How to live longer: The small change to your diet that can add five years to your life
It has long been understood that modifying your lifestyle can bring huge gains, chief among being an extended lifespan. Diet offers a robust defence against innumerable diseases, not least heart disease – the leading cause of death worldwide. Now a new study suggests a modest increase in omega-3 can increase your life expectancy by five years.
That is the key finding of a new study involving the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), in collaboration with The Fatty Acid Research Institute in the United States and several universities in the United States and Canada.
The study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, drew on data from a long-term study group, the Framingham Offspring Cohort, which has been monitoring residents of this Massachusetts town, in the United States, since 1971.
Researchers found that omega-3 levels in blood erythrocytes (the so-called red blood cells) are robust mortality risk predictors.
The study concludes that “having higher levels of these acids in the blood, as a result of regularly including oily fish in the diet, increases life expectancy by almost five years”, as Doctor Aleix Sala-Vila, a postdoctoral researcher in the IMIM’s Cardiovascular Risk and Nutrition Research Group and author of the study, explained.
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In contrast, “being a regular smoker takes 4.7 years off your life expectancy, the same as you gain if you have high levels of omega-3 acids in your blood”, Doctor Sala-Vila added.
To arrive at this verdict, the study analysed data on blood fatty acid levels in 2,240 people over the age of 65, who were monitored for an average of eleven years.
The aim was to validate which fatty acids function as good predictors of mortality, beyond the already known factors.
The results indicate that four types of fatty acids, including omega-3, fulfil this role.
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A surprising finding to pop out of the research is that saturated fatty acids – typical heart disease predictors – are a marker of longer life expectancy.
“This reaffirms what we have been seeing lately,” said doctor Sala-Vila. “Not all saturated fatty acids are necessarily bad”.
Doctor Sala-Vila added: “What we have found is not insignificant. It reinforces the idea that small changes in diet in the right direction can have a much more powerful effect than we think, and it is never too late or too early to make these changes.”
Good sources of omega-3
There are different types of omega-3’s which are found in different foods.
According to cholesterol charity Heart UK, the main ones are:
- ALA (alpha linolenic acid)
- ALA is essential for good health, but our bodies can’t make it, so we need to get it from the foods we eat. It’s mainly found in vegetable oils, nuts and seeds.
- EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid)
- We need these types of omega 3 fats for a healthy heart and blood circulation. Our bodies can make some of these fats from the ALA in the food we eat, but only a small amount. So, it’s good to eat foods that already contain them.
“Oily fish, such as sardines, salmon and mackerel are the best sources of EPA and DHA,” explains Heart UK.
According to the charity, white fish and shellfish contain some omega 3s, but in smaller amounts.
To ensure you get a plentiful supply of omega-3s, you should follow a Mediterranean-style diet.
The Mediterranean diet varies by country and region, so it has a range of definitions.
“But in general, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods,” explains the NHS.
You should complement a healthy diet with regular physical activity.
“Do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week,” advises the NHS.
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