Eat Well & Exercise: How a Plant-Based Diet May Boost Longevity

By:- Kristen Sunstrum, RD

Want to live longer?

Eat well & exercise. 

We know you’ve heard it before. Whether it be from your mother, doctor, coach, or social media.

So, why repeat the same old adage? Because substantial science shows that eating a healthy, balanced diet combined with regular exercise can reduce your risk of several diseases, improve your mental health, and ultimately help you live a longer and healthier life.

Athletes have long been looking to optimize both ends of the equation: diet and exercise. To complement tailored training programs, many superstar athletes have turned to a plant-based diet to not only promote their athletic careers, but their life.

For example, Venus Williams reportedly began starting a plant-based diet over 10 years ago in 2011. The motivation came after being diagnosed with an auto-immune disease. She credits the diet to help her recover better after matches and now suffers less pain while living with her auto-immune disease [1].

Colin Kaepernick, an American social activist and former NFL quarterback also made the switch to veganism back in 2016. He reports that the diet has made him feel strong and healthy, and he “always feels better” to perform his best, even when off the field [1].

These superstars provide living proof that elite athletes can thrive on a well planned plant-based diet not only to optimize their athletic careers, but for life.

So why did these athletes choose to follow a plant-based or fully vegan diet? In this article, we will uncover the latest science behind plant-based diets and longevity

Plant-based diets reduce inflammation and may combat aging

Athletes naturally experience higher levels of inflammation due to the creation of radical oxygen species (ROS) during exercise. 

Whole, plant foods are naturally rich in antioxidants and will sequester these free radicals, suppressing inflammation. This means that in the short-term, a plant-based diet may promote recovery from exercise while in the long-term may slow down aging and fight chronic diseases [2]. 

One food that is supercharged with antioxidants includes turmeric. You can enjoy turmeric in a cleansing turmeric miso broth, add it as a spice to your favourite dishes or even in a warming latte.

Plant-based diets are associated with a lower risk of several diseases and mortality 

One of the largest ongoing studies that can assess vegan diets and health outcomes & mortality is the Adventist Health study. In the most recent cohort, researchers studied over nearly 50,000 people following a plant-based diet. Plant-based diets include vegetarian, lacto-ovo vegetarians, pescatarian, and vegan diets. 

Followers of plant-based diets experienced a 10 to 20% decrease in all-cause mortality compared to non-vegetarians. All-cause mortality means death by any cause, including disease.

In fact, those following a plant-based diet lived 1.5 to 2.4 years longer compared to non-vegetarians. 

The reason why those following a plant-based diet may outlive their meat-eating counterparts is due to a lower risk of several diseases.

For example, plant-based diets were associated with a healthier body weight, lower risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome compared to non-vegetarians.

Interestingly, men who followed a plant-based vegan diet lowered their risk of heart disease the most by 55%. This is a slightly greater reduction in risk compared to woman who follow a plant-based diet.

In this study all participants followed similar lifestyles, such as avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol. Therefore, this study strengthens the notion that plant-based diets alone can help reduce the risk of several diseases and may reduce mortality. 

Why is this the case? Plant-based diets are generally high in fiber and antioxidants while being low in saturated fat, sodium, and calories. This type of nutrient profile helps reduce the risk of many diseases. 

For example, a popular plant-based breakfast like overnight oats is rich in beta-glucan, a type of fiber that can reduce cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease [3]. 

Plant-based diets may reduce dementia & memory loss

While researchers don’t yet agree on the exact mechanism as to why plant-based diets can improve cognitive function, early evidence points towards the gut-brain axis and lower levels of inflammation.

For example, when you compare the gut microbiome of meat eaters to non-meat eaters, those who eat meat host more microbes that create a compound known as trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO). TMAO is associated with a higher risk of neurological disorders [4]. 

Plant-based foods are abundant in ant-inflammatory molecules and can in turn reduce levels of CRP and IL-6. When these proteins are lower, it is associated with a lower risk of dementia and other diseases [3].

Need some inspiration for antioxidant and fiber-rich foods? We recommend the Ikarian Stew. Ikaria is a tiny Greek island nestled in the Mediterranean, and is known to be home to some of the oldest and healthiest people on earth. 

How can I follow a plant-based diet to promote longevity?

Getting enough essential nutrients on a plant-based diet is the best way to reduce your risk of diseases and live a longer, healthier life.

For example, without enough calcium, those following plant-based vegan diets have a 30% higher risk of bone fractures compared to non-vegetarians [4]. As an athlete or a new gym-goer, we know these types of injuries can set you back tremendously.

This is why at FireRoad Foods, we’ve taken the guess-work out of plant-based eating. Our expertly prepared meals are packed with the nutrients you need to get (or stay) at the top of your game. 


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