50 Important Habits Linked to a Longer Life
These tips and tricks will ensure you celebrate dozens more birthdays.
When you're in your 20s, the last thing on your mind is your health. Sure, you brush your teeth every night and shower on a semi-daily basis, but when it comes to working out and eating right—well, you'll worry about those things when you're older.
However, though many younger folks aren't all that concerned with how today's habits might affect them tomorrow, you shouldn't let yourself be one of those people who doesn't take their health into their own hands. It's important to consider how all the things you're doing can (and will) have an impact on your health, both now and in the future. With that in mind, here are 50 healthy habits linked to a longer life that you should consider adopting.
Owning a pet
Unfortunately, with age often comes a slow but steady decline in the function of the heart, easily one of the most important organs in the body. So, if you want to ensure that your ticker stays in tip-top shape, consider adopting a pet. Why? According to one 2013 study published in the journal Circulation, owning a pet can reduce your heart disease risk and, should you get heart disease, a pet can increase your chances of survival.
Having a big breakfast
A 2016 study published in The Lancet found that the higher a person's BMI, the higher their risk of mortality was. The good news? There's an easy way to stay slim: eating a satisfactory morning meal every day. In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers found that a traditional diet of a big breakfast, a normal lunch, and a small dinner was most effective when it came to shedding pounds, curbing cravings, and controlling insulin levels in patients with diabetes.
Eating on brightly colored plates
If you're serving a green salad or a leafy green vegetable with dinner, make sure not to use green plates. For a 2012 study, Cornell University researchers served pasta on two different plates—one of which matched the food being served and the other of which contrasted it. They found that participants ate 30 percent more when the food matched the plate. And since eating less is one of the habits linked to a longer life, according to 2017 research published in the journal Clinical Interventions in Aging, keeping up with that contrast is key.
Cooking more at home
Ordering in after a late night at work might be convenient, but it's not doing your waistline any favors. When researchers involved in a 2017 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine studied the eating habits of different households, they found that home-cooked meals better complied with the federal guidelines for a healthy diet—and the more a family ate at home, the better their diet was.
Seeing as one 2019 study published in The Lancet linked approximately 20 percent of deaths worldwide with a poor diet in 2017, it looks like cooking at home more might just be the key to living a longer, healthier, and happier life.
And gathering for routine family meals
In this day and age, making time for family meals is no easy feat. However, if living a long and healthy life is your top priority, then you'll want to try your best to gather everyone together as often as possible. One 2018 study published in the journal Preventive Medicine found that these familial meals reduced stress and anxiety levels. Plus, they also resulted in more frequent consumption of nutritious fruits and vegetables.
Limiting your cruciferous vegetables
Nutrition experts and dietitians are always going on about the importance of eating enough fruits and vegetables, but it turns out that all that produce is not created equal. According to one revered 1983 study published in the journal C R C Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, the breakdown of cruciferous vegetables—ones like cabbage, turnips, and cauliflower—can interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis and cause hypothyroidism, a disorder that can ultimately lead to fatal heart problems and nerve damage if left untreated.
And eating more lean meats
"A big steak might have a lot of protein, but it also has a lot of fat—more than can be trimmed," explains Keith-Thomas Ayoob, an associate clinical professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. To keep your cholesterol levels low and your heart healthy, build your meals around protein sources like turkey, chicken, salmon, and plants, all of which won't clog up your arteries.
Focusing on positive memories
Quit dwelling on the negative and start thinking about the good times instead. When the researchers of a 2016 study published in the journal Psychology and Psychotherapy instructed individuals to focus on positive memories, they found that just thinking about something happy was enough to boost mood, banish anxiety, and increase feelings of safety and security. What's more, studies—such as this one published in the journal Age and Ageing—have found that older individuals who are happy tend to live longer. So don't wait to start looking on the bright side!
And being more positive in general
A good attitude does more than just brighten your day. According to Harvard Medical School, a series of studies confirmed that being a "glass-half-full" kind of person is associated with increased longevity. In fact, a 1999 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that optimistic patients who had undergone coronary artery bypass were half as likely to require re-hospitalization within the following six months as pessimistic patients.
Keeping up with your education
Using data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study, a 2008 Harvard University study published in the journal Health Affairs found that people who stay in school for at least 12 years tend to live longer than those who don't complete high school. On top of that, a 2012 report from the National Center for Health Statistics found that those who earned a bachelor's degree lived nine years longer than those who only completed high school. So knowledge isn't just power—it's a matter of life or (earlier) death!
Focusing on your spirituality
Getting in touch with your spiritual side—and continuing to connect with it—could be just what you need to live longer. In a 2016 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers found that women who went to a religious service at least once a week had a 33 percent lower chance of dying during a 16-year follow-up period than their non-religious peers.
Taking long, warm baths
If you thought that hitting the gym was the only way to keep your body in tip-top shape, think again. Per 2016 research published in the journal Temperature, sitting in a hot bath for an hour burns 130 calories—about as much as you'd burn if you walked for half an hour. And if that's not enough to convince you to draw a warm bath, the study authors also found that immersing yourself in warm water can reduce inflammation and lower blood sugar levels, which will keep you fit for years to come.
And taking cold showers
If you want to ward off illnesses and improve your performance at work, then take more cold showers. In a 2016 study published in the journal PLOS One, taking hot-to-cold showers every day reduced subjects' illness-related absences at work by 29 percent. With this decrease in sick days, you'll be able to spend more time doing the things you love—or, at least, the things that lengthen your life expectancy.
Not sitting for too long at a time
It's hard to avoid sitting all day when you work a desk job. However, you'll want to make the effort to stand up and walk around more if living a long life is your priority. Per the findings of one 2018 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, people who sit for more than six hours a day have a 19 percent increased risk of premature death compared to those who sit for less than three hours every day.
And taking the stairs
If you do have a sedentary lifestyle, there's an easy solution: A 2010 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention & Rehabilitation calculated that among people who mostly sit, simply taking the stairs was enough physical activity to burn body fat and lower blood pressure, cutting their risk of early death by 15 percent.
Consuming fiber-rich foods
If you're sick of constantly trying to keep up with what the latest fad is, then simply abide by this one simple rule: Eat a lot of fiber. According to a 2018 study published in ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal, incorporating high-fiber foods like pears, quinoa, and artichokes into your diet can protect your heart and keep your body operating like it did in your younger years.
Snacking on raw veggies
If you want to live a long and happy life, then don't bother cooking those carrots or bell peppers the next time you pick them up at the market. When researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand analyzed the nutrient levels of fruits and vegetables in their various forms, they found that the cooking process "[limited] the delivery of nutrients that are essential for optimal emotional functioning."
Working out regularly
Though nobody actually enjoys doing squats and calf raises until their legs give out, it's especially important to spend some time at the gym every week. After all, a 2010 study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that working out not only builds muscle mass, but also helps maintain the production of the neural cells that allow the brain to function properly.
Specifically in the late afternoon
It might be convenient to get your workout out of the way in the morning, but it's better for your body to hit the gym in the late afternoon. Though you can enjoy a great workout either way, a 2012 study published in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research concluded that, because your body temperature rises slowly throughout the day, your strength and flexibility are at their best just before the sun sets.
"Training with weights two or four times a week builds muscle and maintains bone density," explains Ivana Chapman, a fitness and nutrition coach. "It also makes it easier to maintain your weight, since a leaner body with more muscle is more metabolically active and burns more calories all day long."
Living in an area populated by birds
Birds? Why birds? Well, according to a 2017 study published in the journal BioScience, people who live in areas with many a bird, shrub, and tree are less likely to be stressed, depressed, and anxious. It might sound strange, but it's true: The study subjects' depression levels were inversely correlated to the number of birds they could see in the afternoon. Since depression has been found to increase a person's risk of early death, it would be wise to move to an area full of birds ASAP.
Believing in yourself
Having a healthful and happy life really is as simple as believing that you deserve to. When Australian researchers analyzed data from 757 patients in their 2001 study, they found that individuals with positive self-esteem had greater qualities of life and greater overall feelings of happiness.
Eating a lot of fish
As you begin to approach your golden years, make sure that you're eating adequate amounts of salmon, herring, tuna, and trout. These fish are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been found to assist in the healthy aging process. Specifically, one 2017 study published in The BMJ notes that omega-3 fatty acids promote aging sans major chronic diseases and mental and physical decay.
Drinking cherry juice before bed
As far as healthy habits go, getting an adequate amount of sleep every night is one of the most important ones there is. (Without enough sleep, you run the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.) So, if you struggle to doze off every time your head hits the pillow, consider chugging a glass of cherry juice every night before bed. According to a 2018 study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics, the liquid can help add an average of 84 minutes of shuteye to your sleep cycle and thusly ward off the debilitating diseases caused by a lack of sleep.
Taking short naps
Why should children be the only ones who get to enjoy nap time? After all, it could very easily be argued that adults are the ones who actually need naps. Not only are naps restorative, but one oft-cited 2007 study of 24,000 subjects published in The Archives of Internal Medicine found that just three 30-minute naps per week reduced the risk of heart-related death by 37 percent.
Getting just enough sleep
Believe it or not, getting too much sleep is just as bad as getting too little sleep as far as your brain is concerned. In fact, recent research, like a 2015 study published by the American Academy of Neurology, has revealed a link between a longer duration of sleep and a shorter lifespan, so don't ignore your alarm when it goes off in the morning.
Sleeping with the window open
According to a 2017 study published in the journal Indoor Air, all you have to do to ensure that you sleep soundly is crack a window. The breeze filtering into your room lowers the levels of carbon dioxide in the air, which aids in getting a good night's rest (and you know how essential that is for your body to function properly).
Being a morning person
Don't make a habit out of getting things done by moonlight. In a 2018 study published in the journal Chronobiology International, U.K. researchers analyzed data from 433,268 people and found that "definite evening types" had a 23 percent increased risk of respiratory disease and a 10 percent increased risk of dying earlier than their peers.
Paying for groceries with cash
Though paying for your groceries with a credit card is certainly convenient, it also promotes the purchasing of junk food that could pack on the pounds and shorten your lifespan. That's according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, which found that people who paid for their groceries with cash were less likely to make unhealthy impulse buys compared to those who used their card.
Balancing on one leg while you brush your teeth
We know it sounds silly, but a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation found that increased flexibility can lead to a longer life. So, if you want to keep your balance in good standing (pun intended) before it starts to fade, then the Cleveland Clinic recommends standing on each leg for 10 seconds at a time while you brush your teeth. This easy exercise will train your neuromotors, which assist in balance, agility, and movement. Sure, you might look a little bit strange doing it, but looking weird is a small price to pay for a long life.
Hanging out with friends and family
Don't underestimate the power of a beautiful bond. In the Harvard Study of Adult Development, researchers found that the strength of people's relationships was a better indication of how well they'd age than their cholesterol levels.
"Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too," study director Robert Waldinger said in a press release. "That, I think, is the revelation."
And making work friends
Making friends at work is particularly beneficial for longevity. A 2011 study published in the journal Health Psychology followed 820 adults for 20 years and found that those with the most social support from coworkers lived the longest. People who kept to themselves during those nine-to-five hours, on the other hand, were 2.4 times more likely to die during those two decades.
Watching funny movies
It's true what they say: Laughter really is the best medicine. In fact, according to one revered 2003 study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, laughing decreases stress-related hormone levels in the body, plus increases the number of immunity-boosting activated T cells and natural killer cells needed to fight diseases and infections.
Listening to energizing music at the gym
As you age, it's important to ensure that your workouts are still just as grueling as ever, as exercising consistently can help you fight aging. So, to maintain your stamina, make sure that all of your workouts are accompanied by some killer playlists. One 2012 study published in the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology shows that with the right fast-paced and motivational music, you can easily make your workout more intense, increase your reps and stamina, and feel more inspired to go big or go home.
Using hot sauce
Good news for those who love spicy foods: According to 2015 research published in The BMJ, people who eat spicy meals at least once a day have a 14 percent reduced risk of death compared to those who consume fuego foods less than once a week.
Drinking green tea
Your love of green tea is scientifically proven to extend your lifespan. According to a 2015 study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, polyphenols—the micronutrients found in green tea—block something called VEGF, a signaling molecule in the body that triggers plaque buildup in the arteries and can lead to heart attacks, stroke, and vascular disease.
Going on vacation
According to the American Heart Association, approximately one out of every three adults in the United States suffers from high blood pressure, which can lead to everything from a stroke to a heart attack down the road. And if you're one of the folks whose blood pressure is higher than it should be, consider scheduling some more vacations. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, leisurely activities can reduce cortisol levels—and lower cortisol levels = lower blood pressure.
Meditating every day
Too busy to take time out of your schedule to meditate for an hour every day? That's fine—all it takes to reap the benefits of this ancient practice is 10 minutes, according to 2017 research from Leeds Beckett University. Evidently, people who meditate for this amount of time on the daily are better able to handle pain and require less pain medication in times of distress.
Dressing your salads in olive oil
Get into the healthy habit of drizzling olive oil onto all of your signature salads. Per one 2014 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the combination of unsaturated fatty acids (from olive oil) with nitrite (from lettuce) creates nitro fatty acids that lower blood sugar levels.
Keeping healthy snacks on hand
If the only food options around you are potato chips and cupcakes, then odds are you're going to succumb to your cravings and ditch your diet in favor of some delicious junk food. However, if you get into the healthy habit of carrying nuts or protein bars around with you at all times, then you'll never again have to worry about eating empty calories. Simply reach into your bag or jacket pocket, and a healthy snack is right at your fingertips!
Drinking coffee in moderation
Though you shouldn't be guzzling multiple cups of coffee every day, a 2018 study published in the journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases notes that coffee, when consumed in moderation, can lower your risk for diabetes, liver damage, cancer, and depression.
And consuming raw cacao for additional energy boosts
Rather than down multiple cups of coffee a day—which can ultimately hurt your heart—try something a bit more natural instead. "Raw cacao has phenylethylamine, which is known to increase energy levels," says fitness coach Kylene Terhune. "Depending on your level of responsiveness, it may energize you in a similar way to a shot of espresso." Some of the many ways to consume raw cacao include in smoothies, in hot drinks, and in the form of dark chocolate. Yum!
In 2017, Alzheimer's disease and dementia was the leading cause of death for women and the second leading cause of death for men in Britain, according to Alzheimer's Research UK. And if you want to avoid becoming another statistic, then researchers suggest trying your hand at gardening. One 2006 study published in the Medical Journal of Australia found that older people who gardened had a 36 percent reduced risk of dementia, primarily thanks to the activity's physical factors.
Drinking apple juice
Aside from being a tasty treat, apple juice can also assist in the prevention of dementia. In a 2010 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, researchers found that drinking two glasses of apple juice per day was associated with the breakup of plaques in the brain that typically lead to dementia.
Brushing and flossing
Brushing and flossing at least twice a day isn't just a crucial habit for visibly pearly whites. According to a 2013 study published in the Journal of Dental Sciences, poor oral hygiene can have a negative impact on all aspects of your health—and in some instances, it can result in a heightened risk of heart disease and stroke. To ensure that you live as long as possible, listen to your dentist and keep your teeth in tip-top shape.
Whether you're volunteering at the local soup kitchen or planting trees to promote the health of the environment, your good deeds can also do good things for your health. In a 2012 study published in the journal Health Psychology, researchers found that people who volunteered for a good cause had a lower mortality risk over a four-year period.
As people age, it's common for their affinity for hitting the dance floor to lessen. However, while your sense of rhythm might not be as impressive as it was in your youth, your dance moves are doing your body a world of good. Research published in the journal Anthropology & Aging in 2013 notes that when older people get their groove on, they experience mental, emotional, and physical health benefits that contribute to longevity.
Going for bike rides
If you want to live longer than your peers, then hop on your bicycle. According to a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in 2013, French cyclists in the Tour de France were found to have lived longer than their non-cycling peers. So, make like a French cyclist and ride your way to a longer life.
Take a page out of Michael Phelps's book and hit the lap lanes! According to an oft-cited 2003 study published in the International Journal of Aquatic Education and Research, men who swam had a 50 percent reduced risk of mortality compared to those who walked for exercise.
Whiskey aficionados, raise a glass: Your drinking habits could help prevent heart disease, dementia, and lengthen your lifespan, according to a 2006 meta-analysis published in JAMA Internal Medicine. "[One] to 2 drinks per day for women and 2 to 4 drinks per day for men are inversely associated with total mortality," the study's authors write.
However, a word of caution: Be sure not to indulge in more than the recommended amount of alcohol, as binge drinking and alcoholism have been linked to a shorter lifespan. Just keep the drinking to a minimum, and you'll see your lifespan extended to the maximum! And for more ways to live longer than your peers, check out these 100 Ways to Live to 100.
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