to start examining the evidence base for them.

Good luck!
posted by kadia_a at 12:52 PM on July 31, 2012

In terms of physical approaches - diet and exercise - you've got the basics, and I doubt that improving a bit more in an area you're already strong in will have much effect. So think about your social and intellectual life.

"Someone who has a poor social network—for example, someone who lives alone and has few or no close friends, doesn’t take part in social or sporting activities, perhaps works alone or is unemployed—is twice as likely to die within any given time period, compared to people with a good social network. That’s a bigger risk than from smoking cigarettes, being obese, or being an alcoholic."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 12:56 PM on July 31, 2012

You might find The First Twenty Minutes interesting- she looks at a lot of exercise science and breaks down things to do or not do. Some surprises: chocolate milk is a great post-workout recovery food.

As for other quality of life questions, relationships are really important, both quality and quantity and nature. You might want to check out Love & Survival for more on the subject.
posted by ambrosia at 1:04 PM on July 31, 2012

Get out in the sun, sans sunblock. It's how you produce 90% of your Vitamin D. As scientists are just learning, D does more than build strong bones. It's the foundation of a robust immune system and crucial to DNA repair.
posted by caveatz at 1:08 PM on July 31, 2012

Floss and brush and floss some more. Seriously keep your teeth healthy - there are recent studies that link poor dental health to arthritis (and, anecdotally, my husband's arthritis SIGNIFICANTLY improved after getting his teeth fixed).

Also, learn new languages. This keeps your brain agile and working. And who knows what language(s) will have conquered the world in the next 75 years?
posted by jillithd at 2:37 PM on July 31, 2012

I'm surprised that no one else has refuted this statement - research has been coming out saying that running is NOT bad for your joints, and in fact might be good for them. So don't stop running!

Looking at your list, it seems that both yoga and the mobility WOD are both probably there to address balance, flexibility, etc. Now, I do yoga and not mobility WODs, and I know from direct experience that yoga feels fantastic and can be very enjoyable. I had to look up what mobility WODs are but in their FAQ I found this question "Can the Mobility WOD program be painful?" and this answer "The MobilityWod program has often been described as self-inflicted torture." Based on that information, I highly recommend just doing the yoga unless you really hate it.

Your other diet and exercise plans sound excellent to me, and I fully agree with the advice above re: support networks and relationships such as marriage - these have been proven to prolong life, and the advice regarding engagement through continuous lifelong learning, volunteer work, crosswords etc. is also absolutely proven to keep your brain in better shape.

I'll offer one more slightly controversial suggestion: consider vegetarianism/flexitarianism or at least significantly reduced meat consumption, along with your plan to reduce sugar and grains. I suggest that because red meat consumption, in particular, has recently been linked to increased overall mortality rates (as well as cardiac and cancer mortality rates). There have also been other studies looking at meat consumption and health. Most are controversial, especially in the current atmosphere of "let's all eat like cavemen", but if you're interested, check out The China Study and Forks Over Knives for some more information. My personal feeling is that cutting meat out of your diet entirely makes more sense based on ethical and environmental concerns right now, but significant reductions are supported by science, and avoiding red meat and particularly processed meat would be very smart choices.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:05 AM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

thanks for the great responses, everyone! I'd mark you all best but for readability issues. 100, here I come...
posted by dynamiiiite at 8:26 AM on August 1, 2012

If you are interested in going the flexitarianism route, The Food Matters Cookbook is a great resource. We are in the process of moving in this direction, and I haven't had this much energy in years. I was influenced by ethical concerns, but my daughter and I are also at high risk for developing Type II diabetes, and a diet high in fiber is key for preventing and managing it.
posted by moira at 10:31 AM on August 1, 2012

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Also, do what you can to cultivate a rich social life, whatever that means for you.
posted by craven_morhead at 11:09 AM on August 1, 2012

You might be interested in the book The Cure for Everything which tackles this topic. I heard about it here on Metafilter.
posted by valeries at 8:38 AM on August 2, 2012

Eliminating wheat entirely actually seems to have some scientific backing as well. Not just "refined grains", but pretty much "grains".

"Search Inside Yourself" is a book on meditation... written by an engineer, and it has some fact basis behind it.
posted by talldean at 9:12 AM on August 2, 2012

Late to the game:

- Religion and marriage
- Social life
- Wear your seat belt and don't smoke (given)
- Always have a dog and/or cat

Also, take it easy. Stress is a killer. Keeping up your suggested routine, employing all the great suggestions above... unless you approach this with self love and frequent forgiveness (assuming you will occasionally slip as I most certainly would), then the program you put in place to extend your life could add stress and shorten it.

Work... try to avoid sitting for extended periods and, of course, try to minimize the impact work has on your stress levels.
posted by IndpMed at 7:43 PM on August 5, 2012

Also, didn't intend for the religion and marriage link to be a sleeper political argument. I'm actually liberal and atheist, so I'm figuring out how to incorporate religion (or spirituality) into my life.
posted by IndpMed at 7:45 PM on August 5, 2012

Was also curious about persistently moderate alcohol consumption. From the study cited above, "Moderate drinkers were defined as those having 1 drinks per week with no more than 3 on any day for women and no more than 4 on any day for men."

There is a range there, but it could be as low as 4/5 drinks (units) in a month.

And, some challenge the conclusion that "persistent" moderate drinking contributes to superior health outcomes.

Overall, this study shows a positive relation between regular moderate alcohol intake and quality of life in middle-aged adults. The effects on the subsequent quality of life as one ages of continued alcohol consumption, or of decreasing intake, remain unclear.
posted by IndpMed at 9:29 AM on August 7, 2012

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