By Dr. Sean M. Wells, DPT, PT, OCS, CNPT, ATC/L, CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Cert-DN
One of the biggest topics of last year in the dietary world was intermittent fasting, most commonly seen as time restricted feeding by many. A lot of research has poured into this area with a big focus on longevity. I myself have published a couple trials using intermittent fasting, so I'm very familiar with the process and some of the mechanisms. But what if the explanations would focus on what our clients eat instead of how much or when? This is much of what Dr Katz has been analyzing with the True Health Initiative. Let's take a look at some of the most recent data and see what happens to people's lifespan when they change their diet.
It's well understood that the Western diet, particularly a diet high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar, has been shown to promote disease and reduce lifespan. Copious studies and systematic reviews have shown that reducing highly processed food and excessive animal product consumption can help curb disease and improve lifespan. Diets such as the true Mediterranean diet, whole food plant-based diet, and several variations of vegetarian diets have all shown significant health improvements across the board. These diets have shown to reduce risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, and rheumatic flares. Moreover, in my physical therapy practice I have seen reduced rates of tendon pathology, joint pain, and improved recovery after exercise in my clients that stick to a whole food plant-based diet. These are all promising findings but what about lifespan? Dr. Katz's recent data finally helps us quantify how much lifespan we can expect to improve with dietary changes.
In his study Dr Katz and his team found that if a woman began eating optimally at age 20, she could increase her lifespan by just over 10 years. Moreover, a man eating the healthier diet from age 20 could add 13 years to his life. These lifespan extensions don't stop with just those that are young. Older adults that begin the diet in their 60s could extend their lifespan up to 8 to 9 years! This finding is similar to data showing that intermittent fasting and calorie restriction later in life also extends lifespan. The best fact of these improvements is that the extension is most likely quality years of life and not years of impaired living. With healthy dietary patterns leading into late adulthood, the likelihood of chronic diseases go way down, as well as disabilities and dysfunction. As such, the extension is not like many medications or medical interventions, which simply keep the sick living longer. Dietary changes can impact lifespan and quality of life!
So now that we've quantified lifespan extension, what was the diet that was the primary focus? The researchers found that eating a predominantly plant-based Mediterranean style diet, with minimally processed foods, reaped the biggest benefits. This was regardless of calories, subjects did not count carbs or fats, and they ate real food that they enjoyed. So,next time you're talking with your PT client about improving their health, or they're simply wanting to know more about life span extension, don't stress them on counting calories or following a specific fad diet: instead, point them towards an evidence-based whole food plant-based Mediterranean diet. In the end they'll end up eating more fruits, vegetables, fiber, while also eating less junk, processed food, and meat.
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Keywords: nutrition, diet, continuing education, online, fasting, Mediterranean, PT, physical therapy, learning, lifespan, rehab, intermittent fasting, DPT