New Year’s resolutions you can count on for years to come

Three simple ways to add decades onto your life

The threat of chronic illness lurks all around us. News of another epidemic seems to break by the minute. And amidst all the “doom and gloom,” staying healthy can seem like a losing battle.

But before you spiral too far down this negativity spiral, let me offer you a reality check.

It’s true that the trappings of modern life don’t always lend themselves to optimal health. But warding off chronic disease is as simple as ever. In fact, you can head off pretty much every threat to your longevity with a good old-fashioned one-two punch: diet and exercise.

That said, if you haven’t paid much attention to these factors before now—or if you fell off the wagon over the holidays—it can be difficult to know where to start.

So before the ink dries on your list of 2020 resolutions, I want you to add the following three DO’s and DON’Ts.

DO: Move as often as possible

I tell you every chance I get—but sometimes, you need to see the numbers before the message really sinks in. And these latest findings should really get your attention. Because they show that, after two decades, a sedentary lifestyle more than doubles your risk of an early death.

Researchers followed more than 23,000 Norwegian men and women for over 22 years, and assigned them to the following groups: Inactive (not exercising at all), moderately active (exercising less than two hours a week), or highly active (exercising two or more hours weekly).

Compared to subjects who maintained high levels of physical activity, inactive subjects were twice as likely to die from any cause. And nearly three times as likely to die from heart disease specifically.1

Even moderately active subjects faced a higher risk of all-cause and cardiovascular death—by 60 percent and 90 percent, respectively—compared to their highly active peers. So we’re talking about an enormous benefit, by any standard.

So, why aren’t more people getting up and exercising? Well, consider this your wake-up call. Because I don’t know about you, but two decades goes by awfully quickly. Which means there’s no time like the present to get moving.

Every little bit counts

Reversing the dangers of inactivity (or, as I often call it, “sitting disease”) is simple. Anyone—of any age, in any physical condition—can benefit from simply moving more. In fact, research shows that the most physically inactive patients actually reap the greatest rewards.

And you don’t have to go full throttle on the treadmill or exercise bike for 75 minutes a day, seven days a week, right out of the gate. I’m a firm believer in starting where you are and doing something—anything—and building from there. Because remember, folks…any amount of exercise will lead to health benefits.

Whether you’re just parking further away from the store, or taking a single flight of stairs instead of the elevator—you’re still improving your fitness. Even—and especially—if you’ve never exercised in your life.

But if you can do more, you should.

A typical gym routine focuses on strength—on how much weight you’re lifting, and on how many repetitions you’re performing. Power, on the other hand, refers to the speed, force, and efficiency with which you’re completing these exercises.

This distinction is a crucial one. And as the results of this latest study show, it could even mean the difference between life and death.

This study featured close to 4,000 non-athletes between the ages of 41 and 85 years. (The average age was 59.) Researchers measured participant’s maximal muscle power using an upright row test—an action that closest mimics day-to-day activities like lifting groceries or grandchildren.

After more than six years of follow-up, subjects whose maximal muscle power was above the median for their gender (in this case, 2.5 watts/kg for men, and 1.4 watts/kg for women) also enjoyed the highest rates of survival.

Subjects in the lower two muscle power quartiles, on the other hand, were 13 times more likely to die during the study period.2

Power training at a glance

This is the first study to look at the association between muscle power and longevity. (Previous research has always looked at muscle strength instead.) And while it didn’t explore specific causes of death, the message is still pretty clear.

Muscle power starts its steep decline after the age of 40. And if you don’t keep those losses in check, it might just end up killing you.

That’s where power training comes in. Power training brings speed into the equation of strength training. So instead of simply focusing on weights and repetitions, you’ll want to focus on completing your exercise as quickly as possible. (Without sacrificing form or safety, of course.)

Here’s what that would look like:

  • Do a number of different exercises for both your upper and lower body.
  • For each exercise, choose the heaviest weight you can lift while still maintaining proper form.
  • Do up to three sets of each exercise, six to eight repetitions each, in which you’re lifting your weights as fast as possible during muscle contractions. (Your speed should be natural when you return to your initial position.)
  • Give yourself a 20-second rest between each set.

Once the exercises start to get easier, increase the number of reps you do in each set. Then, once that becomes easier, you’ll want to increase your weight, starting with fewer reps and building up, once again.

But you must pay close attention to your technique. If it’s sloppy, that’s a good sign that you need to return to lighter weights and fewer reps so you don’t injure yourself.

Bottom line: If you can, start incorporating power training into your exercise routine. But even if you can’t, simply get up and start moving. Because the simple fact is, your life depends on it.

Now, let’s take a look at diet, and the second item on my New Year’s list of DO’s and DON’Ts…

DON’T: Fall for “plant-based” propaganda

Don’t get me wrong—I love fresh, whole, plant-based food. But this current trend toward veganism that’s currently overtaking the world is actually putting public health at serious risk.

Admittedly, there are some toxic and cruel practices involved in producing commercially farmed animal products. And some people have turned to veganism to take a stand against it. (Check out the November 2019 issue for a discussion on how to ensure clean and humanely sourced animal products when you shop.) There are also those who advocate for a fully plant-based diet as a means to save the planet.

Needless to say, it’s not that simple—but let’s table that discussion for another day. Today, I want to focus solely on the health merits of veganism. Or rather, the dangerous lack thereof.

Because let’s face it. Whenever you restrict your diet to a few foods—especially when you start eliminating foods that humans, as omnivores, are meant to eat—you’re going to come up short in crucial nutrients. The most critical of which, in the case of veganism, is B12.

Animal products are pretty much the only place you’ll find ample quantities of B12. And deficiencies in this essential nutrient can lead to very serious problems, compromising everything from your brain function to your heart health to your bone density.

But there are other nutritional risks to veganism—including low levels of vitamin D, calcium, iron, and zinc. Which is why this diet trend is especially dangerous for pregnant and nursing women, as well as infants, children, and adolescents.

A “choline crisis” in the making

Another nutrient that’s absolutely critical for your brain that’s found primarily in animal products is choline.

Choline is an essential nutrient that your cells require in order to maintain their structure. It plays an important role in your gene expression regulation. And your body uses it to generate acetylcholine—a neurotransmitter responsible for memory, mood, and muscle control.

In addition, choline lowers homocysteine—high levels of which have strong ties to both heart disease and Alzheimer’s development. It also helps to regulate inflammation and neuron death in the brain.

It influences liver function, too—and when you’re not getting enough from your diet, it can have a dangerous impact on blood fats and free radical loads.

On the other hand, one recent study found that men who consumed the most choline—phosphatidylcholine in particular—had a 28 percent lower risk of dementia compared with men who consumed the least. These men also excelled in memory and language tests.3

And it’s worth noting that eggs and meat were the most critical sources of phosphatidylcholine in the subjects’ diets—with both foods accounting for nearly 40 percent of dietary choline intake each.

Still, choline remains an overlooked nutrient. And now, experts warn that we’re headed toward a full-blown “choline crisis” as more and more medical organizations are calling for plants instead of animal products.4

(For the record, you absolutely should eat more plants. But it should be in addition to animal products. Particularly since current guidelines already leave us woefully inadequate in brain-protective choline.)

Of course, my A-List Diet encourages you to eat plenty of high-choline foods, like beef, liver, egg yolks, and dairy, to name a few. (Which is one reason why it’s so powerful against cognitive decline—which I discuss in more detail on page 6.)

But supplementation is another safe and inexpensive option—and one that’s absolutely necessary for anyone embracing the “plant-based” trend. If you go that route, I recommend 80 to 150 mg of choline per day.

So now that we have choline covered, let’s talk about my final addition to your New Year’s resolution list…

DO: Go nuts for nuts

If you’ve been a reader of mine for a while now, this recommendation won’t come as a surprise. But let’s take a look at why making nuts a part of your regular diet is so important…

A recent study of more than 5,000 adults found that eating two or more servings of nuts (like walnuts, almonds, pistachios, or hazelnuts) a week cut the risk of cardiovascular death by 17 percent over more than a decade.5

Of course, this is far from the first study to praise nuts as a health food. Plenty of other research shows that they’re good for your heart—helping to reduce high blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin resistance, and inflammation.

Another recent analysis used data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and showed that, compared to only one serving per month, five or more handfuls of nuts per week delivered a…

  • 17 percent lower risk of heart disease
  • 34 percent lower risk of heart disease death
  • 20 percent lower risk of coronary heart disease
  • 31 percent lower risk of death from all causes

That’s not all. Results also showed that for every extra serving of nuts per week, heart disease risk dropped by three percent. And risk of dying from heart disease dropped by six percent.6

And it’s really no surprise. Nutritionally speaking, nuts are packed with all the right stuff—unsaturated fatty acids, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, and an array of anti-inflammatory phytochemicals.

In other words, forget about apples. If you really want to keep the doctor away, reach for the almonds instead. And while you’re at it?…

Stock up on macadamia nut oil, too

Macadamia nut oil is the only oil I cook with. And there are a number of reasons why.

First, there’s its rich, almost buttery flavor. Then there’s its sky-high smoke point. (As high as 450 degrees, in fact—about 40 degrees higher than olive oil.) It’s also low in inflammatory omega-6 fats and packed with nutrients like potassium, magnesium, calcium, selenium, vitamin E, niacin, and folic acid.

Not to mention, it boasts 10 percent more monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) than the highest quality olive oil. Which is by far it’s biggest benefit. And not just because MUFAs turbocharge your metabolism and help you lose weight fast…7

They can also cut your stores of risky, visceral (“belly”) fat by as much as 20 percent. And they can even help you maintain healthy blood sugar, promote proper levels of inflammation, support memory power, and encourage healthy cholesterol levels.

When it comes down to it, macadamia nut oil will cost you a little bit more than olive oil (and it’s definitely harder to find). But like organic produce and grass-fed and -finished meats, it’s hands down one of the best nutritional investments you can make.

So there you have it—three simple DO’s and DON’Ts that will put you squarely on the path to perfect health: moving often, adopting a healthy, balanced diet full of essential nutrients, and eating more nuts.

As far as resolutions go, they don’t get much easier than this. And if you stick with them, you’ll reap the rewards not only throughout 2020, but for years to come.

References:

  1. European Society of Cardiology. “Sedentary lifestyle for 20 years linked to doubled early mortality risk compared to being active.” Science Daily, 08/31/2019. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190831155849.htm)
  2. European Society of Cardiology. “Ability to lift weights quickly can mean a longer life: Not all weight lifting produces the same benefit.” Science Daily, 05/12/2019. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190412085247.htm)
  3. Ylilauri MPT, et al. “Associations of dietary choline intake with risk of incident dementia and with cognitive performance: the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2019 Dec 1;110(6):1416-1423.
  4. Emma Derbyshire. Could we be overlooking a potential choline crisis in the United Kingdom? BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, 2019; bmjnph-2019-000037 DOI: 10.1136/bmjnph-2019-000037
  5. European Society of Cardiology. “Eating nuts linked with lower risk of fatal heart attack and stroke.” Science Daily, 08/31/2019. (sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/08/190831155847.htm)
  6. Liu G, et al. “Nut Consumption in Relation to Cardiovascular Disease Incidence and Mortality Among Patients With Diabetes Mellitus.” Circ Res. 2019 Mar 15;124(6):920-929.
  7. Kien CL, et al. “Substituting dietary monounsaturated fat for saturated fat is associated with increased daily physical activity and resting energy expenditure and with changes in mood.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr;97(4):689-97.

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