11 Ways to Live Longer
Want to Celebrate Many More New Years to Come? Here’s How.
By Lisa James
People have been looking for the fountain of youth for centuries, a search that continues today in genetics labs the world over. But if you expect the ultimate longevity answer to come from a test tube, you’re in for a wait. “There may never be a gene or combination of genes associated with living longer,” says Dennis Kravetz, psychologist, consultant and author of A Sound Mind in a Sound Body (KAP Books).
Kravetz says aging is controlled by telomeres, little bits of DNA that get shorter every time a cell replicates; once they’re gone, the cell dies. The way to preserve your telomeres is to keep your cells happy. “If you take good care of yourself, this division of your cells will be deferred because the cells don’t feel the need to clone themselves,” he explains.
That puts the power for living longer squarely in your hands through your choice of diet and lifestyle, although it’s true that staying healthy was easier in the past. “Giving the body what it needs was not difficult. Soils were fertile, and we got what we needed. Today that’s a challenge—we purchase our food and are exposed to a toxic environment that in many cases we have little control over,” says Raymond Francis, DSc, MSc, RNC, author of Never Feel Old Again (Health Communications).
Despite the challenges, Francis believes people can break free of what he calls the “accelerated aging lifestyle” marked by processed food, lack of exercise, poor sleep and excessive stress. “The human body is a self-repairing system,” he says. “But the body will not repair itself if you don’t give it all the materials it needs.” Here are some ways to run a clean, well-functioning machine.
Eat a Rainbow
Ripe red tomatoes, glittering green kale, vibrantly orange carrots: The more colorful your fruits and vegetables, the better. The bright hues in produce come from phytonutrients, substances that have been linked with benefits including protection against heart disease and cancer. Eating fresh produce from across the color spectrum will supply your body with a wide variety of these crucial health boosters. (Supplementing with whole-food concentrates can help cover any nutritional gaps.)
Lock Up Free Radicals
Produce also provides antioxidants, which neutralize toxins called free radicals. Kravetz warns that not getting enough antioxidants means “a reaction called oxidative stress can occur. This stress can damage or even kill otherwise healthy cells.” Vitamins C and E are among the best-known of these crucial substances. But the phytonutrients in many berries have also shown powerful antioxidant properties; by eating different kinds of berries you can ensure you’re getting a wide enough assortment of antioxidants to fight the various free radicals found in the body.
Grab Some Shuteye
Sleep is the time your body repairs itself. Going to bed and getting up at consistent times can make finding dreamland easier. Melatonin is a hormone that controls the sleep cycle that works best with other sleep promoters such as the 6-MBOA found in corn leaf extract, casein in milk protein, L-dopa in velvet bean and 5-HTP in Griffonia simplicifolia.
Keep the Muscle
In addition to doing aerobic exercise—the kind that increases your heart rate —be sure to maintain adequate muscle strength. In one study, women 75 and older who stayed strong had less trouble with such activities as walking up stairs and lived more independently. Weight training doesn’t mean
lifting hundreds of pounds, either; even seniors can train with weight levels adjusted to their capacities. The body uses amino acids, especially the branched-chain amino acids, to build
the proteins found in muscles. The amino acid byproduct creatine helps optimize muscle growth, while the marine antioxidant astaxanthin helps reduce muscular discomfort.
Everyone faces challenges and setbacks. But deciding to be happy despite it all makes existence more pleasant—and may prolong life. “You cannot have a thought without having a biological consequence,” explains Francis. “Negative thoughts produce changes in neurochemicals and hormones.” In particular, he says, “anger will chew you up and spit you out.” But depression can be hard on the body, too. Maizinol is a corn-leaf extract that promotes healthy neurochemical balance. The herb rhodiola fights stress and L-theanine, found in green tea, promotes deep relaxation with heightened focus.
Cool Off Inflammation
Exercising and eating a whole-foods diet help fight the kind of low-level inflammation that fosters chronic disease—no wonder one recent study linked inflammation with a reduced likelihood
of healthy aging. Eliminating grain-based foods may help if you react badly to gluten; some practitioners recommend reducing high-carbohydrate foods in general. Omega-3 fatty acids, the kinds found in fish and krill oils, fight inflammation, as do olive hydroxytyrosol, oregano extract and enzymes from sources such as pineapple.
Just as bad as toxic thoughts are the toxins found in everything from the air you breathe to the food you eat. “The body is designed to handle toxins,” says Francis. “The problem is that we’re in toxic overload—we’ve exceeded the body’s capacity to handle them.” But there is good news: “About 80% of that toxic load is under your personal control.” Eat organic whole foods to the fullest extent possible while eliminating all processed and genetically modified (GMO) items from your menu. And invest in a high-quality water filter; Francis calls tap water “the fountain of old age.”
Fight the Flab
Turning down the dial on inflammation may also allow you to see lower numbers on your bathroom scale. That would be good, since being overweight sets the stage for hypertension, diabetes and other threats to longevity. In addition to proper diet and adequate exercise, many people find the use of natural weight loss aids to be helpful. They include an amino acid-based formulation called Synaptose, which helps cut cravings; the herbs forskolin and garcinia, which help curb hunger; carb blockers such as extracts taken from brown seaweed and white bean; and fat fighters such as raspberry ketones and green coffee bean extract.
Slow It Down
One reason stress is so, well, stressful is that it can seem relentless, causing your body and mind to go into cell-punishing overdrive. Meditation can block stress by helping you disengage from your circumstances, allowing you to reach a more balanced perspective on life. There are a number of ways to meditate. One exercise: See yourself sitting quietly on a riverbank and as the river (your stream of consciousness) goes by, carrying bottles (thoughts) with it, focus on one bottle in a detached manner until it disappears downstream. Then do the same thing as other bottles appear.
Engage Your Mind
Staying active helps you stay mentally fit. “The brain is the hungriest organ in the body in terms of needing fresh nutrients and oxygen,” says Kravetz. But keeping your mind active is important, too. “The trick is to get out of our ruts and approach life with a child’s curiosity,” says Francis. He recommends mindfulness training—learning how to be fully present in life moment by moment—to strengthen cognition and memory, along with reading and learning new skills. Feeding the brain what it needs helps as well, especially lecithin phospholipids, which promote healthy mental processing, and herbal extracts such as ginkgo, vinpocetine and huperzine-A.
Humans are social creatures by nature. That means being too much of a loner can harm your well-being, both physically and mentally. “Many studies have now shown that people with large and active social networks are far less likely to experience cognitive decline than those who are isolated,” says Francis. His recommendation? “Extend yourself to include new people and groups in your daily life.”
More Ways to Live Longer
Shun the Screens
Well if not shun them, then at least reduce the time you spend in front of computers, televisions, tablets, etc. Too much screen time can pose a stumbling block to getting enough exercise—a key factor in living longer. According to Dennis Kravetz, one study found that “telomeres were significantly longer in those who engage in moderate physical activity.” In contrast, Australian researchers saw a 22-minute reduction in life expectancy for every hour of TV watched after age 25. Shut off the tube and get moving!
Stay Mobile On Your Own
If you find it tiring to walk, you might be convinced that a mobility scooter is the answer. But unless your medical history indicates otherwise, it’s a much better idea to get around under your own power. Invest in properly fitted walking shoes and try walking slowly and often, picking up speed as you build stamina.
Spice It Up
A well-stocked spice rack is the healthy cook’s best friend, providing a slew of phytonutrients. Using spices also allows you to take it easy with the salt shaker. Francis says too much sodium upsets the body’s sodium-potassium balance, “causing cellular malfunction, disease and accelerated aging.” Spices present a variety of flavor notes, such as sweet cinnamon and pungent mustard; experiment and see which combinations please your palate.
Get a Grip
Learning how to reduce stress will go a long way in lowering your levels of anxiety, which in all its forms actually outpaces depression as the most common emotional malady in the US. Exercise is one anxiety antidote. Others include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches people how to change their thinking patterns with help from a trained practitioner, and Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), in which patients learn to tap specific acupressure points on their bodies (www.eftuniverse.com).
Fire Up the Teakettle
Green tea has long sported a healthy reputation, and with good reason. According to one recent review study, tea consumption is “is associated with significantly reduced risks for stroke, diabetes and depression, and improved levels of glucose, cholesterol, abdominal obesity and blood pressure.” So sit back and enjoy a cup!
Seduce Your Sweetie
Physical intimacy boosts immunity, reduces stress, eases pain and promotes sleep. This helps explain why one study has found an association between an active sex life and successful aging in older women. There are several possible explanations, including the fact that satisfying sex plays a role in marital contentment and that happy marriages tend to produce healthier partners. But really, as long as you’re both having a great time, who cares why it works?
Have a Reason for Being
Yes, there are reasons to get out of bed each day: Going to work, cleaning the house, caring for the kids. But those aren’t reasons for living. Finding larger purpose in life, something that helps you transcend your own existence, can help you extend that life. And if that seems too touchy-feely for you, there is evidence to back it up: In one study, more than 1,200 seniors subjects who said they had a sense of purpose were about half as likely to die over a five-year period than those who felt little sense of purpose.