How Longevity Expert Valter Longo Plans to Live to 120
The musician turned scientist has translated his intermittent fasting research into a lifestyle
There are many ways to live a healthy life. The Health Diaries is a weekly series about the habits that keep notable people living well.
Intermittent fasting is one of the hottest fields in longevity research, and Valter Longo, PhD, author of The Longevity Diet and director of the University of Southern California’s Longevity Institute, deserves much of the credit. Several studies, including Longo’s, have linked calorie restriction to a lower risk of disease, better brain function, and, yes, a potentially longer life. The Italian gerontologist has been dubbed the “fasting evangelist” after he helped create a so-called fasting-mimicking diet based on his research.
The method involves eating a low-protein, plant-based diet with a five-day fasting sequence. Longo has also created a corresponding meal program he calls ProLon, short for “pro-longevity,” which his research has linked to changes in biomarkers associated with aging, inflammation, cancer, and diabetes. (Longo says he donates the revenue from ProLon to charity.)
I wake up at 7 a.m. every day. And every other day, I start with a workout. I do about 40 minutes on a bike at high resistance, like I’m going uphill. Then I do some sets of pushups, pullups, and situps. I follow it up with a light breakfast. I usually have tea with one to two slices of cinnamon raisin bread and apricot preserves.
I pay really close attention to my weight when it comes to my eating and fasting. I’m currently at 172 pounds, and my BMI [body mass index] is 22.5 to 23 [which is in the normal range]. If I start to get to 174 or 175 pounds, I start a “snack for lunch” strategy. I keep my snack at 100 calories — usually nuts, olives, or a small salad. But if I do have lunch, it’s usually rice, garbanzo beans, and salad with salmon.
Dinner is my biggest meal — and it’s my only major meal most days. A typical dinner looks like 300 to 400 grams of garbanzo beans, peas, pasta, and lots of olive oil with mixed vegetables. For dessert, I’ll have nuts, dried fruit, or 85 percent dark chocolate. It’s very bitter, but once you get used to it, it’s not that bad!
I take a multivitamin with minerals every three to four days. Data on vitamins has been negative, but at same time it’s a fact that most people in the world have some vitamin deficiencies. After spending a lot of time researching it myself, I’ve found that taking one every three to four days prevents malnourishment and at the same time wouldn’t cause any new nutritional problems.
I’m at home until 10 a.m., where I’m finishing phone calls, papers, and meetings with colleagues in Europe. I am in the lab by 11 a.m. and stay until 7 p.m. I spend lots of time talking to students, postdocs, and clinicians. I read lots of papers, grants, reviews, and emails between meetings. Five months out of the year, I live in Milan, Italy, where I am the director of the Oncology and Longevity Program at the IFOM cancer research institute.
I wish I had more time to read books. I read lots of papers and scientific stuff, but I have no time to read newspapers and books. I’d love to go back and read books from school, authors like Kafka and 100 Years of Solitude.
But I do have time to play music. I actually went to school in Texas for music (as well as biochemistry). Until I went to grad school for a science career, music was my main focus — I was a touring musician. I’d love to go back on tour and record albums. I played guitar in a rock band in Los Angeles. I’m still recording, mostly in a studio in Texas, but it’s a very slow process because I just don’t have the time right now.
My work is honestly my life. I have an 18-hour-a-day regimen. I’m not married and don’t have children, so there isn’t influence there. I go home at 7 p.m. but don’t end the day until 11 p.m. or 12 a.m. I’m always traveling between America and Europe. I’m dedicated to what I do and involved in many clinical trials. My goal is to expand my research and have my book translated into different languages.
I refer to what I do as “the science of staying young versus returning to being young.” [My research] is not just about preventing aging—it’s about why it happens in the first place. I’m interested in how an organism ages and how an organism can stay young and healthy. My focus is on genetics and nutritional intervention.
I hope to make it to 120, but I realize it’s not that easy. I worked with Emma Morano, the longest-living woman in Italy, for five years. I was so sad when she passed away at 117 years old. I used to go three times a year to see her. I observed her life and tried to learn about how she lived for so long. Science is a major part of that and can tell us so much about human survival.