If your favorite vegetable isnt in season, grab a frozen bag of it for the same nutritional value.
The editors at AARP have filtered through numerous medical journals and studies to identify the best actions you can take to achieve a longer, fuller life. We know there are no guarantees. But genetics account for just 25 percent of a persons longevity. The rest is up to you. With this collection of some of the most important longevity findings, youll have the road map you need to get to 80, 90, 100 or beyond.
You can eat a balanced diet even when fresh fruits and vegetables are out of season because frozen can be as good as or even better for life-extending nutrients. British scientists found that fresh fruit can lose nutrients after three days of refrigeration, while frozen fruits dont suffer the same fate. Another study similarly found that frozen blueberries contained more vitamin C than fresh ones.
2. Cut back on pain pills
Regular use of painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen including over-the-counter brands such as Advil, Motrin and Aleve may raise your risk of heart attack and stroke by 10 percent, according to a 2014 U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory panel review. (Prescription-strength versions may increase your risk by 20 to 50 percent, even after just a few weeks of use.) Reserve these drugs for severe pain, and use the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time.
Consistently sleeping less than six hours a night nearly doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke, according to a review of 15 studies published in the European Heart Journal. Another study found that consistently sleep-deprived people were 12 percent more likely to die over the 25-year study period than those who got six to eight hours of sleep a night. These tips from the National Sleep Foundation can help ensure that you get good quality shut-eye, even if youre among the half of people over 60 who have insomnia:
Make the room pitch-black dark, and set the thermostat between 60 and 67 degrees.
Exercise every day. It doesnt matter what time of day you work out, just so it doesnt interfere with your rest.
Stick to a regular sleep schedule, going to bed and getting up at the same time each day.
Shut down your electronics an hour before retiring, as the light from some devices can stimulate the brain.
Replace your mattress if its more than 10 years old.
4. But dont always go right to sleep
A Duke University study that followed 252 people for 25 years concluded that frequent sex was a significant predictor of longevity for men. Marriage is good for the heart in more ways than one.
Marriage truly is good for your health and your longevity. The prestigious Framingham Offspring Study found that married men had a 46 percent lower risk of death than never-married men, in part due to marriages well-known impact on heart health. Indeed, a 2014 study by New York Universitys Langone Medical Center found that married men and women had a 5 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.
No, you wont die from eating under-ripe produce, but new research shows that fully ripened fruit has more life-lengthening health benefits. For example, green bananas are low in fiber and high in astringent tannins that can cause constipation. Fully ripened pears and blackberries have more disease-fighting antioxidants. And in watermelon, a deep red color signifies more lycopene, an antioxidant that may reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
7. Dont sweeten with sugar
A high-sugar diet boosts blood sugar, which in turn plays havoc with your heart by increasing levels of LDL cholesterol while lowering heart-friendly HDL cholesterol, and tripling your risk for fatal cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar a day, and men no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams).
8. Consider extra vitamin D
Vitamin D, a bright byproduct of sunlight, has many health benefits, including a link to longevity. But too much vitamin D increases your risk of dying as much as too little, according to a 2015 Danish study. So you want to get the right amount. Dont just rely on outdoor time to get extra vitamin D; the rate of skin cancer rises as we age, so its important to limit exposure. The smart plan: Ask your doctor if you would benefit from extra D in pill form. University of Copenhagen researchers found that the ideal vitamin D level is more than 50 nanomoles per liter of blood, but less than 100 nmol/L.
If coffees not your thing, green tea also has proven longevity cred, likely because it contains powerful antioxidants known as catechins that may help combat diabetes and heart disease. In a large study of more than 40,000 Japanese men and women, drinking five or more cups of green tea a day was associated with a 12 percent decrease in mortality among men and a 23 percent decrease among women.
Taking a break from work and going on a vacation is crucial to your well being. Not taking time off work might, indeed, be deadly. One study of men at high risk for coronary artery disease found that those who failed to take annual vacations were 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack. And in the long-running Framingham Heart Study, women who vacationed just once every six years were eight times more likely to develop coronary artery disease or have a heart attack than women who vacationed twice a year.
The average American eats one serving of whole grains daily and that may be just a single morning slice of toast. But eating three or more servings each day can cut overall death rate by about 20 percent, according to a 2016 study from Harvard Universitys T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Have some oatmeal or brown rice, or get adventurous and go for quinoa, barley, even farro.
Eating hot chili peppers may add years to your life. In a 2016 analysis of the dietary habits of more than 16,000 men and women over 23 years, those who reported eating hot peppers reduced their risk of dying by 13 percent. Not a fan of those peppers? Even a little spice can have health benefits. Thats because the body produces endorphins to reduce the heat from the capsaicin in the peppers; those endorphins also reduce pain and inflammation.
Youve been told forever to drink low-fat or skim milk, or go for fat-free yogurt. But research published in the journal Circulation in 2016 concluded that those who consumed the most dairy fat had a 50 percent lower risk of developing diabetes, a disease that can shorten your life by eight to 10 years on average.
Staying adequately hydrated measured by urine thats light yellow or straw colored can also help prolong a healthy life by reducing the risk of bladder and colon cancer and keeping kidneys in tip-top shape. Bonus: It might even help you lose weight. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that those who sipped more H2O ended up eating 68 to 205 fewer calories per day.
15. Say yes to that extra cup
A few cups of java a day might keep the doctor away. Coffee does more than help you wake up; it also reduces your risk of stroke, diabetes and some cancers. And in a 2015 study published in the journal Circulation, Harvard researchers discovered that people who drank three to five cups of coffee per day had about a 15 percent lower [risk of premature] mortality compared to people who didnt drink coffee, says coauthor Walter Willett, M.D. Mind you, a cup is 8 ounces, so your 16-ounce Starbucks grande is really two cups by that measure.
A University of Maryland study found that Amish men live longer than typical Caucasian men in the United States, and both Amish men and women have lower rates of hospitalization. What are the Amish ways? Lots of physical activity, less smoking and drinking, and a supportive social structure involving family and community.
17. End the days eating by 9 p.m.
Not only is eating late bad for your waistline sleeping doesnt exactly burn lots of calories it also increases the risk of heart disease by 55 percent for men ages 45 to 82, according to a Harvard study.
In a study of 73,000 adults, most in their mid to upper 50s, vegetarians were 12 percent less likely than carnivores to have died from any cause during the six-year study period. The 2016 study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that mortality rates were lowest overall for pesco-vegetarians (those who eat fish occasionally), followed by vegans (those who eat no animal products), and lacto-ovo vegetarians (those who eat dairy and eggs).
The Mediterranean diet, with its reliance on fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and nuts, is one of the healthiest diets for both overall health and longevity. Harvard researchers, reporting in the BMJ in 2014, found that those who followed the diet most closely had longer telomeres, which cap the end of each strand of DNA and protect chromosomes from damage. Even those who only sporadically followed the diet reaped longevity benefits, researchers found.
Cutting your portions helps you cut calories, which aids in weight loss and more. If you want to reach 100, put down the fork, says Dan Buettner, who studies longevity hot spots around the world, such as Okinawa, Japan. Buettner found that the oldest Okinawans stop eating when they feel 80 percent full. A National Institutes of Health-funded study similarly found that cutting back calories reduced blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin resistance.
21. Drink less (heres a trick)
More-than-moderate alcohol consumption (generally, more than one drink a day for women or more than two a day for men) leads to a shorter life span. Heres one way to cut your intake: Pour red wine into a white-wine glass, which is narrower. Studies by Cornell Universitys Food and Brand Lab found that people poured 12 percent more into red-wine glasses. Youll also pour less wine into your glass if its sitting on the table, instead of in your hand, says Brian Wansink, the labs director.
Money might not make you happier, but it will help you live longer. A 2016 study by Stanford researchers published in JAMA found that people whose income bracket was in the top 1 percent lived nearly 15 years longer than those in the bottom 1 percent. The disparity could be attributed to healthier behaviors in higher-income groups, including less smoking and lower obesity rates, researchers say.
23. Or move to one of these states
If youre not wealthy, consider moving to California, New York or Vermont, where studies show that low-income people tend to live the longest. Loma Linda, Calif., has the highest longevity thanks to vegetarian Seventh-day Adventists, who live eight to 10 years longer than the rest of us. Nevada, Indiana and Oklahoma have the lowest life expectancy (less than 78 years).
Experiencing a sense of awe such as when viewing the Grand Canyon or listening to Beethovens Ninth may boost the bodys defense system, says research from the University of California, Berkeley. That awe, wonder and beauty promote healthier levels of cytokines suggests that the things we do to experience these emotions a walk in nature, losing oneself in music, beholding art has a direct influence upon health and life expectancy, says Dacher Keltner, a psychologist and coauthor of the study.
25. Get a friend with four legs
Owning a dog can help lower stress and boost physical activity. A few studies on the link between pet ownership and health have found that owning a pet can reduce anxiety, lower blood pressure, even improve the odds of surviving a heart attack. Now the American Heart Association has weighed in with a report published in the journal Circulation that recommends owning a dog, in particular, for those seeking to reduce their risk of deadly heart disease. Dog owners are more likely to be physically active and are also less vulnerable to the effects of stress, the report says.
Do you wake up looking forward to something? In a 2014 study published in the Lancet, researchers found that those with the highest sense of purpose were 30 percent less likely to die during the 8.5-year study period. In fact, doing something that matters whether its helping your children or interacting in a community of like-minded folks is correlated with seven extra years of life, according to researchers who study people in blue zones, areas of the world where folks live the longest.
Attending religious services once a week has been shown to add between four and 14 years to life expectancy, according to researchers who study blue zones. Dont belong to a church? Ask to join a friend at her services, or just drop in at a nearby house of worship; most have an open-door policy.
About 3,000 Americans die from food poisoning annually, say the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even seemingly healthy foods like sprouts, cantaloupe, berries and raw tuna can make you sick or even kill you, says the FDA. Your action plan: Keep your kitchen pristine, wash your hands and utensils before and after handling food, separate raw and cooked foods, refrigerate perishable food promptly, and cook food to a safe temperature to kill deadly bacteria.
29. Consider mountain life
People residing at higher altitudes tend to live longer, a study by the University of Colorado and the Harvard School of Global Health revealed. Of the 20 healthiest counties in America, many are in Colorado and Utah. Researchers think lower oxygen levels might cause your body to adapt in ways that strengthen your heart and circulation.
Eating a handful of nuts five times per week can lower your mortality risk from certain diseases. In a European study of adults ages 55 to 69, those who ate 10 grams of nuts daily 8 almonds or 6 cashews reduced their risk of death from any health-related cause by 23 percent. As for specific ailments, consuming a handful of nuts at least five times per week lowers the mortality risk for heart disease (by 29 percent), respiratory disease (24 percent) and cancer (11 percent), according to a previous U.S. study. Sorry, peanut butter fans: Spreads didnt show the same benefits.
31. Keep watching LOL cat videos
Laughter really is the best medicine, helping to reduce stress, boost the immune system, reduce pain and improve blood flow to the brain. In fact, laughter has the same effect on blood vessels as exercise, report researchers from the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.
Studies show that loneliness increases the risk of early death by 45 percent. It weakens the immune system and raises blood pressure while increasing the risk for heart attacks and stroke. By contrast, people with strong ties to friends and family have as much as a 50 percent lower risk of dying, according to a study in PLOS Medicine. So visit a friend. And dont discount your online friends. A 2016 study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego found that those who use Facebook also live longer, but only when online interactions dont completely supplant face-to-face social interaction.
While babysitting every day is stressful, regularly watching the grands can lower your risk of dying by a third, according to a 2016 study published in Evolution and Human Behavior. That adds up to an extra five years of life, researchers say. They speculate that caregiving gives grandparents a sense of purpose, and keeps them mentally and physically active.
34. Try to stay out of the hospital
A 2016 Johns Hopkins University study found that some 250,000 patients die each year in hospitals from medical mistakes, such as misdiagnoses, poor practices and conditions, and drug errors. Sometimes the best way to avoid a grave condition is not to enter the system at all.
Reading gives muscle to your memory. Sounds like we made it up, but scientific research supports the longevity benefits of reading newspapers and magazines will do, but books are the best. As little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read, said the studys senior author, Becca R. Levy, a professor of epidemiology at Yale.
Dont wait for annual checkups to consider your health. By then, a small problem could have morphed into a life-threatening illness. In one English study, researchers found that less than 60 percent of people who developed unusual symptoms in the previous three months had seen a doctor. Symptoms that might point to cancer include: unexplained weight loss of 10 pounds or more (this can be an indication of cancers of the esophagus, stomach or lungs); fever; extreme fatigue; changes in bowel or bladder habits; or unusual bleeding. Other unusual symptoms that could signal disease? A patch of rough, dark skin could indicate diabetes, and a strange color on your tongue could signal serious acid-reflux issues.
37. Visit the hardware store
Among the most common causes of unintentional deaths are carbon monoxide, radon and lead poisoning, the CDC reports. Make sure theres a carbon monoxide detector near every bedroom, and be sure to test and replace the batteries every two years. Was your home built before 1978, when lead paint was outlawed? One trip to the store can get you all you need to test for these toxic substances.
38. Practice home fire drills
Just 1 in 3 families have a fire-safety plan, says Robert Cole, president of Community Health Strategies, an injury-prevention education organization based in Pittsford, N.Y. People underestimate the speed of a fire. Many waste time figuring out what to do, or trying to take belongings with them. Everyone should know what to do and how to get out safely.
Studies show that female doctors are more effective communicators than male physicians. When Harvard researchers in 2016 analyzed Medicare records documenting more than 1.5 million hospitalizations over four years, they found that patients who received care from a female physician were more likely to survive and less likely to be readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge. In fact, about 32,000 fewer people would die each year if male physicians achieved the same outcomes as female physicians, the researchers said. Previous studies have suggested that female doctors are more likely to follow clinical guidelines and are more effective communicators.
40. Make peace with family
While we often stress about small stuff the guests are here, and were not ready! its the nagging, long-running forms of stress, such as a family dispute, that put your longevity at risk. Chronic stress hastens the cellular deterioration that leads to premature aging and a vast array of serious diseases, according to long-running research from the University of California, San Francisco. This sort of cell death turns out to be one of the strongest predictors of early diseases of aging and in many studies of early mortality, says lead researcher Elissa Epel. The remedy: Come to peace with the people in your life. Forgive your family, forgive yourself, put the past behind you so you can have more life in front of you.
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