Secrets to a Long, Healthy Life
If you were an Ancient Roman, you would have been considered lucky to live to the ripe old age of 40. Today, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.94 years, nearly double that of the old gladiators. This is great news, but there is a good evidence that with the right lifestyle, you could extend that number even further. Just how much difference can lifestyle adjustments make to the number of candles that you blow out in your lifetime? Quite a bit, actually. If you live in Canada, you can expect to live to about 82 years of age, while our friends in Japan have an average life expectancy of 84. What is it about some cultures that helps their people see more decades than others? Recent research has looked at cultures with the highest and lowest life expectancy, and with the information gained, we are now able to pinpoint specific behaviors and habits that influence how likely you are to live to a ripe old age.
If you need proof that we have the power to extend our years of life, you only need to look at the fact that life expectancy continues to rise in most developed countries, especially those that already rank among the longest living cultures. What these cultures have in common is a commitment to living a healthy life that honors both their body and spirit. Of course, we must also give credit to medical advancements as well. At the current rate, it is entirely possible that you can live well past eighty or even ninety years of age, even if you haven’t won the genetic lottery. Another interesting fact is that while life expectancies continue to rise around the world, they seem to be remaining stagnant in the United States. So, what are the great secrets to a long life that some of us know, and the rest of us can learn from? Here are just a few of those secrets, some scientifically backed and some just honest advice from people who have lived to ninety or one-hundred years of age and beyond.
The Two C’s: Conscientious and Consistent
You only live once, so you might as well go out and enjoy every minute of it. After all, happy people tend to live longer than those that are miserable, right? There is both some truth and misconception in that statement. Yes, you should live an authentic life immersed in the things that bring you joy and fulfillment. However, those people who fly by the seat of their pants and are constantly looking for the next great experience, might want to scale back a bit. Research shows that people who have some consistency in their lives live longer than those who do not, even if that consistency comes from things that don’t bring you noticeable pleasure.
In order to have that consistency in your life, you must be at least somewhat conscientious of your thoughts and actions, as well as how they will affect your life in both the short and long term. Conscientious people who invite consistency into their lives are more likely to make thoughtful and healthy decisions about how they live. Also, unpredictability brings stress, while predictability forms a foundation around which to center yourself. Predictable does not need to be synonymous with boring, it just means that you have some steadiness in your life and that you are thoughtful about your words and actions. Keep a schedule, wake up at the same time every day, have routines and traditions, pay your bills on time, make conscientious decisions and make a point of being kind and fostering healthy relationships if you want to celebrate a few more years of life.
Don’t Stop Working
Are you counting down the years, or maybe weeks, until you retire? Do you have daydreams of how you would quit your job and live a life of leisure should you come into a significant amount of money? You might think that all that stress-free leisure time will add years to your life, but it turns out that the opposite might be true. When we look at the longest living societies on earth, what we notice is that they never stop working. This doesn’t mean that you need to be putting in forty hours a week while in your eighties, but you should look for constructive ways to focus your energy and resources. In societies where hitting 100 isn’t unusual, the elderly are typically out doing gardening, walking, volunteering and learning. These activities help to keep your body and your mind fit, while giving you a greater sense of purpose, which is something that is essential for living a long life. Retirement shouldn’t be one long vacation, but instead the next chapter of your life where you continue to learn and grow through new experiences.
Find a Connection
The statistics say that women, in general, live a few years longer than men. While there are many theories on why this is, one of the most interesting is one that involves socialization. Connectedness with other people is thought to be one of the major factors affecting longevity, and women tend to be more social than men. The more connected you are, the happier and more secure you feel. There is comfort in knowing that you have someone to turn to, that you have someone to share with and that you belong to your own village. To tap into this longevity resource, look for ways to increase your social circles. Join groups with common interests, make a point of meeting new people, but also don’t forget to foster and grow the relationships that you already have, including the one with your spouse or significant other. Research shows that people who are married tend to live three to five years longer on average. This might be enough to make up for the fact that they steal the covers from you every night.
Get Up and Move
You already know that a sedentary lifestyle is bad for you, but did you know that for every hour that you spend being a couch potato that you could potentially be shaving more than twenty minutes off your life? If you are someone that detests the idea of spending time in the gym every day, don’t despair. Even low impact, mild movement can add years to your life. Get up and walk around the neighborhood every evening, do some stretches in the morning and consider that free yoga class. Take advantage of all the ways that you can increase physical activity around your home. Doing yardwork, gardening, cleaning, and even standing to wash the dishes by hand are all little ways to incorporate more movement into your life. If you have a job that requires long hours in a chair, make a point of getting up at least once or twice an hour, even if it is just to stretch your legs. The point is to do something, anything, other than sit around all day.
Get Good Sleep
Sleep disturbances are something that too many of us suffer from. It can be hard to shut down the mental train that runs nonstop in your head, but if you want to live a longer life, learning how to get adequate sleep is vital. While you are sleeping, your body uses the down time to rest and repair. Your body needs a minimum of six hours to accomplish this. Anything less than that and you are starting your day with leftover damage on a molecular level. Add to this that not getting enough sleep is likely to leave your irritable and stressed, neither of which are factors that will increase your longevity. If you find yourself tired and sluggish during the day, go ahead and indulge in a short nap if you are able. People who nap on a regular basis are 37% less likely to die from heart disease. People who have hit triple digit birthdays will tell you that sleep and rest should be a priority.
What and How You Eat Really Matters
Studies that look at the diets of centurions reveal that if you want to feel young and sprite as you approach your one-hundredth birthday that you should follow a Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet, which is full of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and fresh fish, has been shown to lower your risk of heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Other diets that center around fresh produce and high-quality grains, such as the one followed by the Okinawans, have also been thought to contribute to increased longevity.
What do these diets have in common? They consist of fresh, natural foods that are low in saturated fats, sodium, sugar and all the other bad stuff that comes with the highly-processed diets that many of us in the western world consume. It also isn’t just the food on your plate that makes all the difference. People who live the longest understand moderation and can recognize their body’s signals of satiety. We come from a culture where parents often encourage children to eat everything on their plate and maybe even reprimand them if they don’t. Instead we should focus on developing healthy eating habits and recognizing the point where we feel satisfied, but not full. Eat slowly, and pay attention to your body’s cues. Once you get to the point that you no longer feel physically hungry, it is ok to push the plate away. After this point, you are feeding an emotional hunger rather than a physical one.
Faith and Spirituality
Research shows that it doesn’t really matter what your spiritual beliefs are, or what religious beliefs you subscribe to, but spending time in worship, prayer or fellowship at least once a week can increase your lifespan anywhere for four to nearly fifteen years. The time you spend devoted to your spirituality helps you feel connected to something larger than yourself, it gives you greater perspective, gives you hope, and gives you a sense of community and belonging when you spend time with others who share your similar beliefs.
People who drink moderately are doing their part to live a little longer. Moderate drinking, meaning one drink per day for women and one to two drinks per day for men, can reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and possibly diabetes. Additionally, the occasional drink can help you to relax and shrug off some of that inflammation-causing stress after a long day. Research shows that moderate drinkers might even have a little leg up in the longevity department over people who don’t drink at all. If you are a nondrinker, this certainly isn’t enough reason to develop the habit, but if you are someone who overindulges regularly, this is enough reason to cut back and enjoy the benefits of protecting your health and increasing your longevity.
Experiencing and sharing love is one of the strongest contributors to a long, healthy life. Love affects us on an emotional and a physical level. Cherish and nourish the relationships with the people that you love the most. Extend that love out and share it with others through compassion, kindness and respect. We get back what we put forth in this world. If you send out your love to others, you will get in back in return, in one form or another, often in ways you might never expect. These are the things that bring true joy and satisfaction from a life well lived, no matter how many years it may be.