7 “Secrets” To Adding Years To Your Life

How you age is mostly in your control

The quest for the fabled fountain that promises youth for anyone who drinks from its waters may be the stuff of legends — yet, you can drink from the “secrets” of people who live exceptionally long, healthy lives.

So, are these people simply blessed with good genes? Or have they figured out how to turn back the clock?

For these inspirational individuals, the habits and traits they share in common have trumped their genes — and learning from them can help you increase your number of productive and fulfilling years. Even better, while the lessons you can learn from centenarians may be “cutting edge” science, the steps you need to take to follow in their path are ironically as simple good old fashion motherly advice!

How to drink from the “real” fountain of youth

1. Have an “I’m going to live a long and healthy life” attitude. Expect it and you will live it. That seems to be the motto for successful agers. Getting older, to them, is not a reason to slow down or stop doing what they love. Each year brings new blessings and adventures.

Studies about the power of viewing aging with a positive attitude have shown that your attitude not only influences your mind but also your body — it can cut down your risk of heart disease and memory loss. By internalizing optimism, you are also more likely to take better care of your health and live longer.

2. Make time for friends and family. Being social is a basic human need. Valuing time spent with family and close friends is a big part of the lives of centenarians.

Although we are wired to thrive when we connect, share, and love, as a cultural trend, we are drifting towards isolation. If you are “too busy” to nurture close relationships because you are endlessly checking off to-do’s, you may be hurting your health and life expectancy.

A large 2010 study that included over 300,000 people found that those who lacked strong, high quality relationships had an increased risk of premature death from all causes by fifty percent compared to those who had strong relationships. The quality of relationships, in this study, jeopardized health more than physical inactivity and obesity.

3. Define your sense of purpose. Another trait that is shared among centenarians is a strong sense that their participation and contribution to their family, their community, or their environment is meaningful and valuable. In other words, by enhancing the lives of others, they have discovered they can extend their own.

You can develop this trait at any stage in your life. A 2014 study in Psychological Science showed that creating a legacy and direction for your life can help you live longer regardless of the age at which find your purpose.

The link between having a sense of purpose and longevity is the effect it has on buffering your stress response. By having a well defined role and finding meaning in life, you become more resilient to life’s challenges. Researchers have associated having a sense of purpose with lower levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol — which in excess can trigger anxiety, fatigue, heart disease, diabetes, and memory loss. They have also linked it to lower amounts of the harmful inflammation that leads to chronic disease and accelerated aging.

4. Don’t worry, be happy — sort of. Maybe it’s part of the wisdom that comes with age, but centenarians share a remarkable ability to take life’s ups and downs in stride. A calm nature and sense of humor are among their assets.

That doesn’t mean centenarians have had unusually stress free lives. The opposite, if anything, is true. Many have lived through wars and hardships. The lesson we can learn from them is their ability to buffer stress.

We each experience stress differently. The effect of stress on your body ultimately depends on how you respond to a stressful situation. In addition to having a sense of purpose, you can buffer your stress response by feeling in control of situations, keeping a sense of humor, and learning to shut off stress before it chronically overstimulates your stress response. You can also de-stress through exercise, getting adequate sleep, and meditation.

5. Stay active. Going for walks. Preparing meals. Gardening. These are only some of the activities that healthy centenarians continue doing every day. Physically activity is essential for health. Staying active reduces whole body inflammation and oxidative damage, which have both been linked to premature aging and chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

You don’t have to join a gym or sign up for boot camp. You just need to do leisure activities such as taking a brisk walk or gardening. Even if you have been sedentary most of your life, becoming physically active beginning in midlife or late life can improve your health and longevity.

A 2012 “survival of the fittest” study among 650,000 people over the age of forty found that those who did leisure physical activity thirty minutes at least five days a week increased their life expectancy 4.5 years relative to being sedentary.

6. Eat your veggies. Greece and southern Italy are among pockets of the world with the longest life expectancy. The Mediterranean dietary pattern followed in this region, which includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, olive oil, whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes, and red wine, has been proven to lower risk of premature death, heart disease, diabetes, and some types of cancers.

Too hard for you to go “all Mediterranean”? A 2005 study published in British Medical Journal that included 74, 000 participants showed that even small incremental changes toward a Mediterranean diet can increase your longevity. Eating more fruits and vegetables is a great way to start. The more dietary changes you can make, the greater your chances of enjoying a long, healthy life.

7. Don’t skimp on sleep. Sleep is your body’s chance to heal, repair, process, and recover. According to a 2013 Gallop poll, we are, on average, sleeping over an hour less per night than we did a half a century ago — with 40% of Americans now getting less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

Chronically depriving yourself of the needed amount of sleep can make you gain weight, feel anxious and depressed, and have a harder time concentrating, remembering, and processing information. Sleep deprivation can also weaken your immune system and increases your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and dying younger. It is no wonder that getting adequate sleep is the final habit shared among healthy centenarians.

Your Turn to Live a “Secret” Life

These “secret” habits are seemingly simple — yet, at the same time, can be deceptively difficult to follow. In regions of the world renowned for having the greatest number of centenarians, they are a way of life. If you don’t live in one of these longevity hot spots, adopting them requires a conscientious effort. The key to changing your habits is focusing on small incremental steps, which over time will add up to your larger goal. As you work towards altering your path, keep in mind that although eating healthy and staying active are essential, less emphasized yet equally important are building your emotional wellbeing, social networks, meaningful contributions, and expectations of yourself as you age.


Originally published at drsharonbergquist.com.