Secrets of longevity that help you live a happier, healthier life.
Living to 100 is something to celebrate, and it could be within reach.
Don’t think you have much choice in the matter? Research suggests our genetic makeup only accounts for 20 to 30% of our longevity. That leaves 70 to 80% to lifestyle choices — which means how you live your life can have a big impact on how long you live.
Secrets of longevity don’t include the fountain of youth
Knowing how to live longer doesn’t involve any quick fixes to your health. There aren’t special vitamins or medicine that’ll guarantee a longer life. Simply put, it takes consistent, healthy practices over the course of many years to help you live longer.
Small changes to your diet or adding cardio exercise into your daily routine go a long way in helping you live a long life.
Eat a healthy diet
What you eat every day plays a big role in how many days you have left. Your physical and mental health benefit from a balanced diet high in vegetables and lean protein. These foods give your body the nutrients it needs to maintain and repair skin, hair, eyes and to carry out major bodily functions like breathing and digesting.
“Avoid eating too many processed foods,” says Cybele Pacheco, MD, a Geisinger family medicine physician. “They are often high in added sugar, saturated fat and sodium. Focus instead on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.”
Diet isn’t just about eating the right foods, though. Knowing how much to eat is just as important. Overeating can strain your body as your digestive system converts excess nutrients into body fat. Over time, the extra weight puts stress on your joints.
If you want to live longer, try eating in moderation. The traditional Okinawan saying “Hara hachi bu” means “Eat until you are 80% full.” It’s a good mindset if you’re trying not to overeat. Learning to eat slowly and with purpose will help you avoid overindulging.
Part of living to 100 is breaking a sweat — often. Exercising daily goes a long way toward helping you age gracefully. You don’t need to hit the weight room or train for a marathon, though. Consistent aerobic exercise is a great place to start.
“Exercising regularly has many benefits, from helping you maintain a healthy weight and heart to managing stress,” Dr. Pacheco says.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week. If you’d like to work aerobic exercise into your daily routine, try one of the following:
- Bike riding
- Swimming laps
As Dr. Pacheco notes, exercise isn’t just good for your physical health. Physical exercise has an outsized impact on cognitive function and well-being, according to a 2018 study funded by the University of Naples.
Staying calm is another life-lengthening loophole. In fact, stressing over how to live longer may wreak havoc on your efforts.
“Few things age a person faster than constant stress, whether it’s from work, money, family or social relationships,” Dr. Pacheco says.
Of course, some stress is unavoidable. It plays a role in all our lives, and in small doses, it can be beneficial. However, if stress is a part of your daily life, it begins to take its toll.
Learning how to manage your stress can help you live longer. Common practices include:
- Breathing exercises
- Reading a book
- Walking or hiking
The key is to do something you enjoy and incorporate it into your daily life. Whether you find relaxation in walking or counting your breath, make time to do a soothing activity.
Keep your mind active
Wrinkles aren’t the only signs you’re aging. Mental and cognitive decline are other symptoms to watch for. There are steps you can take to slow this process down — some of which involve having fun!
Research suggests memory loss can be improved simply by doing mental exercises. Staying mentally active may also help you prevent cognitive decline, which is thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s.
Stay mentally healthy by keeping your mind active. Take a class to learn something new, read, do crossword puzzles, watch a challenging game show, have stimulating conversations — they all keep your brain busy.
Another of the not-so-secret secrets of longevity? If you smoke, you should stop. Not only does smoking cause heart and lung disease, but it also accelerates aging, especially for the skin. If you’re planning to live a long life, quit smoking or using smokeless tobacco products.
If you smoke, quitting before the age of 40 might help you live as long as someone who never smoked a cigarette. And a 2013 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that quitting by age 54 still reduces your chance of dying prematurely from a smoking-related disease by two-thirds.
To live to 100, your body needs plenty of rest to maintain and repair itself. Like food, rest is essential in giving your body the energy it needs.
Studies have consistently shown that sleep deprivation or sleeping less than five hours a night can lead to major health problems, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity and cancer. Most adults need seven to eight hours of sleep each night.
So what’s the secret to living to 100?
There’s no secret, no magic pill or elixir. Instead, you can make subtle changes in your daily life that give your body and mind the best chance to age well.
“There may not be one secret to living to 100 years old, but there are small, incremental changes you can make throughout life that impact your long-term health,” Dr. Pacheco says.