Living to a ripe old age greatly depends on being lucky by avoiding a fatal disease. You often hear that someone died from old age, but something happened to cause their death. Common diseases like diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s are the usual culprits. In 2020, you can add COVID-19 to the mix. Besides being born into a family with a very healthy gene pool, there are things you can do to increase your longevity. Here are some ways to help slow down the aging process.
Having a Purpose
Scientists have found that people who have a reason to get up every morning reduces mortality in older people. Those with the lowest sense of life purpose were more than twice as likely to die within four years compared to those with a high sense of purpose. Those with this sense of meaning had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and less inflammation. Your purpose doesn’t have to be a huge deal. It can be as simple as finding meaning in your work, family or even your hobbies like writing or photography. Helping others also gives you a real sense of purpose.
The most powerful way to improve your long-term health is exercise. It is simple and often doesn’t cost money. Studies have shown that people age 70, who embraced the exercise boom of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, have the cardiovascular fitness of people three decades younger. In addition, working out helps decrease obesity, helps keep the brain sharp, and improves the immune system. Exercise is the biggest anti-aging medicine that exists. The good thing is that it doesn’t take 10,000 steps a day to reap benefits. Remarkably little exercise can increase longevity. Ten to fifteen minutes per day will help increase your life span, especially if you have been sedentary before. Add a little more time and you can help reduce the risk of getting heart disease and diabetes. The other perk is that you can start at any age and get benefits. Building to 30 minutes of movement three days per week and adding some resistance training such as weightlifting each week will do the trick. You don’t need to run marathons or be a gym rat; walking or other moderate activities are just as good if you’re looking for a longevity boost. Simple lifestyle changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and parking further away from the grocery store will help build movement into your day. Playing sports regularly that you enjoy like tennis and swimming can even add a decade to your life. Frailty is a really bad thing starting in middle age, and even worse as you get older. Keeping your bones and muscles strong is the key. Having a healthy sex life can help too.
Eating a healthy diet is extremely important to longevity. Experts have found that “superagers” around the world are pescatarians. They focus on eating lots of vegetables, legumes, whole grains, and get some protein from fatty fish like salmon, as well as eating food with good fat like olive oil and tree nuts. They also drink plenty of water and avoid or limit alcohol. The difficult part is how to stick to this menu in our world of fast food and desserts. You are dooming yourself if you try to do a total diet overhaul all at once. Instead, slowly change the ratio of low nutrition to high nutrition foods. For example, instead of a big plate of spaghetti with red sauce and meatballs, change it to a smaller amount of pasta with olive oil and lots of veggies and chickpeas on top. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that even just adding some healthy foods to your existing diet will lower your risk of premature death.
The old rule of getting seven to eight hours of sleep per night is still gold. When you are sleeping, your body heals itself by rejuvenating growth hormone surges, lessening cortisol, and allowing your brain to flush plaques that can lead to Alzheimer’s. As many as 40 percent of people get less than seven hours sleep per night. If you are one of them, do whatever it takes to get yourself to bed. Set an alarm on your cell phone to remind you to turn off the TV and go to bed. If you suffer from insomnia, take a remedy like melatonin. Be sure to keep devices that emit blue light out of the bedroom. The blue light effects sleep and can also entice you to check headlines in the early morning hours. If you snore regularly or notice you wake up fatigued even after a full night’s sleep, get tested for sleep apnea. It is important to make sure that sleep disrupters are treated as they can contribute to premature death.
Keep Your Mind Sharp
It is important to keep challenging yourself with mental effort. Getting out of your comfort zone and pushing your mind will greatly help you to remember things. Enjoying pursuits like playing cards, writing in a journal, doing needlework, and crossword puzzles are great ways to stress your brain and keep it strong. Learning something new is also a great way to challenge your mind. Learn a new language or take a class that inspires you.
Being lonely can put you at a high risk of premature death. Amazingly, it is even higher than obesity and inactivity. Being around people we trust reduces our fight or flight response and allows us to relax. Conversation produces increased brain activity. While social distancing has become required due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the foreseeable future, it is extremely important to telephone or video chat with friends. It just takes a few close bonds to keep you feeling connected with others. Friendships are extremely important as family relationships can often feel like obligations while friends make you feel good. Be sure to schedule in time each week to call a friend. Everyone ages, but how aging affects health varies from person to person. Staying active, sharp, eating well, and staying connected with others will take you a long way to living well past your 80’s.