Eternal youth is achieved day by day. An interview with Francesco Landi from Policlinico Gemelli in Rome
Francesco Landi is chief physician of Geriatric Rehabilitation at Policlinico Gemelli in Rome and the author of dozens of scientific articles about aging. With his colleagues of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome, he coordinates the SPRINTT project, the first project in Europe aimed at fighting aging defined as physical frailty.
Professor Landi, what is the impact of genetics on longevity? And how important is lifestyle to live a long life?
Genes only have a 20 to 25% impact on longevity. What we found in our scientific studies is that there are no genes associated with a person’s functional decline and reduced walking speed, while the greatest impact on aging is attributable to lifestyle. Longevity is not a gift of nature but can be achieved step by step with a correct lifestyle and adequate prevention.
What are your most important recommendations for a healthy lifestyle?
First of all, people should not smoke and avoid alcohol abuse. However, to age well it is important to take care of oneself starting from youth, through a balanced diet and a physical activity program that must be taught from school age and continued life-long. In particular, it is crucial to keep waist circumference and body mass index within normal ranges: we have had clear experimental evidence that a body weight within normal range is closely related to the length of life.
What do you mean by physical activity? How much do we need to move to live longer?
Physical activity should be practiced life-long through a well-structured programme. The ideal combination is a half hour of fast walking, running or biking two or three times per week, associated with a little gym. Even those who have had a sedentary lifestyle for all their lives can change: trials show that the benefits of physical activity are immediately noticeable even in people who start when they are 40 or 50 years old, after leading sedentary lives. A study recently published in PLOS One journal, which used data from the Italian study called Longevity check-up 7+, showed for the first time that regular physical activity provides considerable protection against age-related functional decline.
And what about diet?
According to a recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition, Health and Aging, to achieve the best performance it is necessary to follow a balanced diet, which includes adequate protein intake. We recommend to follow a Mediterranean diet, with 3 to 5 portions of fruits and vegetables every day, associated with a correct protein intake, also from high quality food of animal origin. To fight against the loss of muscular mass which occurs with aging (sarcopenia), it is necessary to intake at least 1.2 gr of proteins per kg of body weight daily, starting when people are young to continue later on.
These suggestions are the pillars of the SPRINTT European project that involves 11 countries under the leadership of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore. What is the project about? What are the objectives?
SPRINTT is the first European project showing that an adequate programme of physical activity and healthy diet and can prevent and fight against physical frailty and loss of muscular mass in the elderly, two factors that lead to disability. The project has obtained an important grant of 49 million euro by IMI-Innovative Medicines Initiative, the public-private partnership promoted by the European Commission General Directorate for Research and involves 11 European countries under the leadership of Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore in Rome. The project started last year and has enrolled about 1500 elderly so far, all over Europe. The subjects were divided into two groups: one group was invited to follow a simple educational programme on a correct lifestyle, the second group must follow a well-structured diet and physical activity programme. In about one year, we will have the initial results and will be able to confirm if this approach is useful to prevent disability and make longevity a goal that everybody can achieve, step by step, through a correct lifestyle.