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Just 4 Factors Explain Why We Live Longer

20th Apr 2016

Back in 1903, Thomas Edison predicted that the doctor of the future would give no medicine. Rather he would just instruct his patients on how to care for their bodies using diet. Edison believed all those years ago that our lifestyle factors were key to understanding our health.

Recently the American College of Lifestyle Medicine reported that most of the causes of disease and death were lifestyle. In fact, there were just four factors which they identified that could explain why we get sick and die young. Just by cutting out these factors we could reduce the risk of developing chronic disease by 78 percent.

While we’re often told that genetics determine our fate, this evidence suggests otherwise. It says that we really do have control over whether we get sick from chronic diseases. Something like 90 percent of type 2 diabetes is avoidable if we change just four lifestyle habits. Over 80 percent of heart attacks are preventable too. In fact, we can dramatically reduce our risk of getting any of the major killers. We just have to observe four simple rules. So what are they?

Not Smoking


It will come as no surprise that not smoking makes it onto the list of things we shouldn’t do if we want to live longer. Smoking is related to many diseases, not just lung cancer.

We’ve known since the 1960s that smoking makes it more likely that we will have cardiovascular problems. Smoking increases the already high risk of having a heart attack by about 50 percent. And it also increases the risk of stroke.

On top of that are all the non-fatal chronic conditions. There’s the lack of fitness associated with the habit. And of course, there’s a rising tide of chronic pulmonary obstructive disease. It’s a disease where people can suffer for months or years not being able to breathe properly, and there is no cure.

Fortunately, giving up smoking is on the agenda. Practically every major government in the world is trying to convince us that smoking is bad. And they’re doing it through relentless ad campaigns and high taxes.

Alternatives have also come to the market. These try to recreate the smoking experience, but without the toxic chemicals. E-Liquids from Flavour Factory are just one example of this growing market.

Not Being Obese

Maitland St, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

The second critical factor in disease prevention is maintaining a healthy weight. While being obese is something a few people can tolerate, it’s not something that most of us can.

It’s tough to know whether being obese itself is a problem, or whether it’s the factors associated with obesity that do the damage. But the evidence is clear that being obese raises one’s risk of almost all chronic diseases.

Significant studies like the Women’s Health Study found that obesity was strongly related to breast cancer risk. And other studies have backed up that finding, suggesting that obesity itself, independent of diet, is a problem.

And it’s not hard to think about why obesity might be driving life expectancies down. For one, when animals are fed high-calorie diets in the lab, they live shorter lives. Obesity puts them into a metabolic state that leads to faster aging and more disease in old age.

Often obesity is a sign that metabolism has gone awry. Usually, it’s associated with high levels of circulating insulin. Sugar in the blood has a tough time getting into cells because they’re so gummed up with fat. And high circulating insulin levels only mean that the pancreas has to work harder. Over the years, it loses the ability to keep up with insulin demands, and then a person develops type 2 diabetes.

Half An Hour Of Exercise


Those who live longest without disease are those who also enjoy regular exercise. It seems like our biology relies on exercise to keep us in top form.

But why is exercise so good for us? It appears to come down to a concept called hormesis. When we exercise, we actually do damage to our bodies. We break down muscles. We shock our body with a large dose of free radicals. We put strain and pressure on joints. And so one would have thought that exercise would be bad for us, just like racing a car is not good for the car.

But that is not what happens. Instead, our bodies super compensate. Exercise stimulates our bodies to bolster our defenses and put our DNA in a better state of repair than if we’d done no exercise in the first place.

That’s the concept of hormesis. It’s challenging the body and even damaging it, so that it fights back and becomes more robust. Evolution it seems, worked this way on our bodies, meaning they have an inbuilt requirement for damage.

Eating Healthier

Hormesis can be found all over the plant kingdom. And that too can help us live longer. Have you ever wondered why wild plants tend to have more nutrients than cultivated plants? It’s because wild plants are exposed to tougher conditions. They have an ability to produce chemicals that defend themselves against severe conditions. Domesticated plants, on the other hand, are pampered, and as a result, never toughen up. In other words, they don’t need to produce so many of the compounds that protect them from damage.


The great news for humans is that we can use these chemicals in plants to our advantage. The same chemicals in plants that protect them from damage can also protect us from damage.

Humans never developed the ability to these chemicals themselves. And so we need to get them from plants if we are going to be protected from our harsh environment. In other words, we can appropriate plant defense for our benefit.

And that is what might explain why eating more fruits and vegetables help us to live longer. Those plants, even domestic versions, have phytonutrients that protect us from damage. They ramp up the defenses in our cells, mimicking exercise. And in doing so, they protect us against the chronic diseases and early death.

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