Anti-Aging Secrets for Health, Beauty, and Longevity, Part 2

By John Westerdahl, PhD, MPH, RDN, CNS, FAND

This is Part 2 of his post on anti-aging by guest contributor John Westerdahl, PhD, MPH, RDN, CNS, FAND. Westerdahl is an internationally recognized authority in the fields of food, nutrition, and longevity. A graduate of Loma Linda University School of Public Health, he is a registered dietitian nutritionist, certified nutrition specialist, board-certified anti-aging health practitioner, and radio talk show host. He is also a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, the American College of Nutrition, and a founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, as well as a member and past chair of the Vegetarian Nutrition Dietetics Practice Group of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. His weekly radio show, Health & Longevity, is broadcast internationally on the LifeTalk Radio Network. Learn more at

Just as the skin protects internal organs, the cell membrane protects the cell. As a result of aging, environmental factors, poor nutrition, and unhealthy lifestyle habits, our cell membranes can become thinner and thinner. Easily damaged, the membrane becomes highly porous and begins to leak water. Dehydrated cells cannot function optimally, accelerating the aging of the body and increasing the risk of developing chronic diseases. Exposure to sun, dry air, environmental toxins, a weakened immune system, the bombardment of cells by free radicals, and inflammation damage to cell membranes can all cause cellular water loss.

To counteract cellular water loss and deterioration, the body must have the nutrients to prevent, forestall, and even repair cell membranes. Your cell membranes are made up of lecithin (phosphatidylcholine), lipids (including important essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids), and protein. Eating a healthy diet that provides good sources of these “raw material” nutrients is critical to rebuilding and reinforcing cell membranes. Eating “bad fats” and not enough of the “good fats” (healthy essential fats) causes problems by building weak cell membranes that are subjected to damage by free radicals and inflammation, leading to cellular water loss.

While drinking plenty of water is important for good health, when it comes to cellular hydration and health, “eating your water” by consuming a diet rich in raw fruits and vegetables may be even more important. These plant foods consist mostly of water. The intracellular water that you find within the cells of fruits and vegetables is also beneficial in contributing to the intracellular water within your own cells. In addition to providing intracellular water, fruits and vegetables are also rich sources of important phytochemicals, such as antioxidants and anti-inflammatories, that can help protect your cell membranes from being damaged and helping to keep water where it belongs – inside your cells.

The delicious smoothie recipe below contains healthy ingredients that provide the nutrients your body needs to build strong cell membranes and help protect them from damage, thus aiding the retention of intracellular water.

Anti-Aging Smoothie

½ cup pomegranate juice (unsweetened)

½ cup soymilk

½ cup blueberries (fresh or unsweetened frozen)

1 tablespoon soy lecithin granules

1 tablespoon ground flaxseed

2 tablespoons dried goji berries

3 to 4 ice cubes or ½ cup crushed ice (optional)

Stevia Extract Powder (optional) to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and liquefy.

Makes one to two servings

Note: Pomegranate juice, blueberries, and goji berries contain natural antioxidants that help protect cell membranes against free radical damage. Soymilk provides a plant-based protein that does not promote inflammation. The protein in soy also provides all the essential amino acids needed to build strong cell membranes. Soy lecithin granules are a plant-based source of lecithin – an important constituent found in all cell membranes. Ground flaxseeds provide a plant-based source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are an important structural component of cell membranes and needed for cells to function normally. Omega-3 fatty acids also help reduce inflammation.

Blue Zones and the Cultures of Longevity

The term “Blue Zone” first appeared internationally as a result of the November 2005 issue of National Geographic magazine’s cover story, “The Secrets of Living Longer,” by Dan Buettner. Often referred to as National Geographic’s “explorer of longevity,” Buettner identified three geographic areas of the world where people live the longest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; and Loma Linda, California. After the magazine’s publication, he later discovered two additional Blue Zones: Ikaria, Greece and Nicoya, Costa Rica. His research offers explanations, based on empirical data and firsthand observations, as to why these populations live healthier and longer lives.

Blue Zones produce a high rate of centenarians and their residents suffer a fraction of the diseases that commonly kill people in other parts of the developed world, while they enjoy more healthy years of life. Some of the shared lifestyle characteristics of these regions include:

  • No smoking
  • The importance of family
  • Regular exercise
  • Social engagement
  • Participation in spirituality or religion
  • Moderate caloric intake
  • Plant-base diet (semi-vegetarian or vegetarian)

Ikaria, Greece – This island in the Aegean Sea is located eight miles off the coast of Turkey and appears to have the highest percentage of ninety-year-olds on the planet – nearly one out of three residents live to their nineties! Compared to Americans, Ikarians also have about 20% lower rates of cancer, 50% lower rates of heart disease, and almost no dementia. The secret to this population’s health and longevity is their healthy, plant-based, Mediterranean diet. They thrive on plenty of vegetables and potatoes, wild greens, legumes (especially garbanzo beans and lentils), some fruit, and the use of extra virgin olive oil as the primary source of fat. Greek extra virgin olive oil is considered by many experts as the finest quality in the world, as it is often made with varieties of olives that are the highest in polyphenol antioxidants. Smaller amounts of dairy and meat products are consumed, with relatively small amounts of fish. Several Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, marjoram, sage, and mint are used to make healthful herbal teas containing natural antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

Okinawa, Japan – The largest island in a subtropical archipelago, Okinawa is recognized as home to the world’s longest-living women and, as a group, the longest living people on Earth. They have one-fifth of the heart disease, one-fourth of the breast and prostate cancers, and less than half of the dementia seen in Americans of similar ages. The traditional Okinawan diet consists of mainly plant foods, with about 80% of calories coming from plant carbohydrates. Okinawans consume, on average, seven servings of vegetables and two servings of grains per day. Two servings of flavonoid-rich soy, typically in the form of tofu, are also part of the daily diet. Dairy and meat consumption (mostly fish) represent only about 3% of their calories. The island population is also intensely social with strong bonds of community.

Ogliastra region, Sardinia, Italy – Located in the mountainous highlands of an Italian island, the Ogliastra region has the world’s highest concentration of centenarian men. In the Blue Zone region studied by National Geographic, meat was eaten, at most, once a week, and most food came from vegetables grown in their gardens. The typical staple foods of this region include a type of flat bread made from high-protein durum wheat, tomatoes, almonds, barley, fava beans and chickpeas, and the herbs fennel and milk thistle. Milk thistle is used to make an herbal tea that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits.

Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica – Located in Central America, just 80 miles south of the Nicaraguan border, lies the Nicoya Peninsula of Costa Rica, where residents have the world’s lowest rates of middle-age mortality and the second highest concentration of male centenarians. The people of the Nicoya Peninsula region have a plant-based diet that is low-calorie and low fat, consisting mostly of beans, corn tortillas, and tropical fruits. In addition to their healthy diet, these Costa Ricans have a strong social network and get regular exercise – added factors contributing to their health and longevity.

Loma Linda, California – Considered the “Blue Zone of America,” Loma Linda is a busy urban community in Southern California where many residents live 10 years longer than the average American. With the highest concentration of Seventh-day Adventist Christians in the United States, these long-lived residents avoid tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Many Seventh-day Adventists follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Legumes, soy foods, nuts, and grains make up the main sources of their protein. Those following such a diet enjoy better health outcomes, decreased risk of chronic diseases (such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, type-2 diabetes, and obesity), and increased longevity compared to the average American.

A unique lifestyle habit that the Adventist group in Loma Linda follows is their “sanctuary in time,” a 24-hour period on the seventh day of the week – devoted to spiritual and worship activities and complete rest from the work-related and other activities of the rest of the week. Community members also spend quality time with their family and friends and enjoy the outdoors in nature during their day of rest. The National Geographic report mentions that Sabbath observance is a key factor in the Adventist group’s increased health and longevity.

Hunza Valley, Pakistan – Although it has not been identified officially as one of the Blue Zone regions, the Hunza Valley, which is surrounded by the Himalayas and located in the extreme northern part of Pakistan, has long been recognized as home of another culture of longevity. For many years, the people of Hunza (referred to as Hunzakuts) have been described as the world’s healthiest and longest-living people, with many centenarians, even individuals living up to 120 years of age.

Due to the geography and unique environment of the Hunza Valley, the people naturally live a very healthy lifestyle, getting plenty of exercise in the fresh air, drinking plenty of pure water, and eating primarily a vegetarian diet. Animal products account for only 1% of the total calories in the Hunza diet. Whole grains included consist of barley, buckwheat, maize, millet, rice, and wheat. The Hunzkuts eat an abundance of organic fruits (apricots are a daily staple) and vegetables, including leafy greens, potatoes, carrots, turnips, squash, onions, and garlic.

Make Your Home a Blue Zone

We can all learn from the healthy lifestyles of the Blue Zone regions and other cultures of longevity throughout the world. And we do not need to live in an isolated utopia, pristine paradise, or tropical island to enjoy a vibrant life of health, wellness, and longevity. Like the people of Loma Linda, you can even live in a modern city and enjoy a long, healthy life. The secret is adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a plant-based diet, maintaining strong social networks, and managing your stress through exercise and spiritual pursuits. Create your own Blue Zone at home and utilize health-supporting community resources where you live, such as parks and recreation centers, hiking trails, gyms and fitness centers, farmers’ markets and natural food stores, spas and wellness centers, etc. By doing so, you can add years to your life and life to your years.


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