7 Tips for Longevity

Humans have searched for ways to extend life for thousands of years. For some people today, that quest includes things like sleeping in a hyperbaric chamber, experimenting with cryotherapy or blasting oneself with infrared light.

Most aging experts are skeptical that such actions will meaningfully extend the upper limits of the human life span. What they do believe based on a large body of evidence-based research, is that by practicing a few simple behaviours, many people can live healthier for longer, reaching 80, 90 and even 100 in good physical and mental shape.

Below are seven tips from geriatricians on how to add more good years to your life.

Move more

The number one thing experts recommended was to keep your body active. That’s because exercise reduces the risk of premature death.

Physical activity keeps the heart and circulatory system healthy and provides protection against numerous chronic diseases that affect the body and mind. It also strengthens muscles, which can reduce older people’s risk of falls.

If we spend some of our adult years building up our muscle mass, our strength, our balance, our cardiovascular endurance, then as the body ages, you’re starting from a stronger place for whatever is to come

The best exercise is any activity you enjoy doing and will stick with. You don’t have to do a lot, either — experts recommend 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, meaning just walking a little more than 20 minutes a day is beneficial.

Eat more fruits and vegetables

The experts didn’t recommend one specific diet over another, but they generally advised eating in moderation and aiming for more fruits — which prioritizes fresh produce in addition to whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish and olive oil — is a good model for healthy eating, and it’s been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.

Get enough sleep

Sleep is sometimes overlooked, but it plays a major role in healthy aging. Research has found that the amount of sleep a person averages each night is correlated with their risk of death from any cause, and that consistently getting good quality sleep can add several years to a person’s life. Sleep appears to be especially important for brain health: A 2021 study found that people who slept less than five hours a night had double the risk of developing dementia. Seven to nine hours is generally recommended, she added.

Don’t smoke, and don’t drink too much either

This goes without saying, but smoking cigarettes raises your risk for all kinds of deadly diseases.

We’re starting to understand how bad excessive alcohol use is, too. More than one drink per day for women and two for men — and possibly even less than that — raises the risk for heart disease and atrial fibrillation, liver disease, and cancers.

Manage your chronic condition

Nearly half of Canadian adults have hypertension, 40 percent have high cholesterol and more than one-third have pre-diabetes. All the healthy behaviours mentioned above will help manage these conditions and prevent them from developing into even more serious diseases, but sometimes lifestyle interventions aren’t enough. That’s why experts say it’s critical to follow your doctor’s advice to keep things under control.

Prioritize your relationships

Psychological health often takes a back seat to physical health, but it’s just as important. Isolation and loneliness is as big a detriment to our health as smoking that it puts us at a higher risk of dementia, heart disease, and stroke.

Relationships are key to not only living healthier, but also happier. According to the Harvard Study of Adult Development, strong relationships are the biggest predictor of well-being.

Cultivate a positive mind-set.

Even thinking positively can help you live longer. Several studies have found that optimism is associated with a lower risk of heart disease, and people who score highly on tests of optimism live 5 to 15 percent longer than people who are more pessimistic. That may be because optimists tend to have healthier habits and lower rates of some chronic diseases, but even when accounting for those factors, the research shows that people who think positively still live longer.

Read what experts have to say about seniors and joy.