By Lisa Turner
Is a long, healthy life simply a roll of the genetic dice? Genes do play a part, but new research suggests certain habits and practices can extend life span by decades—and improve the quality of those years. Try these six simple routines for more time on the planet—and enjoy every minute.
1. Eat like a bird. Dozens of studies suggest eating less delays the onset of age-related disease and enhances longevity. Reducing daily caloric intake by 30 to 50 percent appears to trigger metabolic changes that improve markers of heart disease, dampen inflammation and lessen the risk of cancer. To cut calories without impacting antioxidants and other disease-preventive nutrients, kick empty calories (sugar, processed foods, refined grains) and focus on vegetables and lean protein, with moderate amounts of fruits and healthy fats—olive oil, avocados, nuts and seeds are ideal.
2. Tame your tension. Stress, anxiety and fretting slash years from your existence, while a calm, balanced approach to life fosters longevity and well-being. You can't always control events, but you can take charge of your response; studies show centenarians tend to be laid back and relaxed, even when faced with significant challenges. Next time you face a stressful situation: take a deep breath, close your eyes and visualize your whole body relaxing. Start with your throat and jaw, then move to your shoulders, back and extremities; imagine breathing out tension with every exhale. Or try tranquility-promoting practices like yoga, tai chi, deep breathing and meditation, shown to tame stress and enhance quality of life.
3. Move more, sit less. Active folk live longer (and better), and a sedentary lifestyle is linked with greater likelihood of disease, fewer years on the planet. Curb your couch-potato tendencies and move more. Some research suggests even modest exercise—like walking for half an hour a day—can increase lifespan by a year and a half. Plus, physical activity builds strong bones, diminishes stress, improves sleep and encourages positive outlook—all fundamental players in longevity. Even better if you exercise outside; sun exposure boosts your body's production of vitamin D, proven to protect against disease.
4. Flex your mental muscles. As important as building those biceps: giving your brain a regular workout. An agile mind is linked with longevity, and studies show consistently challenging your cognitive abilities prompt neural connections, triggers the formation of new brain cells, slows cognitive decline and protects against dementia. Learn a language, read brainiac books, master chess, memorize complex poems, take a painting class—any mentally stimulating hobby you'll stick with. But keep it fresh; novel activities are key. Once skills become rote, move on.
5. Embrace your inner optimist. One thing long-living people have in common: they’re happy campers. Research shows people with a cheery outlook live longer than their dour counterparts, and studies consistently link hostility, depression and a sense of hopelessness with higher rates of disease and death. One proven way to promote positive outlook: meaningful relationships and positive social interaction are associated with lower mortality, more contentment and well-being. And help others—research links empathy, compassion and selflessness with longer lifespan.
6. Live like an Adventist. There's a lot to be said for good, clean living: studies show Seventh Day Adventists (who generally don’t drink, smoke or eat meat) live an average of eight years longer than the rest of us, with significantly lower rates of heart disease, cancer, arthritis and other age-related conditions. Quit smoking, limit alcohol and minimize meat, especially red meat—it's associated with a greater risk of disease and early death. And make time for what matters; Adventists set aside weekends for family and spiritual practices—pivotal for a long, fulfilling life.
Is a chef, nutritionist, researcher and book author with more than 25 years of experience in the field of food, health and nutrition. After earning her master's degree in journalism, she worked for the Los Angeles Times and other leading dailies and weeklies. She is the author of five books on health and nutrition. She is also a second-degree black belt and instructor in Ninjutsu martial arts, and is developing a national program to train young women in self-protection. You can reach Lisa at: inspiredeating.com or follow her on Facebook @inspiredeatingnutrition or Instagram: @inspiredeating