Three important health lessons I learned from reading “The Longevity Book”

Not just a book review, but some really interesting stuff! Also, hi! Hope you are doing well!

I don’t know why it took me so many years to start reading non-fiction books, because they are truly so valuable. Now, I read more non-fiction than fiction, and I’m always learning new things about life and health and everything in between.

What’s pretty surprising to me is that I’ve actually enjoyed two non-fiction books by a celebrity author too — Cameron Diaz. Diaz has a co-writer who does a lot of the research with her, so it’s not just Diaz on her own, but still — she puts out a good book. 

I just recently finished reading “The Longevity Book: The Science of Aging, the Biology of Strength and the Privilege of Time,” by Cameron Diaz, with Sandra Bark, which is a follow-up to “The Body Book: The Law of Hunger, the Science of Strength and Other Amazing Ways to Love Your Body” — a book I totally enjoyed. 

The Longevity Book is not an anti-aging book, but it’s a holistic look at how the female body ages. This book was full of SO much beneficial information — for women at any age, especially those of us who are in our 30s and getting a bit nervous about 40 being on the horizon in a few years.

“Beauty appreciates, not depreciates. It grows, not fades, with age, I have developed a more nuanced understanding of what beauty really is. Beauty is not just something you are born with. Beauty is something you grow into.” 

Right now, we’re taught that 40 is old, especially for a woman, and it used to be that way. The life expectancy for a woman in the U.S. was 40 in the 1850s. Now, the life expectancy has doubled to 80 for women and 75 for men, thanks in part to advances in medicine and technology. Diaz wants us to know that the 40s are really just an extension of the 30s and certainly not the end of our lives. However, just because we are living longer, are we living better? That’s the question “The Longevity Book” tries to help us figure out. 

Before we get going, here are some terms to know about aging and life …

  • Life expectancy: How long you can be expected to live if you are born in a certain time and in a certain environment
  • Life span: How long an individual actually lives
  • Maximum life span: The longest recorded life span for the species (122.5 years for a human female)
  • Health span: The healthy years of your life
  • Longevity: How long you can live
  • Strongevity: How strong you are over the course of your long life

Interesting stuff!

The thing is, now that we’re living longer, we have to take a new approach to aging. Not just trying to avoid it and deny it, but preparing for it and understanding that we don’t have to let all the issues of old age get to us if we don’t want them to. And yes, we are more susceptible to disease as we get older and our bodies weaken, but that doesn’t mean we have to end up sick, just because we’re old. Figuring out the ways to avoid some old-age issues actually all ties back to many of the simple things we already know to do: eat right, sleep, exercise and reduce your stress.

Yet, more research on aging is needed and is on the way.

In fact, it wasn’t until 1974 that the National Institute on Aging (NIA) was created to understand and improve healthy living as we age, as part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), so this is something that will be studied more and more as the boomer popular takes over. Fun fact: For the first time in history, there are now more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 5 living on the planet. This phenomenon is called the “silver tsunami.”

And that’s a problem when older people get sick and need help, because about 66 percent of caregivers are female, says Diaz/Bark. That means that many of these women have to reduce their time spent in the workforce to care for others — a major loss of money. So, let’s prepare!

Three important health lessons I learned from reading “The Longevity Book”

Three important health lessons I learned from reading The Longevity Book by A Lady Goes West

Here’s where it gets interesting …

1. Your DNA is passed down like a family heirloom. For the good or the bad. The study of this biological phenomenon is called epigenetics.

“The DNA each one of us receives from our parents is influenced by the lifestyle of not only our parents, but also our grandparents and our great-grandparents and our great-great-grandparents. The study of this biological phenomenon is called epigenetics.” 

We are given genes at birth. And then we grow up in different environments. Both our genes and our environments influence our overall health and how we age.

How you live your life can alter the way that your genes are actually expressed too. If you make poor choices, like smoking, or are sedentary or maintain super high stress levels, then you can flip on some of your genetic predispositions to disease, and vice verse with good lifestyle choices.

Then, you can pass this altered expression down to the next generation. That means that if you smoke, have a lot of stress or eat a lot of processed foods — you are changing your genes and that can negatively affect your kids and your kids’ kids. Wow. Powerful reason to change your ways and make good choices for your health. It’s not just about YOU and NOW, it’s about the future.

I’m so interested in this topic and definitely plan to read more about it. 

2. Female cells are biologically distinct from that of a man.

It wasn’t until 2014 that the National Institutes of Health required that applicants for medical federally funded research grants include female cells in the research. Up to this point, most of the data that studies on drugs and treatments were compiling were on male cells only. That means that a lot of prescription drugs weren’t tested on women. And this isn’t good, because women’s bodies react entirely differently.

A few differences, according to Diaz/Bark …

Women are more likely than men to develop depression, eating disorders or anxiety disorders. A female liver metabolizes drugs differently than a male liver. Men usually require a higher dosage of drugs than women. And because women store body fat differently than men and some medications are attracted to fat cells, drugs often linger longer in a woman’s system than a man’s.

At the same time, women typically live longer than men, and that’s because women tend to make better lifestyle choices and also take less risks. But it’s also because of something called telomeres.

“Telomeres are one of the smallest bits of our bodies, but they have one of the most important jobs: to protect the fragile ends of our chromosomes, kind of like the plastic tab on the end of a shoelace that keeps the fabric from unraveling. Women, on average, have longer telomeres than men do, and some scientists believe this is why women live longer than men.” 

Overall, health care for women is moving in the right direction, and let’s hope it just keeps getting more specialized and better as the years go on. 

(Another fun fact from the book: Your sex is actually determined by your father. Sex chromosomes come in two varieties, XX for women and XY for men. And the X is the larger chromosome, which actually carries more information than the Y, so women naturally start out better off and may be a reason why we tend to live longer too. Just sayin … )

What I learned from reading The Longevity Book -- A Lady Goes West - August 2019

3. Your brain is not hardwired. It can be rewired. And exercise helps your brain.

For a long time, scientists thought that the brain was hardwired, but now they’ve discovered that you can create new neural pathways, even as you age — and this is called neuroplasticity. The more you continue to learn, the more your brain stays adaptable as you get older. Love that.

When you learn something new, a neural pattern connects various regions of the brain. When you repeat that experience, those connections are deepened. Then, things become ingrained in your mind and you get that easy “second nature” feeling. Your experiences as a whole are part of your “cognitive reserve/resources,” and you build them up over your life. The more experiences, the better.

“Just as we build stronger muscles by challenging our bodies in ways that make them respond and grow, we can build stronger brains by challenging our intellect and helping our brains grow new connections.”

Your brain builds up hubs of information, and the more you keep learning, the easier your brain can quickly problem solve and jump from one hub to the other, using connections that you’re laying down with knowledge. Of course, disease or old age can degrade these hubs, but the stronger your networks are, the more resilient you will be in the face of degeneration (like Alzheimer’s and dementia). Now that is pretty awesome. Just another reason to read non-fiction books, right?

What I learned about aging from reading The Longevity Book -- A Lady Goes West - August 2019

A few tips on how to take care of your brain:

  • Exercise. People who exercise are less likely to experience dementia than people who are sedentary. In fact, exercising increases the volume of your hippocampus in your brain, as well as reduces stress and decreases inflammation. Just move! (And may I recommend trying Les Mills On Demand streaming workouts? They’re the best, and you can get 21 days free with my link.)
  • Sleep. Sleep gives the body a chance to clear our harmful plaque in the brain. It also protects us from depression and stress. Sleep is so important.
  • Reduce stress. Prolonged stress can actually reduce your brain volume, and it messes with your cognitive function. Do yoga, meditate, go for walks and hang out with friends or family members regularly.
  • Meditate. Meditation can actually change the architecture of your brain, as well as reduce stress and anxiety. A little goes a long way, so give it a try. Here’s my story on it … “What I’ve learned from the first 90 days of starting a meditation practice.
  • Learn. Travel, learn new languages, take up new hobbies, listen to music — all of these things give our brains the chance to build new valuable connections.
  • Eat well. Healthy foods, like vegetables, fruits and whole grains, are full of antioxidants, and antioxidants actually help the body to fight oxidation in your cells, especially in your brain. So grab some dark leafy greens and load up a few times a day.

What I learned from The Longevity Book -- A Lady Goes West - August 2019

But the list doesn’t end there. One of the other things that “The Longevity Book” touched on was the importance of human connection and relationships in aging, health and cognitive function — there’s a study where just 10 minutes of social interaction was shown to boost cognitive performance — dang.

On the flip-side, as people get older, loneliness occurs more often and that can lead to premature death. Yes. So sad. That’s why it’s important to find a social circle, connect with others in person, share joy, laughs and emotions with those around you and try not to take on the world by yourself, especially as you get older.

“We know from being avid consumers of media that certain things are “good for us,” but we may not fully understand why. So let’s do our best to learn these things. Let’s try to better understand how our choices influence our health at the cellular level, and how the changes in our cells are what affect our health as a whole, and in particular, our health as we age.”

I would highly recommend “The Longevity Book,” because I only touched on all the great information about health in there, so it’s worthy of a full read. Hope you enjoyed this one! 

By the way, you may also want to check out this review of Diaz’s first book, “Interesting facts about food and the body I learned from reading “The Body Book” by Cameron Diaz.”

Thanks so much for stopping by the blog, my friends! Hope you have an amazing week!

Other posts you may like …

Questions of the day for YOU …

Have you read any good non-fiction books lately?

When was the last time you learned something new?

How was your weekend?

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Ashley. I have found “old” has a new definition today. Spending so much time in the gym 50 is not old any longer. These youngsters are beating father time. I have seen this filter into the 60s. I contribute this to healthy food selections and taking care of themselves physically in a gym or at home. Many gyms are so successful cause their group classes are so well attended. Of course when we reach out 70s, etc we continue to follow our healthy lifestyles.

    1. Well you are part of that inspiring group of people, Richard! You should be so proud of how you’re taking care of yourself!! 🙂 Love it!

  2. I love everything about this! I’ll definitely have to check this book out. I especially love the part about brain stimulation. As we get older, I believe we need to continue learning. And the social aspect too! It’s truly very important.
    I’m still reading the sci-fi thriller I snatched form my husband. I’ll get around to finishing it soon lol. This weekend was a fun weekend with friends and some preparation for the women’s conference our church is hosting this upcoming weekend!

    1. Hi Virjinia — it’s so true, we always need to be learning. And I just can’t get into sci-fi books hehehe! Hope your church conference goes well, lady! Have a fab week!

  3. I really liked this book! You did a great job of breaking down the good points. I read her first book, and listened to her second one on audiobook. I go through SO many health related audiobooks (I check them out from the library to save tons of money, haha). I go for long daily walks and hikes, and always listen to something. I love learning about anything health related 🙂

    1. You know, I’ve never listened to an audiobook before — must be like a longer podcast? heheh Love that you are doing that while hiking or walking, Eugenia — SUCH a great thing to do! 🙂 xoxo

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