7 Habits That Can Add "Years to Your Life"
When it comes to aging, it's not enough to just live longer—the quality of life in those years is incredibly important. "It's never too late to make positive lifestyle changes. Even for those who are 70 or older, following a healthy lifestyle such as eating a healthy diet and being physically active can add more years to life," says Frank Hu, Ph.D. Here are 7 habits that will add years to your life, experts say. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.
A Healthy Diet
Studies show that following a healthy diet can add ten years to your life. "It's important to look at disease-free life expectancy because that has important implications in terms of improving quality of life and reducing overall health care costs," says Dr. Hu. "Extending lifespan is not sufficient, we want to extend health span, so the longer life expectancy is healthy and free of major chronic diseases and disabilities associated with those diseases."
Movement Throughout the Day
Staying active throughout the day is strongly linked with a longer, healthier life, according to research. "We found that even a low level of physical activity—equivalent to about 10 minutes a day of walking—was associated with a gain of almost 2 years in life expectancy," says Dr. Steven Moore. "High levels of activity—equivalent to about 45 minutes a day of walking—were associated with a gain of 4 years or more… People who were obese and inactive lost about 7 years of life compared to normal weight people who were active."
Not smoking—or stopping smoking—will add years to your life, experts say. "If you quit smoking, whether you're 40, 50, 60, or 70, there is a great amount of data that says you will live more days and more years from that point forward," says pulmonary specialist Nate Hatton, MD. "The sooner you quit, the less lung disease you will have, which means your quality of life will always be better. The more you smoke, the more you're sort of perpetuating this lung damage and ultimately, you will need oxygen and become disabled. And so quitting smoking earlier before you have any of those symptoms or lung damage issues will obviously enhance your quality of life."
Being Mindful With Alcohol
Did you know even one drink a day could shorten your life expectancy? "The key message of this research for public health is that, if you already drink alcohol, drinking less may help you live longer and lower your risk of several cardiovascular conditions," says Angela Wood, a biostatistician from the University of Cambridge. "Alcohol consumption is associated with a slightly lower risk of non-fatal heart attacks, but this must be balanced against the higher risk associated with other serious – and potentially fatal – cardiovascular diseases."
Unchecked, chronic stress can take years off your life—one study showed that people with better "emotional regulation" and "self control skills" were biologically younger than their stressed-out counterparts. "A lot of people have felt on a gut level that stress makes us age faster, and our study shows that that is true," says Zachary Harvanek, MD, Ph.D, resident psychiatrist at Yale. "The most surprising aspect of the study is that resilience factors, like emotion regulation, can protect us not just from the mental effects of stress, but also from the effects of stress on our physical health."
Get Enough Sleep and Be Consistent
"If there is one thing I tell people, it's to go to bed and to wake up at the same time every day, no matter what," says neuroscientist Matthew Walker, director of the Center for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley. "I take my sleep incredibly seriously because I have seen the evidence. Once you know that after just one night of only four or five hours' sleep, your natural killer cells—the ones that attack the cancer cells that appear in your body every day—drop by 70%, or that a lack of sleep is linked to cancer of the bowel, prostate and breast, or even just that the World Health Organization has classed any form of night-time shift work as a probable carcinogen, how could you do anything else?"
Maintain an Active Social Life
Multiple studies from around the world have shown the positive impact community and social circles have on life expectancy. "As humans, we have many different regulatory systems — blood pressure, metabolism, stress hormones," says Teresa Ellen Seeman, professor of medicine at the UCLA School of Public Health. "There are data that suggest all these systems are affected by social relationships. People who report more supportive and positive social relationships have …. lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, better glucose metabolism and lower levels of various stress hormones."