Calorie restriction: live longer, exercise less

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – For most Americans it is common knowledge that watching your diet, and exercising more typically results in losing weight.

But scientists in St. Louis are discovering that there is a more efficient way to get results, which goes beyond just weight loss. They have found that if a person or animal eats less, they can actually do less physical activity and still lose weight, while possibly living longer.

Dr. Luigi Fontana, a research professor of medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, is one of the people working to redefine what it means to ‘eat right.’ It’s called calorie restriction and goes against what most Americans are familiar with.

Dr. Fontana’s goal is to figure out how people can live longer, without developing diseases like cancer, diabetes, and other common killers.

“Calorie restriction without malnutrition is the most powerful intervention to slow aging and to prevent many of the chronic diseases,” Dr. Fontana said.

Although research conducted on animals has shown this to be the case, Dr. Fontana, is more interested in human results. So he started the only existing study which looks at how calorie restriction affects people.

Joseph Cordell, who some may recognize from his family law commercials, has practiced calorie restriction for quite some time. He became a believer more than a decade ago, when he came across a book called, The 120 Year Diet, and says it takes less discipline than one may think.

“I think the reason this message is not being shouted from the mountain tops and it's not appearing in headlines across America, is because there is perhaps well placed cynicism that the average American is just not going to do this,” said Cordell of the practice.

The idea is, if we eat less our bodies don't have to work as hard and we in turn, don`t have to work as hard on our bodies, meaning less exercise.

“Your body gets the message that resources are in low supply, and because your body is very smart, it makes the necessary changes to prepare for survival under those conditions,” explains Cordell.

While restricting calories, cells and what Dr. Fontana calls ‘pathways’ do not have to work overtime, basically ‘putting fewer miles on your engine.’

Dr. Fontana begins his patients slowly, by reducing their calorie intake five to 10 percent, and says what you eat is very important. The majority of our calories should come from plants, fruits, vegetables and nuts.

“So calorie restriction produces a body that is very efficient.  It uses no more of its body's resources than it has to because it knows it doesn't have the fuel to do anything else,” said Cordell.

That is what Dr. Fontana says enables animals to live longer and healthier lives. Conventional wisdom may tell you to rev up your metabolism to burn more calories, but he says that actually causes damage over time. He says eat less, eat healthy, and in turn work out less to reap the most benefit for your effort.

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