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7 Secrets to Living Your Longest Life

Science discovered that people who have certain habits live longer.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Life expectancy has been attracting headlines for all the wrong reasons: In America, it's declined for the past two years, largely because of the effects of COVID-19. Ironically, in the past few years, science has discovered that people who have certain habits demonstrably live longer. Which ones? Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Dump This Diet and Adopt This One

mediterranean diet

In research published in PLOS Medicine, researchers found you can extend your life up to 13 years by swapping a Western diet for something close to Mediterranean. Scientists calculated how much longer a person might live if they replaced the typical Western diet (heavy in processed foods and red meat) with an "optimized diet" that nixed red or processed meat and sugar-sweetened beverages, included a limited amount of dairy and eggs, and emphasized fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts. The researchers found that if a man started eating the optimized diet at age 20, he could add 13 years to his life, while a woman who did the same could add 10 years. Even starting the healthier diet at age 60 was found to lengthen life by nine and eight years for men and women respectively. A reduction in heart disease and cancer risk was likely the reason.



Tired senior woman after jogging. Tired senior woman resting after running outdoors. African female runner standing with hands on knees. Fitness sport woman resting after intensive evening run

Study after study has reached the same conclusion: Regular exercise is a ticket to a longer life. One study found that adults who meet or exceed the World Health Organization's recommendation to get 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week can add about five years to their lives, while research published last fall found that people who take 7,000 to 9,000 steps a day (30 to 45 minutes of exercise most days) reduce their chance of premature death by up to 70%. And it doesn't take much to see life-extending benefits: A 2019 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that exercising for just ten minutes a week is enough to increase your lifespan. 


Own a Dog


Looking at seven decades of studies, researchers at the University of Toronto found that dog ownership was associated with a 31 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease—and a 24 percent lower risk of death from any cause. It could be that having an active, loving pet forces you to get more exercise and reduces stress. "Having a dog was associated with increased physical exercise, lower blood pressure levels, and better cholesterol profile in previous reports," said Caroline Kramer, MD, PhD, the study's lead author. 


Get Better Sleep

woman awake in bed

Scientists agree that getting quality sleep reduces your risk of potentially life-shortening illnesses like cancer, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and dementia. One study in 2014 was particularly eye-opening: it found that the "oldest old" individuals had more regular sleep and wake times, and experienced more "slow-wave" sleep—two key aspects of sleep quality—concluding that good sleep is necessary for longevity.


Reduce Stress

happy woman over 40 stretches on yoga mat

In a study published in BMJ Open, researchers found that experiencing chronic heavy stress shortened people's lives—by 2.8 years in men's and 2.3 years in women. "Having some stress, but no more than what is usual, was associated with lower hazard [of premature death] than when feeling life almost unbearable," the scientists noted. Stress seems to cause an inflammatory response in the body, which may increase the risk of heart disease and cancer and even shrink the brain.


Form and Nurture Good Relationships

Senior couple cooking healthy food and drinking red wine at house kitchen.

"People who are in happier, more satisfying relationships live longer," Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, told CNN. One major finding of the study, which has been going on for almost 100 years: "The most important predictor of who was going to be a healthy, happy octogenarian was how satisfied they were in their relationships," he said.


Maintain a Sense of Purpose

Mature couple holding hands on a walk in the park in summer

A 2019 study published in JAMA found a link between a strong sense of purpose in life and a lower risk of dying from any cause after age 50. When scientists followed 7,000 adults older than 50 for five years, they found that those who scored their lives lowest in purpose were twice as likely to have died than those who scored it the highest.

And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael
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