The Trick to Living Longer

It turns out there is one foolproof, surprisingly simple way.

By Jack Challem

Reducing your caloric intake by just 10 percent can lead to striking health benefits including: better control of your blood sugar, a lower risk of heart disease, and an increased life expectancy.

Sound too hard? Nah, we're talking about eating just a few less forkfuls at each meal. And if you're eating out, always save some for a second meal at home or work. But listen up, because this isn't the tired refrain about eating fewer calories and exercising more.

Back in the 1930s, researchers discovered that reducing an animal's caloric intake by one-third early in life led to about a 30 percent increase in life expectancy. Over the years, similar experiments have been conducted on a variety of animals, all with the same extension of life expectancy.

Who wouldn't like to live a little longer?

In the 1980s, Richard Weindruch, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, began running calorie-restriction experiments on monkeys, our closest biological relative. He and his colleagues didn't just cut calories at random or put the animals on a starvation diet — they made sure the animals got all of their essential vitamins and minerals.

It's still too early to tell whether these monkeys will live longer than the animals in the control group, but so far, the signs point in that direction. Reducing the animals' normal intake of calories by 30 percent has kept them younger in both body and mind. They haven't become fat, and their blood sugar and insulin levels are lower than those of animals allowed to eat as much as they wanted. They're far less likely to develop diabetes or signs of heart disease, such as hypertension. In addition, the monkeys' brains seem sharper, and they're less prone to develop sarcopenia, age-related muscle loss.

Scientists believe that calorie restriction slows down metabolism in ways that lead to less age-related cell damage. Lower blood sugar and insulin levels also seem to slow the aging process.

Easy Ways to Cut Calories

The calorie-restriction studies really demonstrate two things: One, eating less is healthier. Two, eating too much is not. We knew that, though, didn't we?

With the average American adult now consuming 3,900 calories daily — about twice what most people need — most of us can certainly afford to eat less.

Although the idea of cutting calories by one-third doesn't thrill most people, recent research has found that cutting calories by just 10 percent may boost life expectancy by about 10 percent. So imagine you are a woman destined to live the average life expectancy, 81.3 years. Restricting your calories by 10 percent would mean getting to live to 89.4! Not such a bad trade-off afterall, right?

Brian Wansink, Ph.D., a professor at Cornell University and the author of Mindless Eating (Bantam, 2010), points out that people follow a variety of visual cues when eating. They tend to fill up their plates with food, but the size of dinner plates has increased over the past 50 years. To combat the tendency to overeat, put your dinner on a salad plate and stay conscious of serving sizes.

Wansink also found that people ate all of the popcorn they were given at a movie theater, whether in a small or large bucket. So when it comes to snacking, stick with the smaller portions to avoid mindless munching.


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Last Modified Date: June 24, 2013

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