A chat with Professor Luigi Fontana

Here, we asked Professor Fontana to elaborate on just a few of the many questions and myths his book tackles.

What’s the first step to making a change?

The first step is to acknowledge our health problems and limitations and challenge the underlying assumptions. Most of us will reshape our behavior only if we have a clear understanding of why it is important to change, and we approve of it. Then we just need to set our goals, pursue them and have faith in them.

Smart people never stop learning, because they know that this is the way to deeper insights and revolutionary changes.

What diet should we be following – vegetarian, Mediterranean, high protein, 5:2 diet?

None of these: many are just fads, oversimplifications of a complex reality. Our society has become obsessed with losing weight, but the real question we should ask is not ‘How can I drop some extra kilos?’, but ‘How can I avoid developing chronic diseases as I age, and possibly live a much longer and healthier life?’

As I have tried to explain in this book, the knowledge we have acquired over the past few decades about the metabolic and molecular mechanisms that regulate aging is allowing us to more accurately choose what to eat, how much of it and when, to meet our nutrient needs.

How important is sleep?

Sleep regenerates the brain, improves the efficiency of the immune system and reduces the risk of infections, while also playing a vital role in consolidating memories and reducing the risk of dementia.

There is no magic number of hours that works for everyone. The most important thing is that sleep is deep and restful, and you wake up feeling restored. This can be difficult for some so the book explores strategies like endurance exercise to improve sleep quality or using yoga and meditation.

What role do family and friendship play in healthy aging?

One of the features of centenarians living in Okinawa and Sardinia is the strong sense of belonging to the family and to a broader social group of friends. One of the Okinawan’s mottos is ‘Shikinoo chui shiihii shiru kurasuru’, which means: ‘We live in this world by helping one another’.

Positive social relationships and friendship play a key role in promoting metabolic, emotional and mental health – so seek them out – as challenging as that may be in current times.

What is the secret to a long, healthy and meaningful life?

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