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Add Life to Your Years - And Years to Your Life!

Apr 01, 2022 by Sherra Aguirre, in Food and Health
Are you 20 years old and want to add 10 to 13 years to your life? Or 60 years old and want to add up to 8.8 years? Or 80+ years old and want to add an extra 3.4 enjoyable years? I don’t know about you, but this got my attention. These results are based on new data showing how much we can gain by changing from a Standard American Diet to an “optimal diet” in which fresh produce, heart-healthy grains, and nuts outweigh the intake of processed foods and red meat. Americans, on average, get only 10% of their calories from whole plant foods, with 58% coming from ultra-processed foods and 32% from meat. This study on the impact of food choices on life expectancy, published in February 2022, did not require giving up meat altogether.

Two Big Takeaways 

First, the results come from changing from a primarily meat and processed food diet to a predominantly whole food plant-based diet. It did not measure the number of years that a 100% whole food plant-based diet would add to the life expectancy of someone currently eating a standard American diet. Based on the body of scientific evidence now available, we would have to assume that people eating a strict vegan diet are likely to do even better. However, you don’t have to be a strict vegan to add years to your life at any age.

The second takeaway is an important point to remember – the added years come from decreasing the amount of processed food and not just red meat. Vegan junk food, including cookies, bars, chips, and other highly processed foods, add back unhealthy saturated fat, salt, and sugar, reducing the benefit. Think French fries and fried donuts. Also, read the label for ingredients with things like commercially processed meat substitutes.

Key Lifestyle Changes

Aside from risky habits like smoking, the growing scientific consensus is that what we eat has the greatest impact on health for most of us, but what are the next two biggest opportunities to live longer and enjoy the extra time? 

  • Some form of daily exercise is a huge opportunity to increase physical and emotional health. It doesn’t have to be strenuous, just regular and even better if it is an activity you enjoy. 
  • Getting enough sleep is also high on the list to maintain vitality, a strong immune system, and mental clarity.

Many of us who eat vegan or a predominantly whole plant-based diet also experience more life in our years – more energy, resilience, joy, self-compassion, and compassion for all life on our planet.