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We have always been told that eating well is good for us, that it’ll make us live longer. Never before have we been able to quantify how much longer, until now. A nutritional study conducted by PLOS Medicine health journal, states that by incorporating different types of dietary habits we can add years to our life, up to thirteen years. CNN’s Sandee LaMotte reports on how this study was conducted and its outcome.

According to the study, the younger you are when you change your eating habits, the longer you can live. Young adults can increase their life expectancy by over a decade, but it’s absolutely possible for seniors to add years to our life too. Seniors changing their diets in their 60s can add up to a decade to their lifespan, while seniors in their 80s could potentially add half a decade.

Eat Our Fruits and Veggies — and Legumes!  

Researchers for the PLOS Medicine study used a model that took the traditional eating habits for American men and women and replaced it with various other diets to create the “optimum diet.” The optimized diet focused less on red meat and processed foods, in favor or fruits, veggies, whole grains and legumes.

A more plant-based diet reduces the chances of chronic disease and illnesses, increasing life expectancy and health-span. Additionally, according to the CDC, about 10 percent of Americans consume the daily recommended amount of legumes, fruits and vegetables.

‘Less Meat’ Not ‘No Meat’

Plant proteins are more readily available than ever before. However, they aren’t a perfect substitute for animal protein. When prioritizing our health, protein from meat plays an important part. Specifically, lean meat proteins like chicken and fish, offer essential nutrients and healthy fats that fuel the metabolism.

Red meats, along with processed meats, increase health risks and are directly linked to colon cancer. Processed meats separately have chemical additives that show to negatively effect health if over consumed.  

Diets vs. Diets

First, when talking about diets, understand that there is no one way to be healthier. Instead, there are many ways to be healthier. Crafting a diet needs to be personal, and work for you, so that you may see your best results. Dieting can add years to our life if we’re smart about it. Simply replacing a diet with another, for example the “Mediterranean Diet” or the “DASH Diet,” may work or it may not. The important thing is to try new things.  

The Mediterranean Diet focuses heavily on fruits, vegetables, and legumes and less on animal protein. The animal protein it does have is rarely red meat. The DASH Diet tries to counter hypertension and limits red meat consumption even further.

A healthy balance would be to implement aspects of these diets into our routine. Rather than dive headfirst into a new diet, we can experiment by combining diets. If we are eating clean, we can make any diet work for us.

Sugar Makes Life Short and Sweet

A long life without any luxury or guilty pleasures doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Some may argue that what’s the point of living longer if you can’t enjoy your time how you want; the proper response to that it to try and see the bigger picture. Our sugar addictions make it seem like we need to rely on sugar for any sense of enjoyment, but that isn’t true.

Over consuming processed sugar can shorten our life expectancy. It makes us susceptible to chronic illness and puts us at risk of heart attack. More to the point, sugar can lower our health-span too; health-span is the amount of time in our lives we spend in good health.

Additionally, sugar can make it harder for our bodies to regulate insulin, resulting in our bodies producing more insulin and aging more rapidly. A high intake of sugar in our diets can actually make us age faster than we should.

More Time, More Opportunity

What does it mean to live longer? If we can add years to our life, what does that look like? More time means more opportunity. Opportunity to do whatever we want with our loved ones, our passions, and our retirement. We worry about not having enough time, so wouldn’t the greatest gift we could give ourselves be more time? It’s safe to assume we would all say yes.

Balance means more time. We’ve lived long lives, so dig into that cheesecake; however, we plan on living even longer lives, so have salad first. We can give ourselves time tomorrow by making healthier choices today. Whether an extra decade or an extra year, the time we spend together and for ourselves is worth it. The Council for Retirement Security is looking to guarantee every senior have a happy, healthy, and lengthy retirement.