13 Secrets to Extending Your Healthy Years, Backed by Science
You should focus on extending your healthy life, say experts.
A person who's expected to live to age 79 is likely to experience their first serious illness at age 63, Scientific American recently reported. That person may live for more than a decade in ill health and with diminished quality of life. That's why medical experts are working on how Americans can extend their health span—the number of healthy years enjoyed, not just the total years lived. "We're now saying our focus should be on extending healthy life rather than just length of life and slowing aging is the tool to do it," said Jay Olshansky, a longevity expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Newsful spoke with experts who gave us key secrets to extending your healthy years, backed by science.
"In my extensive research into aging and longevity, I've been particularly drawn to the principle of 'hormesis.' It's the fascinating idea that small, controlled exposures to stress can be beneficial, enhancing our health and resilience," says Dr. Marios Kyriazis, a gerontologist and contributor to For the Ageless. "Physical activity is an area where hormesis comes into play. It's not just about routine exercise but occasionally pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zones. Whether it's trying a new sport, increasing the intensity of our workouts, or even just taking the stairs more often, these physical challenges can stimulate our body's adaptive responses, making us fitter and more resilient."
"On the mental front, challenging our brains is equally important," says Kyriazis. "Tackling a complex jigsaw puzzle, learning a new language, or even engaging in activities that test our memory and cognitive skills can serve as 'mental workouts.' These tasks might initially seem daunting, but they're crucial in keeping our minds sharp and agile."
"Loneliness can play a big factor in our overall health—even beyond our mental health. Making plans with a friend, even for a video chat, can boost one's mood and improve overall health," says Dr. Katie Hill, a board-certified psychiatrist and CMO of Nudj Health.
"Eating a whole food diet, where you prepare the majority of your own meals, is going to give you a good foundation for health," says Dan Gallagher, a registered dietitian with Aegle Nutrition.
"Add in some kind of resistance or strength training at least three days a week," advises Gallagher. "The more active you remain as you age, the higher level of fitness you're able to keep, which will help prevent any kind of structural accidents, like broken bones."
"Maintaining a healthy weight is essential" for healthy aging, says Steve Theunissen, an ISSA/IFPA certified personal trainer. "Obesity is linked to numerous health issues, so working on a sustainable, long-term approach to weight management is key. Remember, it's not just about looking good; it's about feeling good and being in it for the long haul."
"We live in a hyper-frazzled, multi-tasking, venti-caffeinated, relentlessly sleep-deprived world from which it is becoming increasingly difficult to unplug—both metaphorically and physically. Stress is directly linked to inflammation, the root cause of all age-related diseases, from cancer to heart disease to diabetes," says Darnell Cox, a gerontologist and healthy aging coach. If you want to live longer, you must start prioritizing a stress-reduction protocol as part of your healthy aging lifestyle."
"Sleep is essential for every bodily process," says Cox. "Getting seven to nine hours of sleep reduces your risk of many diseases and disorders such as heart disease, dementia, stroke, and obesity. Sleep helps to reduce stress and improve and stabilize mood. It boosts your immune system and improves brain function."
"Intermittent fasting may be an excellent way to increase your healthy years," says Trista Best, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements. "The intermittent fasting approach is typically done in a 16-hour fasting window with an 8-hour eating and drinking window. "Weight loss is attributed to the decrease in food while the immune benefits are from specific cellular processes that occur. Damaged cells are more easily removed from the body during this time as the digestive tract can focus on this process alone, and the immune system is essentially reset."
"There is a clear and well-established link between periodontal disease and diabetes. Simply put, people with periodontal disease are far more likely to have diabetes mellitus and vice versa. It seems quite likely that periodontal disease is also linked to cardiovascular disease and even Alzheimer's," says Dr. Jordan Weber, a dentist in Burlington, Kansas. "Beyond periodontal disease, poor oral health often manifests in edentulism—a fancy term for the loss of teeth. The average quality of life for a person with teeth is significantly different from the average quality of life for a same-age person without teeth."
"Elevated blood sugar levels contribute to metabolic disorder, which will not only shorten your life, it will also diminish the quality of that life," says Cox. "Type 2 diabetes is at an all-time high, and it's no wonder with the ultra-processed, sugar-laden American diet. Learning how to stabilize your blood sugar level can prevent serious health problems such as heart disease, dementia, and kidney disease. In addition, healthy blood glucose levels improve mood, cut cravings for sugar and starchy foods, increase energy levels, and aid in healthy weight management."
"One way to extend healthspan is through unsurprising preventive maintenance," Scientific American reported. "Experts recommend checkups, staying on top of cholesterol levels and blood pressure, and following guidelines such as those from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition for body fat percentage, lean body mass, and bone density."
"According to science, there is no single key or secret to extending our healthy years. Rather, it is a combination of genetic, environmental, behavioral, and psychological factors that interact in complex ways to shape our aging trajectories," says Dr. Alex Foxman, president and founder of Mobile Physician Associates. "The challenge for researchers is to understand these factors better and to develop personalized strategies that can optimize healthspan for each individual. The challenge for society is to create policies and environments that support healthy aging for all. Healthy aging is not a sprint—it's a marathon that should start as early as possible in adult life."