If you routinely sit down to a late dinner or are a late-night eater in general, moving your last meal up by just a couple of hours can remarkably improve your health—and it might even help you live longer!
Late-night dinners are a societal norm, but they completely go against the nature of our biology. According to a recent study published in Frontiers of Nutrition, eating in alignment with your circadian rhythm (when your body is best suited for digestion) could be a secret to longevity.
In the study, researchers surveyed a total of 68 nonagenarians—people between the ages of 90-99—and centenarians in the Abruzzo Region of Italy, home to one of the largest populations on earth of people over the age of 90. The researchers collected data on their food habits, meal timing, and physical activity level to see how some of the oldest people in the world live.
Today I’m sharing the key takeaways from this study that I believe are worth paying attention to and that we can apply to our own lives to help us live as long and as healthfully as possible.
Let’s dive right in.
1) An 18-hour window of low-calorie intake
The study cohort ate dinner around 7:00 pm, fasted overnight, and had a small, salty breakfast around six in the morning that consisted of leftovers from the night before or a few local foods such as bread, ham, eggs, or vegetables. They would eat just enough to hold them over until lunch, the largest meal of their day.
An earlier dinner and a light breakfast—we’re talking 200-300 calories—provided a 17-to-18-hour window of low-calorie intake and low digestive stress. This unique cultural eating pattern is known as “sdijuno,” and researchers think it could be one reason why the people in the Abruzzo region live so long.
This prolonged period of minimal digestive stress extends the immune and metabolic health benefits from their overnight fast into the following day up until their next big meal—and that’s a pretty big chunk of time to be in a caloric deficit. And according to experts on fasting like Dr. Valter Longo and Dr. Satchin Panda, this circadian fasting practice is highly beneficial for optimal metabolic health, immune health, and longevity.
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2) A plant-rich diet
The Abruzzo nonagenarians’ and centenarians’ diets consisted of primarily plant-based foods. Milk and dairy products were eaten in moderation (four or five times a week), eggs and cured meats about two or three times a week, and meat and fish about once or twice a week.
Next to lard, the primary cooking fat reported was extra virgin olive oil, which was mainly due to the fact that lard was local to the region of Abruzzo and olive oil had to be imported.
3) Sweets consumption was next to zero
Consumption of sweets was almost nonexistent for the study participants, besides the occasional dessert once a week on Sundays, on holidays, or during festive days.
4) Frequent use of herbs and spices
Rosemary, garlic, onion, chili pepper, parsley, and basil were the most commonly used herbs and spices by those aged 90 and older. Their bioactive polyphenols could play a role in longevity by counteracting inflammation and related chronic diseases.
5) On average, more than 50 percent of the study population was physically active
Remarkably, 74 percent of nonagenarians and 43 percent of centenarians STILL participated in regular physical activity like gardening, yard work, or walking. The remaining 26 percent and 55 percent, respectively, were not physically active due to a deteriorating physical condition or permanent wheelchair use.
After I read this study, I was super excited to share what I believe were the biggest takeaways with you. There were some limitations to consider, like the fact that researchers were relying on self-reporting: the elderly participants were answering questions about their diet and physical activity themselves.
I think it’s safe to say, however, that this study provides evidence that the foundations of living a long, healthy life are in our control. What we eat, when we eat, and how much we move are ultimately up to us.
That means we have the power to influence the aging process. By incorporating the longevity practices we learned about today, we can lengthen our healthspan and maintain the freedom of our bodies and minds.
How empowering is that!