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Simple habits that may help us live longer

By CLAUDIA BERMUDEZ-HYUN, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 08, 2022 5:00 am

Many of us are under the impression that life expectancy is largely determined by our genetics. However, it seems that genes play a much smaller role than originally believed and that environmental factors like diet and lifestyle are key to longevity. 

From the moment we understand that we are one day going to die, we start bargaining with ourselves on how to keep life going for longer: “If I can’t live forever, I can surely find ways to extend my years somehow. But how?”

Prioritize your happiness: Doing things you love, being with people who appreciate you and feeling you are part of a community are important factors at any age.

Proper nutrition and exercise have been the staple rule to stretch our timeline, but there are some recently researched life hacks we can begin adopting for longer life.

Consider including some of the following habits in your life routine as they could play an important part in extending your “shelf life,” and growing older might feel more like… fun.

Keep learning. The more education you get, the healthier behaviors you tend to adopt. Higher education is linked to a higher age count. Find a subject you are interested in and delve into it. It might not have anything to do with your present occupation, which might bring new knowledge in a new field. When you learn something new, the neurons involved in the learning episode grow new projections and form new connections. Your brain may even produce new neurons. With today’s technology, learning has reached new dimensions: it is affordable to a vast majority of us and can be taken online at our convenience and during off-work hours.

When you learn something new, the neurons involved in the learning episode grow new projections and form new connections.

Steam up. Sweating is not only good for you after a workout. Sitting in a sauna for 15-20 minutes three times a week gives you a similar health boost. A recent study done in Finland of 2,000 middle-aged men showed that after 20 years, those who frequented a 70-degree hot wooden-walled room regularly reported a lower risk of heart failure and coronary heart disease than those who didn’t. Researchers believe that sweating and heat increase your heart rate just like light exercise.

Longevity may seem beyond our control, but incorporating a little effort and some healthy habits may allow us to reach a ripe old age and add a few more years to our lifespan.

Practice mindfulness: Closing your eyes and settling your mind through deep breathing exercises can lengthen your timeline.

Work hard. Are you under the impression that a long life comes solely from living a life full of leisurely, laid-back, stress-free days? Nope. People who work the hardest at meaningful jobs seem to live the longest. “Productive, hardworking people (even in old age) are not stressed and miserable, but tend to be happier, healthier and more socially connected than their less productive peers,” says Howard Friedman, author of The Longevity Project. 

Researchers believe that sweating and heat increase your heart rate just like light exercise.

Exercise a little. Recent research shows that you don’t have to exercise all that much just to improve your health. A study analyzing 250,000 older adults found that getting an hour of moderate physical activity per week was associated with a 15 percent lower risk of death. Runners enjoy a 30 percent lower risk of death from any cause and a 45 percent reduced risk from heart attacks or stroke, even if they run only one hour per week. A little bit of exercise goes a long way towards longevity.

Go nuts: Nuts are packed with protein, good fats and vitamins.

Go nuts. All types of nuts may help you live longer. They are packed with protein, good fats and vitamins. Walnuts are linked to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, and may even calm the body’s stress response. Substantial evidence from animal and human studies suggests that dietary consumption of walnuts (one to two ounces per day) can improve cognitive function. Snack on them with fresh fruits to balance sugar, add them to your salads, blend them into your smoothies or eat them straight from the shell.

Avoid overeating. The link between calorie intake and longevity currently generates a lot of interest. Studies of human populations renowned for longevity also observe links between low-calorie intake, an extended lifespan, and a lower likelihood of disease. What’s more, calorie restriction may help reduce excess body weight and belly fat, both of which are associated with shorter lifespans. Whether calorie restriction slows aging or extends your lifespan is not yet fully understood. Either way, both have positive outcomes. Look into intermittent fasting.

Proper sleep is pivotal for regulating cell function and allowing the body to heal.

Get the right amount of sleep. Proper sleep is pivotal for regulating cell function and allowing the body to heal. Longevity seems to be closely linked to regular patterns such as waking up and sleeping at the same time daily. Duration is also an important factor to consider: either too little sleep or too much sleep has adverse reactions. “Sleeping less than five to seven hours per night is linked to a 12 percent greater risk of early death while sleeping more than 8-9 hours per night could decrease your lifespan by 38 percent.” On the other hand, “excessive sleep could be linked to depression, low physical activity and other health conditions, which may negatively affect your lifespan,” according to Journalsleep.com. 

Phone a friend. As mundane as this may sound, being in touch with your close friends, and having a vibrant social life, is as healthy for you as quitting smoking. “Strong social relationships support mental health tying into better immune function,” says sociologist Debra Umberson from the University of Texas in Austin. The link between sociability and longevity is especially marked amongst seniors. Our friendships are powerful because they help us to protect our emotional health and cope with stress by triggering happiness-inducing endorphins.

“Eating seven or more servings of vegetables daily reduces our risk of dying by 42 percent at any age."

Eat more fat and more vegetables. The days of fat bashing are over. Fat is back, as long as we eat the right kind. We are talking about eggs, avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil and full-fat yogurt. Studies show that people with higher levels of DHA, EPA, and DPA all contained in fatty fish have a 35 percent lower risk of heart disease, and a review in the European Journal of Nutrition found that eaters of full-fat dairy are at lower risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes than those consuming low fat. As for vegetables, the facts are crystal clear: “Eating seven or more servings of vegetables daily reduces our risk of dying by 42 percent at any age, from cancer by 25 percent and heart disease by 31 percent.” Slip them into every nook and cranny of your diet.

Use sunscreen. Get into the habit of using a broad-spectrum sunscreen every day to cut the risk of skin cancer in half. It not only slows down the wrinkling of your skin but also protects you from future age spots and melanomas. In countries such as ours, where we are exposed to the sun year-round, this should be a non-negotiable option for yourself and your family.

Adopt a pet: Data show pet owners live longer.

Adopt a pet. Data from studies published by the scientific journal Circulation between 1950 and May 2019 found that pet owners live longer than people without pets. The benefit was greatest for those who had a history of heart attack, where there was a 65 percent reduced risk of mortality. According to the American Heart Association, owning a dog is associated with a lower risk of heart disease. This is partly because dogs need to go for regular daily walks and their owners get almost compulsory exercise by walking them. Ninety percent of senior respondents said their pets made them feel loved — a sure hedge against loneliness.

Japanese people who drank at least five cups of green tea a day enjoyed a 26 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke.

Drink coffee and tea. These brews are considered a major source of antioxidants with hundreds of beneficial compounds. Despite the controversy over caffeine, science finds that coffee is good for us and our hearts. According to Frank Hu, chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, “moderate coffee intake — about two to five cups a day — is linked to a lower likelihood of type 2 diabetesheart disease, liver and endometrial cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and depression.” Learn how to enjoy coffee plain with no milk and little or no sugar. Coffee is not the only morning drink that can add years to your life. Tea is another powerful source of antioxidants. Japanese people who drank at least five cups of green tea a day enjoyed a 26 percent lower risk of heart attack or stroke. In addition, compounds called catechins can significantly lower LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.

Marinate your meat. If you enjoy a good steak occasionally, remember that meat forms several suspected carcinogens when grilled or heated at high temperatures. A simple marinade lessens this risk. Marinating meat with lemon, for example, before cooking it at high temperatures has been shown to slash certain carcinogens by 70 percent or more. Another marinade that can cut out human carcinogens heterocyclic amines or HCAs is a mix of thyme, red and black pepper, allspice, rosemary and chives. No need to forgo your fillet if you cook it right.

Getting mad comes with a high risk. People who have experienced angry outbursts had an 8.5 times greater danger of a heart attack within the next two hours.

Control your temper. Venting out may seem like a good idea for our heart health. Better than holding it all in, right? But recent studies show getting mad comes with a high risk. People who have experienced angry outbursts had an 8.5 times greater danger of a heart attack within the next two hours, and the risk increased in older adults. The most common triggers are fights with family members, work disputes, road rage and arguments with friends. Use awareness to control these emotions and deep breathing before erupting. 

Buckle up. Get your safety basics right: something as fundamental as wearing a seat belt at all times when in a vehicle can reduce your chances of injury and death at any age. As a front-seat passenger, it will limit your chances of moderate to fatal injury by 50 percent and of dying by 45 percent. Don’t take this habit lightly.

Longevity may seem beyond our control, but incorporating a little effort and some healthy habits may allow us to reach a ripe old age and add a few more years to our lifespan.