Well, one diet works: Limit your calories and lead an active life.
People don’t stick to that. What you find is that these Blue Zone cultures don’t deprive themselves, but they’ve learned to cook with recipes that are mostly plant based. You sit down to an Okinawan meal, and it’s this huge pile of food. But because it’s mostly greens and tofu and packed with nutrients, you’ll be full. It’s tasty; there’s no feeling of deprivation. The reason they stick with this sort of diet is because it tastes good.
You said it’s more about what we don’t eat than what we do eat. Anything we consider healthy that actually isn’t?
Just about anything you pull a wrapper off of. Do most of your shopping in the outer aisles of the grocery store.
You found that the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda go for hikes on the Sabbath. Does time off promote long life?
The way I put it is ritualize. Ellen White is the primary architect of the Adventist religion, and she was way ahead of her time with her ideas. She ritualized at least one period of the week where you de-stress and do community building. You have lunch on Saturday with your family and friends. And she ritualized physical activity. She actually called for nature walks. Look at what they do on Saturday—they stop everything; they focus on their god; they cut the stress out of what they need to do; they all go to luncheons with really good friends, and then they’re off on the nature walk. And the payoff is six extra years of life for an Adventist female and nearly ten extra years for an Adventist male.
What other activities tack on years?
One of the greatest activities is growing a garden. You can say “That’s boring!” but you put it in your yard, and it requires physical activity to till the land, weed, water, harvest, fertilize. It’s there as a constant reminder to do a little bit of regular activity. It’s a range-of-motion activity, and it’s low intensity. And you emerge with organic vegetables. It’s something you have to do throughout the week for the entire growing season, and that’s important: subtle things that play out over time and not just fanatic exercise.
So how can you be really active and not damage yourself?
Do regular, low-intensity physical exercise. You get 90 or 95 percent of the benefit of running from walking briskly. We put an excessive emphasis on maximum cardiovascular exertion.
So running eight miles a day . . .
Is a mistake. It’s short-term benefit for long-term trouble. If you start running eight miles a day when you’re 20, by the time you’re 45 your knees and hips will probably wear out. The damage to your cartilage can’t be undone. Really hard exercise also contributes to chronic inflammation. And almost every age-related disease is associated with inflammation. Is it a bad idea to get a good workout? No. But I’d rather see people walking every day than running.