In the spirit of quelling some of our society's widespread anxiety about healthy aging (we get it—it's rampant), we caught up with Luigi Fontana, MD, PhD, a longevity expert and the author of Manual of Healthy Longevity & Wellbeing. His message is simple: "I want everyone to know that the key to healthy aging is much more complex than some folks make it out to be—and that's okay," Dr. Fontana says. (And it’s safe to say that he knows a thing or two about healthy aging, considering he has over 20 years of research and clinical practice in the field.) The answer to longevity isn’t a one-size-fits-all type of deal—you have to look at the big picture, not just what form of pricey supplements you're swallowing or how often you're going to spin class.
- Luigi Fontana, MD, PhD, longevity expert and author
That said, there are several (simple! joyful!) steps you can take to unlock greater well-being and longevity in the long run. More on that ahead.
The most common myth regarding healthy aging, according to a longevity expert
Simply stated: Healthy aging won’t be accomplished with one quick fix, according to this longevity expert. “People are fascinated by the promise of a silver bullet to affect health and cure all sorts of infirmities,” Dr. Fontana says. “Some concentrate all their attention on selected superfoods, for example, broccoli, kale, almonds, goji berries, and chia seeds—the more exotic, the better."
“People are fascinated by the promise of a silver bullet to affect health and cure all sorts of infirmities. Some concentrate all their attention on selected superfoods, for example, broccoli, kale, almonds, goji berries, and chia seeds—the more exotic, the better.”—Luigi Fontana, MD, PhD
Indeed, that hype around some superfoods isn’t always warranted, especially if it's tied to clever marketing schemes overselling an ingredient by making big claims (and sometimes unrealistic promises). What's more, most of these so-called "exotic" foods have been prized in other cultures for centuries; co-opting and repackaging things like maca, matcha, turmeric, or adaptogenic herbs as something "new" and "exotically healthy" to pique the interest of (white, western, probably affluent) consumers is both problematic and racist.
Dr. Fontana's concerns over "quick fix" solutions regarding longevity also trickles into other products, particularly supplements. He notes that some folks in search of healthy aging solutions might get fixated on consuming supplements or single isolated compounds, like resveratrol, quercetin, NAD+ precursors, etc., hoping for dramatic health beneﬁts. “The truth is that no magic ingredient or superfood exists,” he confirms. In fact, as you likely guessed: This is quite possibly the biggest myth looming over the topic of longevity.
“The truth is that no magic ingredient or superfood exists,” he confirms. In fact, as you likely guessed: This is quite possibly the biggest myth looming over the topic of longevity.
However, that’s not to say that a combination of several of these healthy lifestyle factors won’t help boost your longevity. Like most things in life, it’s a balancing act of implementing the right ones together at the same time. “Everything in nature has been optimized for maximal efficiency in the right combination and proportion. So, if we want to have a meaningful impact on our health, it's evident that several factors have to be tackled simultaneously,” Dr. Fontana says. “Different foods, as I explain in my book, need to be consumed in the right amount to balance out the consumption of calories and protein with our energy expenditure while providing all the essential nutrients, fibers, and phytochemicals.”
Doctor-approved ways to enhance healthy aging
According to Dr. Fontana, eating foods that help support healthy aging is far from a new concept. “The power of nutrition for preventing chronic diseases and maximizing health and longevity has been known since antiquity,” he says. This is one of the reasons why Dr. Fontana stresses the importance of consuming a balanced diet comprised of a variety of different foods. “It’s paramount that we eat far more of a wide variety of minimally processed, fiber-rich foods, such as vegetables, beans, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and fruit.”
In doing so, you help support many factors contributing to healthy aging and overall well-being. “These foods contain a unique mixture of vegetable fibers, vitamins, oligo-elements—pure trace minerals present in tiny quantities—and phytochemicals, which after being processed by our gut microbes, release a number of metabolites crucial in protection from many common diseases,” Dr. Fontana says.
Additionally, to reap the most benefits of consuming these longevity-boosting foods, Dr. Fontana recommends pairing them with other key factors for healthy aging, including performing regular exercise, getting sufficient amounts of sleep, finding ways to manage stress, and setting a routine schedule for fostering healthy eating habits.
An herbalist shares a brain-boosting shot for longevity that you can whip up in five minutes or less:
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