How to live longer: Eat more of this food to increase life expectancy

Living a long and fulfilling life is a universal aim. In order to achieve this goal, lifestyle decisions must be taken to reduce the risk of developing life-threatening complications. Following a healthy, balanced diet provides a robust defence against chronic diseases. Studies suggest one diet in particular provides a wide-range of health benefits.

Telomeres are often likened to caps at the end of shoelaces


Numerous studies have linked the Mediterranean diet to a reduced risk of chronic diseases, such as heart disease.

One study sheds a light on how it may extend a person’s lifespan. The study investigated the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and telomere length – a marker of ageing.

As the NHS explained, telomeres are often likened to caps at the end of shoelaces, they are made up of molecules that protect strands of chromosomes from “fraying”.

“Telomeres shorten every time the genetic information in cells is duplicated. It’s believed that this leads to cell ageing and death,” explained the NHS.

According to the study, unhealthy lifestyle decisions have been linked to shorter telomeres. Oxidative stress and inflammation – key factors in heart disease – have also been shown to speed up telomere shortening.

Given that fruits, vegetables, and nuts – key components of the Mediterranean diet – have well known antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, a team of US researchers, led by Immaculata De Vivo, Associate Professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, set out to examine whether adherence to the Mediterranean diet was associated with longer telomere length.

They analysed data on 4,676 healthy middle-aged women from the Nurses’ Health Study – an ongoing study tracking the health of more than 120,000 US nurses since 1976. Participants completed detailed food questionnaires and had a blood test to measure telomere length.

A diet score ranging from 0-9 points was calculated for each participant, with a higher score representing a closer resemblance to the Mediterranean diet.

After adjusting for other potentially influential factors, the results show that greater adherence to the Mediterranean diet was significantly associated with longer telomeres. Each one point change in diet score corresponded on average to 1.5 years of telomere ageing.

“To our knowledge, this is the largest population-based study specifically addressing the association between Mediterranean diet adherence and telomere length in healthy, middle-aged women,” the study authors wrote.

They added: “Our results further support the benefits of adherence to the Mediterranean diet for promoting health and longevity.”

Further underlining the health benefits of following the Mediterranean diet, another study suggests it reduces a person’s risk of having a stroke.

What is included in the Mediterranean diet?

According to the NHS, it’s high in vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, beans, cereals, grains, fish, and unsaturated fats such as olive oil. It usually includes a low intake of meat and dairy foods.

This diet has also been linked to longevity. 

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