Lifestyle Factors Linked to Longevity: Insights from the Seventh-day Adventist Community

People have been searching for a way to lengthen life for centuries. Research into the lifestyle choices made by people in the Seventh-day Adventist church has identified several factors contributing to their long lives, with men living an average 7.3 years longer and women an average 4.4 years longer than non-Adventists in the same geographical area.

Humans have been seeking a longer life for centuries. Although the mythical Fountain of Youth is attributed to the Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de León, mentions of healing water are attributed first to Alexander the Great. In the 4th century B.C., it was said he found a healing “river of paradise” and since then other legends have been reported in locations around the world.

Spanish sources believe that the Taino Indians of the Caribbean also spoke of a magic fountain located north of Cuba. Although no correspondence written by Ponce de León ever mentioned the Fountain of Youth, historians began linking his name with the mythical Fountain not long after he died.

People in This Small California City Follow Eight Simple Rules

Loma Linda, California, is home to a large Seventh-day Adventist community, who were the cohort studied in the Loma Linda University Health Study. The researchers wrote that the group were “ideal for epidemiological studies in that their similarity in lifestyle behaviors (such as not smoking) reduces the likelihood of confounding that is often present in other study groups.”

The data from the study were initially collected using questionnaires that were mailed to 63,530 households in California. The hope was to enroll every adult over the age of 25. Two years later, another questionnaire was sent to those who responded to the first.

The researchers wrote that the response rate was more than 90% and for the final questionnaire they received an unexpected 99.5% response. During the data collection, the researchers looked at metrics from a variety of angles.

The researchers identified five factors that together they believe were responsible for the significant differences in longevity between participants in the study. These factors included:

  • Never smoking
  • Lower body weight
  • Exercising more frequently than their counterparts

The data for this study was published in 2001 in JAMA Network. The researchers concluded “Choices regarding diet, exercise, cigarette smoking, body weight, and hormone replacement therapy, in combination, appear to change life expectancy by many years.”

Eliza Cheng is a nutritionist from California who works with individuals with eating disorders. Writing for CNBC, she called Loma Linda a large Seventh-day Adventist community and revealed the eight simple steps the community uses to live a longer life.

Eliza Cheng Teaches Her Clients How to Make a N.E.W. S.T.A.R.T.

Cheng created the acronym “N.E.W. S.T.A.R.T.” to help her client’s whose background does not include an education in Seventh-day Adventist lifestyle choices to help them remember what they should do to live a longer life. While these choices are part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church member choices, each is also thoroughly grounded in evidence to support optimal health.

1. Nutrition — Writing in The Conversation, Tama Lester, senior lecturer at the University of Winchester and Seventh-day Adventist, reports that vegetarianism is not mandatory in the church, but many of the members eat an entirely plant-based diet.

Cheng encourages her clients to incorporate nuts, legumes, fruits, vegetables and whole grains into their meals, and takes that advice herself. She also advocates for more fermented foods, including yogurt, kefir, miso and kimchi to help balance the gut microbiome.

2. Exercise — Cheng advocates for mindful movements as opposed to what she terms “grueling workouts.” Just three times a week she walks for up to 30 minutes or does other exercises that align with her purpose. This could also include gardening and yoga. In addition to the benefits of exercise, she focuses on yoga poses that help improve her digestion.

Within the Loma Linda community, Cheng reports a growing group of individuals who enjoy pickleball, which is a cross between tennis, ping pong and badminton. There is a wealth of scientific evidence to demonstrate that exercise helps improve your cardiovascular health and longevity.

Researchers have identified a plateau of roughly 150 minutes per week for vigorous exercise. After that, your body reaps no additional reduction in mortality, and it may negatively impact heart health. A 2023 study published in Missouri Medicine reviewed studies assessing the effects of duration and intensity of exercise that were published between 2011 and 2022.

Not surprisingly, the researchers concluded that sedentary lifestyle was associated with an elevated risk of heart problems and a shorter lifespan. What was unexpected was the type of physical activity that got the best results for the participants. The data showed that considerable amounts of strenuous exercise were not as beneficial as moderate exercise, strength training and interactive sports or play.

To read more about the study and hear an interview with bestselling author and high performance coach Siim Land, see “Training Strategies for Endurance and Maximum Longevity”.

3. Water — Cheng calls hydration a “simple and powerful way to take care of your body and enhance your quality of life.” In addition to adding flavor by infusing raw fruit to water, she also drinks decaffeinated herbal teas, including chamomile, ginger and peppermint for their health effects.

Chamomile helps to improve sleep and boost immunity; ginger is recognized for its abilities to promote heart health, manage blood pressure and reduce nausea. Peppermint tea aids digestion and helps relieve stress. Consider not only the amount of water you’re drinking, but the type of water you’re drinking.

Hydration is important, but it is also important to drink clean filtered water. You can check the EWG water database for the contaminants in your area and look for a filter that eliminates them.

4. Sunshine — As Cheng points out, California has abundant sunshine that not only supports vitamin D production but profoundly influences mental health. “Sunlight exposure triggers the release of serotonin, a mood-regulating neurotransmitter, and helps combat seasonal affective disorder,” she writes.

While research supports maintaining optimal vitamin D levels, a vitamin D supplement cannot give you the same benefits as sunlight. One aspect of sun exposure is melatonin production in your mitochondria to help support energy production. Melatonin also helps reduce reactive oxygen species (ROS) that damage mitochondria.

Adequate amounts of sleep and plenty of sun exposure help support mitochondrial health. For a more in-depth discussion, see “Is Sunbathing More Important Than Vitamin D?”

5. Temperance — Seventh-day Adventists practice abstaining from harmful substances, such as alcohol and tobacco. Cheng believes this helps promote beneficial activities like eating nutritional foods and working.

Cheng characterizes temperance to mean finding a balance in life and avoiding excessive behaviors as opposed to the definition it held during the early 1800s during the Temperance Movement. The movement was introduced by churches at the time and was dedicated to oftentimes promoting complete abstinence of alcohol.

6. Air — Cheng proposes that clean air helps keep us healthy and is important in living an energetic life. There’s also evidence that shows air pollution is linked with an increased risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Evidence from one study showed that by reducing exposure to fine particulate matter and traffic pollution, you could slow cognitive decline in older women.

Reducing exposure to fine particulate matter was associated with a 14% reduction in the risk of dementia and reducing traffic-related pollutants was associated with a 26% reduction in dementia risk. For more information about the link with Alzheimer’s disease, see “New Evidence Shows Link Between Air Pollution and Alzheimer’s”.

7. Rest — I have long advocated the necessity of getting optimal sleep as a foundational pillar for optimal health. Cheng also advocates setting aside one day a week to help rest your body and recharge your mind. She proposes doing activities that you find fruitful, such as sleeping in, doing things with friends, connecting with nature or meditating.

I believe that quality sleep is the single most effective thing you can do to reset your brain and body while invigorating your health daily. During an interview with Joe Rogan, professor Matthew Walker, Ph.D., shared some of the latest discoveries about sleep and how it impacts nearly every area of your physical and mental health. For tips on getting better sleep each night, see “Top 33 Tips to Optimize Your Sleep Routine.”

8. Trust — Trust is the final suggestion that Cheng has for her clients to improve longevity. She suggests that people find a community they can trust and to become part of, which is especially important during challenging times. When life’s challenges get significant, she proposes that you shouldn’t be afraid to seek out a licensed counselor or therapist.

Research also suggests that your social resources, sometimes called social capital, are positively linked to life satisfaction. Brain imaging research has also highlighted the contribution friendships have to well-being and how they protect against the negative effects of adverse experiences.

The American Psychological Association writes that while Americans prioritize romance, psychological science shows it is friendships that keep us healthy.

Five More Suggestions to Help Improve Longevity

Cheng offers insight into eight simple steps that you can take to help improve your overall health and longevity. If you are interested in other ways that your lifestyle choices affect your overall health and longevity, here are five more suggestions that may help.

1. Glycine — Glycine is a nonessential amino acid that may be low in your diet if you don’t consume enough connective tissue or collagen. Glycine helps protect against age-related diseases, which you can read more about in “Glycine to Increase Longevity and Decrease Depression”.

2. Taurine — Taurine is a semi-essential amino acid, which means your body can synthesize it but possibly not in enough quantities to meet your needs. It is beneficial to heart and brain health, necessary for muscle function and protects your antioxidant status. You can read more about taurine in “Taurine May Be Key for Longevity and Healthier Lifespan”.

3. Niacinamide — This form of vitamin B3 is a precursor to NAD+, which is essential to convert food to energy and maintain DNA integrity. Niacinamide can also protect against neurodegeneration, kidney disease and heart failure, and protect your gut health. Read more about the benefits of niacinamide and how to boost your intake in “The Wide-Ranging Health Benefits of Niacinamide”.

4. Ergothioneine — This amino acid is found in mushrooms and is a powerful ally when it comes to promoting longevity. Out of 112 measured plasma metabolites, ergothioneine is the metabolite most significantly associated with lower morbidity and mortality, including a lower risk of coronary artery disease, stroke and all-cause mortality. There are more health benefits you’ll find in “This Mushroom Compound Is a Longevity Powerhouse”.

5. Take control of your gut microbiome — Your gut microbiome is influenced each day by the foods you eat, and it has a significant impact on your health, immune system, weight, and longevity. So, it makes sense to choose healthy foods each day. In fact, data from people who live well over 100 years has revealed a unique gut microbiome community.

There are several ways to optimize your gut health, which greatly contributes to your immunity, weight management, mental health, and more.

Original article by Dr. Mercola: Rules America’s Longest Living People Follow.

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