8 Everyday Habits Linked With a Longer Life
Soaring inflation may be driving up prices in the United States, but there is one thing that is dropping significantly in the country: The life expectancy of Americans. In 2021, the United States experienced the biggest one-year drop in life expectancy since World War II, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics reported that the average life expectancy in the United States fell from 78.8 years in 2019 to 76.1 in 2021. The drop was mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but health conditions such as heart disease, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, and suicide also contributed to the decrease.
But all is not lost. There are steps you can take now that may help to lengthen your life and reduce your risk of serious health conditions. Here are eight recommendations from longevity experts that can positively affect your life expectancy:
1. Stay Physically Active
According to the CDC, regular physical activity can help manage weight, reduce the risk of disease, strengthen bones and muscles, and improve your ability to do everyday activities. What’s more, regular physical activity can help keep your thinking, learning, and judgment skills sharp as you age, the CDC says.
Physical activity can range from doing household chores and yard work to exercising on a weekly basis. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans calls for adults to do at least 150 to 300 minutes (2.5 hours to 5 hours) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (an activity that increases your breathing and heart rate) a week. The guidelines suggest activities such as walking, swimming, and running, as well as strength training, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups.
Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in Stanford, California, recommends finding an activity you enjoy doing that is not an inconvenience yet can become a habit. For example, if getting to a gym or a pool takes too much effort, you will less likely to keep up the activity. In this instance, you may want to purchase exercise equipment and work out at home.
2. Build and Maintain Balance and Core Strength
You’ve probably heard fitness trainers say, “engage your core.” But what does that mean, and what is your core? The core refers to the muscles surrounding and supporting your torso, which includes your abdominal walls, hips, lower back, and pelvis.
Core strength is essential for helping older adults maintain their balance and prevent falling. The CDC says falls are the primary cause of injury-related death in people 65 years old and older. What’s more, the death rate from falls is increasing, especially in people 85 and over.
Regular exercise strengthens your core. One exercise is using only the strength in your core and legs—and not your arms—to get up from a chair. “Using your arms reduces the tension on your core muscles,” Carstensen said.
3. Take a stand!
Longevity experts have taken a stand against sitting down for long periods of time. Experts say a sedentary life is an unhealthy life, and they have multiple studies to back it up. For instance, a 2019 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that higher levels of daily sitting time were associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, regardless of physical activity.
This is one of many reasons why it is important to move around during the day, even if it’s just for a minute every hour, Carstensen says.
4. Reduce Your Intake of Red Meat and Processed Meat
Red meat, such as beef, lamb, and pork, are a good source of protein. And lunch meat, like hot dogs, ham, and sausage, are good sandwich ingredients. But health experts say too much of a good thing can raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes.
Nutritionists recommend eating more lean protein, such as fish, chicken, and turkey, as well as vegetarian sources, like legumes and quinoa. Popular eating plans, such as the Mediterranean diet and the Blue Zones diet, which emphasize seafood and poultry, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, come highly recommended by nutritionists.
5. Take Advantage of Routine Health Screenings
Routine health screenings can identify diseases and other potential health concerns while they are more treatable. Dr. Rachel Marquez, a board-certified family physician at Kaiser Permanente in Virginia, recommends getting screenings for
- Abnormal cholesterol levels;
- Breast, cervical, colorectal, and lung cancer;
- High blood pressure;
- High glucose levels;
- Mental health conditions; and
6. Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
Sleep hygiene involves how much sleep you get each night and the preparations you take to get a good night’s sleep. According to the division of sleep medicine at Harvard Medical School and WGBH Educational Foundation, good sleep hygiene includes:
- Limiting your caffeine and alcohol intake before bedtime
- Having a consistent sleep schedule
- Stop using (or removing) TVs, computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices at least 30 minutes before going to bed
Getting the right amount of quality sleep varies depending on age groups. However, one study found that getting fewer than seven hours of sleep per night increased mortality risk by 24 percent, while getting more than eight hours of sleep per night increased mortality risk by 17 percent.
7. Make Gratefulness a Habit
While gratefulness hasn’t been the subject of many scientific studies, psychologists say practicing gratitude creates positive emotions and feelings. According to The Wiley Encyclopedia of Health Psychology, being grateful could help motivate you to exercise, participate in other healthy activities, and seek help when you have a health concern.
Dr. Carstensen says she practices gratitude by taking time to “sit and reflect and be grateful.”
“Breathe and think about what’s good in the world and what you appreciate,” she said. “It calms you. There’s a kind of a reset to it that is very useful for mental health. It really does change your outlook.”
8. Take Time Out For Your Friends
Keep in touch with your friends, whether it’s through text, a phone call, video chat, or spending time together. What’s good is that you do not need to have a large number of friends. A study published online in July 2022 in the Aging and Society journal found that just having two to four close friendships can reduce the risk of loneliness, depression, anxiety, and stress in older adults. The study linked having fewer friends with negative psychological and physiological health outcomes.
Carstensen says to reach out to your friends and let them know that you care about them.
“If you let them know you care, they are much more likely to let you know they care too, so carving out time for those exchanges is really important,” she said.