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The Easy and Effective Diet Tweak That Helps You Live Longer

In a new study, subjects lost 20 pounds and saw signs of improved health with this change.

Though we tend to think of diets as tools used to manipulate weight, the implications of what you eat go far deeper than that, influencing your risk of chronic disease, premature aging, and even mortality. Now, a new study says there's a relatively minor diet tweak you can make that can overhaul your health and help you live longer. Read on to learn the easy and effective diet change that can deliver a higher quality of life—and more of it.

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Reducing your calorie intake can improve longevity.

Young woman eating healthy food sitting in the beautiful interior with green flowers on the background

A recent study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) may change the way we think about calorie consumption.

After looking at previously gathered data from the National Institute on Aging's (NIA) Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE), a 24-month behavioral intervention program used to analyze how calorie restriction might slow human aging, the team noted major health benefits to consuming fewer calories.

They concluded that calorie restriction can have a significant impact on lifespan, "and delay or slow the progression of a wide variety of age-related morbidities and chronic conditions."

Even a modest reduction can make a difference.

Female doctor consulting with the overweight patient, discussing test result in doctor office. Obesity affecting middle-aged men's health. Concept of health risks of overwight and obesity.

At the study's outset, the subjects aimed to reduce their calorie consumption by 25 percent, while taking special care not to sacrifice nutrition. However, things were much different in practice.

The average participant reduced their calorie consumption by a modest 12 percent. That said, the researchers found that even this moderate calorie reduction "activated biological pathways linked to muscle repair, aging, and inflammation."

The team says this underscores the fact that for many people, effective calorie restriction is a goal within reach.

"A 12 percent reduction in calorie intake is very modest," Luigi Ferrucci, MD, PhD, the study's corresponding author and NIA Scientific Director, said via news release. "This kind of small reduction in calorie intake is doable and may make a big difference in your health."

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Subjects experienced significant weight loss.

Smiling young woman after weight loss measuring waist in front of mirror

The study subjects also experienced another benefit: They lost an average of 20 pounds. This represented a roughly 10 percent reduction in body weight across the group.

Though this did trigger a loss of muscle mass, it did not appear to reduce muscle strength in participants. The researchers inferred that this is likely because "calorie restriction improved the amount of force generated by each unit of muscle mass, called muscle specific force," notes the news release.

Experts say that shedding this percentage of your body weight can come with outsized health benefits. For instance, one study found that among people at high risk for type 2 diabetes, those who exercised for 30 minutes daily and lost at least 7 percent of their body weight slashed their diabetes risk by 58 percent, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports.

They also benefited from reduced inflammation.

Doctor talking to patient during medical appointment in a hospital - wearing protective face mask

Another benefit of modestly reducing your caloric intake is that you can help lower inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked to higher rates of heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, and more, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

"Since inflammation and aging are strongly coupled, calorie restriction represents a powerful approach to preventing the pro-inflammatory state that is developed by many older people," explains Ferrucci.

By eating more anti-inflammatory foods and cutting out those that are calorically dense but nutritionally lacking, you're likely to see major improvements to your health and longevity.

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Best Life offers the most up-to-date information from top experts, new research, and health agencies, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the medication you're taking or any other health questions you have, always consult your healthcare provider directly.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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