10 Healthy Habits That Will Help You Live to 100
You don't need to eat yogurt and live on a mountaintop, but you do
need to floss!
The biggest factor that determines how well you age is not your genes but
how well you live. Not convinced? A new study published in the British Medical Journal of 20,000 British folks shows that you can
cut your risk of having a stroke in half by doing the following four
things: being active for 30 minutes a day, eating five daily servings of
fruit and vegetables, and avoiding cigarettes and excess alcohol.
While those are some of the obvious steps you can take to age well,
researchers have discovered that centenarians tend to share certain traits
in how they eat, move about, and deal with stress-the sorts of things we
can emulate to improve our own aging process. Of course, getting to age 100
is enormously more likely if your parents did. Still, Thomas Perls, who
studies the century-plus set at Boston University School of
, believes that assuming you've sidestepped genes for truly fatal diseases
like Huntington's, "there's nothing stopping you from living independently
well into your 90s." Heck, if your parents and grandparents were heavy
smokers, they might have died prematurely without ever reaching their true
potential lifespan, so go ahead and shoot for those triple digits. Follow
these 10 habits, and check out Perls'
lifetime risk calculator
to see how long you can expect to live.
1. Don't retire.
"Evidence shows that in societies where people stop working abruptly, the
incidence of obesity and chronic disease skyrockets after retirement," says
Luigi Ferrucci, director of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The
Chianti region of Italy, which has a high percentage of centenarians, has a
different take on leisure time. "After people retire from their jobs, they
spend most of the day working on their little farm, cultivating grapes or
vegetables," he says. "They're never really inactive." Farming isn't for
you? Volunteer as a docent at your local art museum or join the
, a program offered in 19 cities that places senior volunteers in urban
public elementary schools for about 15 hours a week.
2. Floss every day.
That may help keep your arteries healthy. A 2008 New York University study
showed that daily flossing reduced the amount of gum-disease-causing
bacteria in the mouth. This bacteria is thought to enter the bloodstream
and trigger inflammation in the arteries, a major risk factor for heart
disease. Other research has shown that those who have high amounts of
bacteria in their mouth are more likely to have thickening in their
arteries, another sign of heart disease. "I really do think people should
floss twice a day to get the biggest life expectancy benefits," stresses
3. Move around.
"Exercise is the only real fountain of youth that exists," says Jay
Olshansky, a professor of medicine and aging researcher at the University
of Illinois at Chicago. "It's like the oil and lube job for your car. You
don't have to do it, but your car will definitely run better." Study after
study has documented the benefits of exercise to improve your mood, mental
acuity, balance, muscle mass, and bones. "And the benefits kick in
immediately after your first workout," Olshansky adds. Don't worry if
you're not a gym rat. Those who see the biggest payoffs are the ones who go
from doing nothing to simply walking around the neighborhood or local mall
for about 30 minutes a day.
Building muscle with resistance training
is also ideal, but yoga classes can give you similar strength-training
effects if you're not into weight lifting.
4. Eat a fiber-rich cereal
Getting a serving of whole-grains, especially in the morning, appears to
help older folks maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day,
according to a recent study conducted by Ferrucci and his colleagues.
"Those who do this have a lower incidence of diabetes, a known accelerator
of aging," he says.
5. Get at least six hours of shut-eye.
Instead of skimping on sleep to add more hours to your day, get more to add
years to your life. "Sleep is one of the most important functions that our
body uses to regulate and heal cells," says Ferrucci. "We've calculated
that the minimum amount of sleep that older people need to get those
healing REM phases is about six hours." Those who reach the century mark
make sleep a top priority.
6. Consume whole foods if possible, use supplements.
Strong evidence suggests that people who have high blood levels of certain
nutrients-selenium, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E-age much better and
have a slower rate of cognitive decline. "There are more than 200 different
carotenoids and 200 different flavonoids in a single tomato," points out
Ferrucci, "and these chemicals can all have complex interactions that
foster health beyond the single nutrients we know about like lycopene or
vitamin C." Avoid nutrient-lacking white foods (breads, flour, sugar) and
go for all those colorful fruits and vegetables and dark whole-grain breads
and cereals with their host of hidden nutrients.
7. Be less neurotic.
It may work for Woody Allen, who infuses his worries with a healthy dose of
humor, but the rest of us neurotics may want to find a new way to deal with
stress. "We have a new study coming out that shows that centenarians tend
not to internalize things or dwell on their troubles," says Perls. "They
are great at rolling with the punches." If this inborn trait is hard to
overcome, find better ways to manage when you're stressed: Yoga, exercise,
meditation, tai chi, or just deep breathing for a few moments are all good.
Ruminating, eating chips in front of the TV, binge drinking? Bad, very bad.
8. Live like a Seventh Day Adventist
Americans who define themselves as Seventh Day Adventists have an average
life expectancy of 89, about a decade longer than the average American. One
of the basic tenets of the religion is that it's important to cherish the
body that's on loan from God, which means no smoking, alcohol abuse, or
overindulging in sweets. Followers typically stick to a vegetarian
based on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, and get plenty of exercise.
They're also very focused on family and community.
9. Be a creature
Centenarians tend to live by strict routines, says Olshansky, eating the
same kind of diet and doing the same kinds of activities their whole lives.
Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is another good habit
to keep your body in the steady equilibrium that can be easily disrupted as
you get on in years. "Your physiology becomes frailer when you get older,"
explains Ferrucci, "and it's harder for your body to bounce
if you, say, miss a few hours of sleep one night or drink too much
alcohol." This can weaken immune defenses, leaving you more susceptible to
circulating flu viruses or bacterial infections.
10. Stay connected.
regular social contacts with friends and loved ones
is key to avoiding
, which can lead to premature death, something that's particularly
prevalent in elderly widows and widowers. Some psychologists even think
that one of the biggest benefits elderly folks get from exercise the strong
social interactions that come from walking with a buddy or taking a group
exercise class. Having a daily connection with a close friend or family
member gives older folks the added benefit of having someone watch their
back. "They'll tell you if they think your memory is going or if you seem
more withdrawn," says Perls, "and they might push you to see a doctor
before you recognize that you need to see one yourself."
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