From the moment we are born we literally start to die. Now you’re probably thinking, wow Linnéa, way to spread positivity and encouragement?! Well, you can’t say I’m wrong and for the longest time in modern human history we are obsessed with cracking the code to longevity and fighting disease. As a species we’re not that fond of dying. While we can’t live forever (yet) science does have some research on daily habits that will slow down the aging process and make us more resistant to diseases. So let’s get into it already!
What is disease?
Mucus, fever, and sore throats. We know how it feels to be sick and the common cold isn’t really that life threatening to us anymore. If you read about the “definition of a disease” you will spiral down the rabbit whole faster than Alice because there is no real definition up until this day. Scientists argue that the term “disease” has changed over time from homosexuality being classified as a disease up until the 1970’s (fucked up, I know) or ADHD being kinda debatable if it’s a disease or a disability. This post will address life threatening chronic diseases defined as “conditions that last 1 year or more and require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living or both”. These types of diseases are caused within our bodies by cell, organ, or tissue damage due to genetics, environment, aging, and lifestyle choices. Cancer, alzheimers, and heart disease are a few examples of these.
Let’s talk about inflammation and disease.
Inflammation is that nice guy you friendzone while chasing after all the bad guys to later come crying to inflammation about. Nice as he is, he’s always there for you until one day he can’t take it anymore. He snaps and leaves you with a heart break for life – quite literally in this case. Now you might be thinking “what the fudge, I thought inflammation was bad?”. My dear friend, you are not wrong. Inflammation itself isn’t inherently bad, it’s simply our bodies way to protect us from disease. The problem occurs when we put our body through so much inflammatory pressure that our immune system can’t keep up anymore. This is when inflammation turns into a chronic disease.
To make this even more clear for the people who want straight up definitions instead of cute metaphors – inflammation is our immune system’s response to infections in our body. This is fighting everything from viruses to allergic reactions, or processing heavy foods and alcohol. A few signs of our body fighting an inflammation are:
- Pain and aches
- Loss of focus
Remember, these are normal responses and not dangerous when it happens once here and there. It’s the consistent inflammation over time that can turn into a chronic disease. There’s some environmental causes to inflammation that are hard as an individual to control. Air pollution or chain smoking for example. I mean, chain smoking could easily be fixed by telling all the smokers out there to piss off, but it really isn’t that simple. Luckily there’s more to inflammation that we can control.
You’re not a slave to genetics
I don’t really know what’s up with humans today, but we like to play victims and blame our circumstances on everything but ourselves. Our health is a prime example of this where genetics gets the baddest rep of them all. “I can’t do anything about it, it’s my genetics. My family has had diabetes for generations. I just have to live with it”. Are you one of these people? If you are, here’s a virtual face slap for you. Now I want you to never say those words again. Okay, we good? Genetics play such a small part in our overall health that it’s almost funny. Our genetics only stands for about a 20% chance of developing a chronic illness. The remaining 80% makes up our environment and daily habits.
So, if you’ve ever been laying sleepless worrying about your family’s disease history I can gladly tell you that the power to break this chain is all in your hands, baby! Having this in mind we can finally go into the lifestyle habits which will make you a disease destroying machine and ooze health from miles away!
Processed foods and additives
Fruit loops might look cool and all, and that 4 am McDonald’s binge always seems like a great idea. In moderation these are fine but unfortunately we live in a world where the majority of the foods that end up on our plates are processed. Refined sugar, fried food, shortening, and chemical additives are just a few ingredients which sneak their ways into our food. This is where you need to become that person, the food label- reading snob. I don’t mean that you should ditch all your favorite processed foods, but to get an overall knowledge of ingredients will have you make better choices during your grocery haul.
A simple guideline is to keep the ingredients as few as possible as well as paying attention to the first three ingredients, since these are what the majority of the product contains. A fruit candy might be marketed as “contains real fruit” but when you read the label the first ingredients are: sugar, maltodextrin, food coloring, xanthan gum, and at the bottom of the list you read contains fruit syrup from apples or some shit like that.
In an ideal world you should avoid foods in which the ingredients you can’t pronounce or never heard of. But, restriction has never helped anyone and it’s more important to become mindful of the food you eat and what they contain.
A nice drink has its place and so does a nice memorable (or perhaps not so memorable…) party once in a while. It can actually be great for our social well being and for calming down. But that drinking too much is bad for us doesn’t really come as a shock. Alcohol is actually one of the macronutrients together with fat, carbohydrates, and protein. 1 gram of alcohol contains 7 calories which is quite a lot. The major problem with alcohol isn’t the calories itself but how it reacts in our body. Excess drinking kills our liver cells and can damage its function over time, which is to detoxify our body. It raises blood pressure, affects our rational thinking and can in excess consumption damage our brain and promote dementia. The decisions we make during the influence tend to not me the brightest which can lead to dangerous situations or unhealthy eating habits.
There’s this fine line with stress. Just enough of it is healthy, spikes our productivity and it actually strengthens our immune system. Like the stress we get from exercise – healthy. When stress becomes an issue is when it becomes chronic. It starts to impact our sleep, our ability to focus, causes anxiety, and increases our heart rate and blood pressure. This kind of stress over time weakens our immune system and makes us more prone to disease. Ever notice how you get sick during the first week of vacation after a few months of extreme work and stress? This is why.
It’s extremely important to make sure you understand your stress triggers. How much work can you handle? How much do you need to sleep? Are you making time for exercise? These things might sound “lame” when you have strict deadlines or going through any other stressful situation, but to be mindful in how you react during stress will improve your health significantly.
How to decrease inflammation and promote longevity.
Decreasing inflammation is cool, but isn’t it cooler to not only decrease it but also repair your cells to prevent disease and promote longevity? Sounds pretty sweet to me! Read on to flip the switch, just like Drake would’ve said.
No, the overhyped American organic food store Whole Foods doesn’t have super powers itself, but the type of food you can buy in there does. Not that you need to pay a whole arm and a leg to get whole foods, honestly any store or market will do. The food we eat is the best medicine (or silent killer) we will ever have. We know that fruits and vegetables are good for us but do we really know that every bite we feed our body will directly fight or promote disease? Foods such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, fatty fish, lean protein, and berries contain vitamins and minerals which help our body do its job. When we eat a healthy diet we allow our body to digest the food in a normal way, to carry the vitamins to our cells, blood, brain, and muscles. Proper nutrition makes our body function with eeze, compared to when we eat processed food which then makes our body prioritizing breaking down this foreign intruder before taking care of the essential functions.
We sleep on sleep! Like, we really do and we need to get our act right! Sleep is one of the most important things we need to survive. This is when we repair and recover, this is when our brain removes toxins to promote proper functioning. Even though we know this, we still always skimp on sleep. People, humans, evolved monkey people – we need to change this ASAP! And no, I’m not the one to talk because I personally have a huge problem with proper sleep. A few ways in which we can help improve our sleep is to:
- Exercise during the day.
- Make sure to get enough daylight during the day.
- Go to sleep and wake up at the same time everyday to promote natural melatonin production (sleep hormone).
- Avoid screens an hour before bed and don’t scroll on TikTok in bed. I might be guilty of this…
- Avoid caffeinated beverages 5-8 hours before bedtime.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
- Avoid alcohol before bed.
Ah, this amazing secret sauce to all good things in life! Exercise is simply amazeballs. It’s good for literally everything. Fighting stress, improving energy, improves sleep, helps against anxiety, boosts your mood, confidence, and of course fights disease and improves longevity. When we exercise our blood rushes to deliver blood to our muscles to increase oxygen and nutrient flow through our body. By doing this we strengthen our lungs and heart which makes us more resistant to all of the above factors such as stress and anxiety while also boosting our immune system. You don’t have to train like an olympian athlete to reap the benefits of exercise. Start with a 30 minute walk and increase overtime by adding in some resistance training. Using your body weight is just as fine as weights to increase muscle mass.
Intermittent fasting might be the trendiest health trend of all time, but trust me, the hype is real. Fasting is one of the best ways to actively fight disease on a cellular level while slowing down the aging process. What fasting does after around 16-18 ish hours of fasting is to make our body enter this magic state called autophagy. Autophagy basically means that the body starts to “eat itself”. While it does sound dramatic this is actually a great thing. During this autophagy state our bodies remove and replace damaged and toxic cells with new healthy ones by “eating” and cleaning itself out. Did that sentence only sound a bit sexual in my head? No? Okay, only me then.
Fasting is, besides being so effective at repairing cells, also a great way to improve mental clarity and focus. You know that “after lunch dip” you can get? With fasting you get none of that, quite the opposite. And despite being without food for so long everyday you will, after some time of practice, actually feel way more energized than if you were eating three meals a day.
As with everything you can’t take a 180 approach to fasting if you’re used to eating three meals plus snacks everyday. Start by fasting 12 hours a day where your longest fasting window will be your night’s sleep (8 hours). Then slowly increase your fasting to 14, 16, 18 or even 20 hours a day. Even just a few days a week is better than none. While fasting you’ll also realize how much we eat by habit, boredom, or just because “the clock says it’s lunch time”. We actually don’t need that much food, and especially not that often throughout the day as we think we do.
That we need to exercise our body is common knowledge, but how often do you exercise your brain? Not that often I’m guessing. Your brain health is just as, if not even more important to fight stress and chronic disease. Mental health is a serious issue across the world and never have we seen so many cases of anxiety and depression in even younger people. Meditation is a great way to strengthen your brain and to control your thoughts and emotions. If you’re a newbie to meditation and have a brain just as restless as mine, there’s thankfully a lot of apps or even clips on YouTube with guided meditation. 5-10 minutes every day is enough to start.
All those hours at the gym and those salads won’t matter if you completely isolate yourself from society. Okay, I might be exaggerating a bit, but social interactions and relationships are extremely important to our health and well-being. When looking at the blue zones for example (places on earth where people live longest) we see social interactions on a daily basis. People spend time together as a collective. They cook, eat, walk, and just chill in each other’s company. The western societies, especially Nordic European countries tend to be particularly bad at this. People live alone more in these places than anywhere else in the world.
Make sure you set aside time to meet your friends and family more than on the weekends or someone’s birthday. Every social gathering doesn’t have to be grandiose. Go out for a walk together, pick up the phone and do a quick FaceTime call, meet a friend for lunch, plan spontaneous dinners during the week. Quantity is more important than quality in this case (the people you spend time with need to be quality people though. Good vibes only).
The small habits build your future.
Will we ever be able to live forever? Maybe. Would you want to? Maybe. I can’t speak for everyone but a healthy life is a life worth living, no matter if it’s until you’re 35, 65, or 205. As you’re reading this you might be fit as a duck (no idea why we refer to ducks now, but it felt right) and might be thinking “why bother caring so much about diseases now?”. The thing is that chronic disease happens over time. It’s a result of lifelong habits, and you sure as hell would wish you did something about it when you one gloomy day get diagnosed for cancer, alzhemiers or any other chronic disease. Every action counts. The small changes you make can have a dramatic result for your future. Stay safe and healthy.