10 simple ways to help extend your life

longevity2Average life expectancy in the U.S. has been rising steadily and is currently 78.8 years. But what if you want to increase your personal life expectancy? We all know some keys to a longer, healthier life: regular exercise, eating more vegetables, going easy on the sodas and junk food, and avoiding tobacco products. But research has indicated some other behavioral things you can do to help add more years to your life. Here are ten simple physical, emotional, and psychological changes that, if made on a daily basis, could give you a longer – and happier – life.

1. Don’t worry so much. The Huffington Post conducted an informal survey of hundreds of older Americans and asked their biggest regret in their lives. Their most frequent answer? “I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying.” Many people spend chunks of their precious time worrying about things in the future that they have little or no control over, and which may or may not actually happen.
Besides wasting time, chronic worrying can lead to high levels of stress hormones which are toxic to the brain and immune system and lead to inflammation, high blood sugar, and fat storage. The elders suggest some ways to reduce worrying: 1) develop a concrete plan to prepare for whatever it is you’re worried about; 2) focus on today, not the far future; and 3) learn to accept things as they come.

2. Keep a positive attitude. A study of over 200 centenarians by the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York found that most had an optimistic outlook, characterized by humor and an easygoing attitude. So keep view of the lighter side of life. Watch TV shows, movies, or online videos that make you laugh or spend time with friends who do. Laughter helps decrease blood pressure, and blood sugars, ease pain, and reduce stress levels. Also take time to feel gratitude each day. Pessimism, anxiety, and chronic stress, say researchers, produce a stress reaction within the body which can weaken the immune system, while happiness tends to decrease stress.

3. Keep up with your social life. An extensive data analysis by Brigham Young University found a clear connection between social interaction and lifespan. People with strong social networks and close ties to friends or family tend to be less susceptible to illnesses and have significantly longer lifespans. “Our social relationships are important not only to our quality of life, but also our longevity,” says Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, of Brigham Young University. The healthful effects of social ties are comparable to those of regular exercise or quitting smoking.

4. Find your life’s purpose. In a study of 6,000 people, the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York found that those who had a greater sense of purpose were less likely to die during the 14-year study than those who lacked a sense of purpose. So find your passion, or get involved in a worthy cause or two, and focus on making a positive difference.

5. One way to gain a sense of purpose is through volunteering. A review of data published in the journal BMC Public Health found that volunteerism was associated with lower levels of depression, better life satisfaction, and overall health. Another study found that retirees who volunteered had lower rates of high blood pressure and risk of heart disease.

6. Get enough sleep, but not too much. The optimum amount of sleep seems to be between seven and eight hours per night. Studies cited by Harvard Medical School indicate that people who get less than five or more than nine hours of sleep per night tend to have shorter lifespans. Chronic lack of sleep has been linked with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia, and premature death. But other studies have found that sleeping more than eight hours per night was linked with a 12 percent decrease in longevity.

7. Run for a few minutes each day. A recent study confirmed the health benefits of running. Over a 15-year period, runners were 45 percent less likely to die from heart disease, and 30 percent less likely to die from any cause, than nonrunners were. What’s more, the study found that running just five to ten minutes of running per day confers similar benefits as running a half hour per day.

8. Don’t sit too long. Many people spend a good part of the day sitting: sitting at a computer, at a desk, in a car seat, or in front of the television. But studies have found people who sat for prolonged periods of time had a higher risk of dying from all causes, even if they exercised regularly. Studies have documented higher rates of type 2 diabetes, cancer, and cancer-related deaths in very sedentary people. Other studies have linked more sitting and less activity with an increased risk of developing dementia. The reasons for the connection are unclear, but some research suggests prolonged sitting has harmful effects on sugar and fat metabolism, both of which affect a person’s risk of diabetes and heart disease, according to a study author at Harvard Medical School.

Researchers recommend standing and walking around for one to three minutes for each half hour of sitting. You can set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you. While watching TV, consider standing and doing light exercise during commercials.

9. Consider having a drink or two. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, over 100 studies have found moderate intake of alcoholic beverages is associated with a 25 percent to 40 percent reduction in risk of heart attack, stroke, and death from heart disease. The benefits were traced to the ethanol in the beverages. It affects levels of cholesterol, sugars, and insulin in the blood, as well as inflammation and coagulation. What constitutes moderate intake? One or two drinks per day for men, and one drink for women.

10. Spend time with four-legged friends. Research over 25 years has indicated that living with pets has health benefits including lower blood pressure and anxiety, and stronger immune systems. Walking a dog helps the owner get needed exercise and social contacts. Male pet owners have fewer risk factors for heart disease than non-owners, researchers say. Even spending time with pets as a non-owner can have health benefits. Playing with a dog can elevate levels of the nerve transmitters serotonin and dopamine that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties.

How about flossing? For years, we have been told that flossing your teeth daily leads to lower risk of heart disease. But according to a recent study published in Circulation, the American Heart Association’s journal,  while gum disease and cardiovascular disease often occur together, there’s no proof that one causes the other. The two conditions share common risk factors such as smoking, age, and obesity. Furthermore, there was no evidence that preventing or treating gum disease had any effect on heart health. Good dental hygiene is still important though, as it prevents cavities and tooth loss.

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