April 22, 2024
April 19, 2024

How to Live Longer: The Power of Lifestyle Choices and Habits

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How to Live Longer: The Power of Lifestyle Choices and Habits

We may be closer than ever to finding the proverbial “fountain of youth” with a growing body of research focusing on three areas of research — nutrition, activity, and social connectedness — you can learn how to live longer. 

Discover top tips on how to make lifestyle changes that you can actually stick to and learn about a tool that may help you recognize health risks earlier.

The Role of Nutrition in Quality of Life and Longevity

Before we discuss diets that promote longevity, let’s examine what most people eat regularly in the United States and how it affects them. The Standard American Diet (SAD) consists of highly processed foods that are high in calories, fats, added (free) sugars, and sodium while being low in vitamins and nutrients. Not surprisingly, this diet contributes to rising chronic health conditions such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.

The reliance on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods has also led to an imbalance in gut microbiota, which plays an important role in digestion, metabolism, and immune function. The lack of dietary fiber further exacerbates the situation by disrupting digestive health and increasing the risk of digestive disorders. The SAD’s decrease in essential nutrients may result in deficiencies in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, compromising people’s immune system and overall health. The resulting shift contributes to inflammation and chronic diseases. 

The excessive intake of free sugars in SAD has been associated with a greater risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. Sugary beverages, which are consumed by most Americans daily, have been linked to some cancers as well. 

How to Live Longer Tip #1: Make Better Dietary Choices

How to live longer: family having lunch at home

By making better choices about what and when you eat, you can fine-tune your health and well-being as you get older. With the prevalence of modern processed foods, the importance of a balanced, nutritious, and diverse diet cannot be overstated. A diverse diet of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can contribute to good health and a long life.

Specifically, the following longevity diets support biological mechanisms for decreasing inflammation, improving heart health, and promoting healthy weight management. The key is not just what you eat but also how you eat, incorporating mindful eating practices and paying attention to your body's cues.

Fasting-Mimicking Diet: This way of eating offers fasting benefits while allowing limited food intake. It tricks the body into a fasting state. FMD is a more manageable approach than complete fasting, providing health benefits without hunger.

Okinawan Diet: This traditional diet from Okinawa, Japan, is associated with longevity. It emphasizes plant-based foods, whole grains, and moderate caloric intake.

Mediterranean Diet: This diet focuses on vegetables, fruits, healthy fats (like avocado and olive oil), nuts, seeds, and lean proteins. It’s linked to reduced inflammation and age-related frailty.

How to Live Longer Tip #2: Get Moving!

How to live longer: women happily jogging outdoors

It’s well known that regular physical activity and exercise reduces the risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and different types of cancer. Additionally, it helps you maintain a healthy weight, improves cognitive function, and enhances mental well-being. But what about helping you increase your lifespan?

Physical activity and exercise are healthy habits that significantly impact living a longer and healthier life. A 2022 study found that small to moderate amounts of regular exercise can have substantial benefits. The study, published in Circulation, involved over 400,000 participants and found that people who engaged in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly had a 31% lower risk of all-cause mortality than inactive individuals.

The study also found that increasing exercise duration and intensity led to even greater benefits. For instance, individuals who doubled the recommended amount of exercise to 300 minutes per week experienced an even lower risk of all-cause mortality. This demonstrates the powerful impact of physical activity on longevity and overall well-being.

Adding strength training to your fitness routine may also improve life expectancy. A 2022 study published in JAMA Open Network suggests combining strength training with aerobic exercise can increase longevity. The research involved analyzing physical activity and mortality data from over 115,000 people aged 65 and older. Results indicated that those who incorporated strength training at least twice weekly and aerobic activities had a significantly lower risk of death. Strength training can include various activities like weight lifting, resistance band exercises, and even certain household chores.

How to Live Longer Tip #3: Prioritize Meaningful Social Relationships

How to live longer: grandparents with their grandson at a park

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes social connectedness as a vital aspect of emotional well-being, encompassing relationships with family, friends, and the community. It significantly influences a person’s mental and physical health, with strong social ties often leading to better health outcomes. Conversely, lacking social connections can contribute to various health issues, underscoring the importance of maintaining and nurturing these relationships for overall health and wellness.

Research supports the theory that social connectedness is important for enhancing healthy aging. Psychologically, social engagement fulfills basic human needs for belonging and emotional support, which is critical for mental well-being. This is especially significant given that mental health directly affects physical health, with mental health problems like depression and anxiety known to contribute to a range of physical ailments.

Biologically, social connections help boost the body's stress responses. Studies on the stress-buffering hypothesis show that social bonds can decrease risk factors for stress-related chronic health issues like high blood pressure. If left unaddressed, these issues can lead to chronic stress, accelerated aging, and a host of age-related diseases, thereby shortening life expectancy.

Maintaining social connections can be challenging, especially as families become more geographically dispersed and traditional social structures evolve. However, you can try actively pursuing new avenues for social engagement with some of the following ideas:

  1. Participate in community events and join clubs or groups that resonate with your interests or hobbies.
  2. Use social media platforms, video calls, and online communities to stay connected with distant family members and friends, ensuring consistent emotional support and interaction.
  3. Redefine the concept of family by building a “chosen family” of friends, neighbors, and community members who can provide a robust support system.
  4. Volunteering is another avenue to enhance social ties. It promotes a sense of purpose and contribution to the community, which is known to be beneficial for mental health.
  5. Address barriers to socialization in older age through medical help or assistive technologies. This can greatly improve the ability to maintain and develop new social connections as you get older.

Mindfulness Is the Key to Lasting Lifestyle Changes

Mindfulness can play a unique role in maintaining healthy lifestyle choices. When you’re mindful, you're more aware of how different lifestyle factors affect your overall health. This awareness can help you make better choices.

Being mindful about your diet means paying more attention to what and why you eat, leading to healthier eating habits. Mindfulness in physical activity helps you understand your body’s needs, making exercise more enjoyable and consistent. In terms of creating social connections, mindfulness improves interactions and instills greater empathy and investment in relationships.

Understanding the importance of these lifestyle choices is just the start. To further this journey, it’s essential to assess your health risks. The Ezra risk assessment quiz is a tool that can help you understand your personal cancer risk factors in just five minutes.

By knowing your risks, you can make informed decisions about healthcare interventions like cancer screenings and full body imaging to help you live not only a longer life, but a healthier life.