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06/15/2013 08:31 am ET Updated Mar 11, 2015

Live Longer: Strategies To Add Extra Years To Your Life

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By Corrie Pikul

While we're waiting for some brilliant chemist to discover the elixir for eternal life, these simple, doable strategies can help you buy a little extra time.

1. Stand up while reading articles like this one... and (especially) while watching TV. Australian researchers determined that every hour of couch-potato-ness docks 21.8 minutes from a person's life.

2. Join a book club. People with a solid group of friends are 50 percent more likely to survive at any given time than those without one, found Carlin Flora while researching her book Friendfluence. Researchers from Brigham Young University calculated that being a loner is an equivalent mortality risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, says Flora -- even riskier than being obese or not exercising.

3. Better yet, join a French Words et Wine or Mandarin for Beginners group. Canadian scientists used CT scans to compare the brains of bilingual and monolingual Alzheimer's patients and found that being able to speak multiple languages seemed to keep patients cognitively agile for longer. Protective benefits start in childhood, but the research suggests that picking up a new language later in life may also help stave off dementia.

4. Nurture your java habit. Drinking four cups of brewed coffee (or the amount of caffeine that you'd get in one Starbucks venti) a day has been linked to as much as a 50 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, a 25 percent lower risk of endometrial cancer, and a 20 percent lower risk for depression. (Keep in mind that this daily amount may cause those who are new to the coffee habit to feel jittery and have trouble sleeping).

5. … or fill your mug with tea. In a study of more than 40,500 Japanese men and women, those who drank five or more cups of green tea every day had the lowest risk of dying from heart disease and stroke. Other studies involving black tea showed similar results -- but adding milk may cancel out tea's cardiovascular benefits. Whatever color tea you choose, drink it black, or with honey and lemon.

6. Eat wild blueberries for breakfast. These vitamin-and-fiber-packed berries are a surprisingly good source of manganese, which plays an important role in bone health and metabolism. And as the girl at the famer's market likes to remind you, they're bursting with antioxidants (specifically, cancer-preventing anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol).

6a. … or as a snack. Older adults who drank wild blueberry juice every day performed better on memory tests and were in better spirits than those who drank a placebo, found psychiatrists at the University of Cincinnati.

7. Don't fake it in bed. Several studies have shown a link between living longer and having sex more often (men) and having enjoyable sex (women). While researchers haven't yet been able to parse out whether sex extends life spans or whether those who have healthier love lives have healthier lives in general, at least one large study of more than 3,500 people showed that regular sex helps us look four to seven years younger.

8. Eat fish for dinner. A study by researchers at Ohio State University found that boosting the ratio of omega-3 fatty acids compared with other oils in our system can help lengthen our telomeres, the caps at the ends of our chromosomes, which shrink with age. This means that a regular diet of cold-water fish (or fish oil supplements) could lower the risk for age-related diseases like coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer's disease.

9. Get the ginger basil tofu instead of the pad Thai. The herbs and spices can help fight infection and chronic diseases (and the noodle dish is usually swimming in unhealthy oil).

10. Take an architecture tour of Chicago, or walk the Freedom Trail in Boston. Expanding your horizons could help expand your brain: German scientists found that mice in the lab who explored new environments grew more new neurons in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that supports learning and memory, than mice who were passive and adventure-resistant.

11. Drive less, for your own sake. You have a 1 in 84 risk of dying in a car accident.

12. Drive less, for everyone's sake. Vehicle emissions are a major source of pollution. When air pollution drops, life expectancy goes up, found a national study published in the journal Epidemiology. Proposed gasoline standards would be as effective as if we removed 33 million vehicles from the road, according to the American Lung Association.

13. Know your D levels. It is unlikely that your doctor will screen your vitamin D levels without prompting. But it's worth knowing your score: After analyzing the vitamin D levels of more than 13,000 people, researchers at Johns Hopkins found that those with the lowest levels had a 26 percent greater chance of dying -- from any cause. (Fatty fish and fortified milk are two great sources, or you could take a supplement -- the recommended daily allowance is 600 IU).

14. Start telling yourself that you can make a difference. A sense that what you do matters may actually protect your brain from the eventual effects of Alzheimer's disease, concluded the authors of a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Researchers from the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have been following more than 1,400 senior citizens since 1997, and they've found that those who believe they're living for a reason showed a 30 percent lower rate of cognitive decline.

15. Set high standards -- even if you feel unqualified to meet them. Those who persevered toward accomplishment despite high levels of stress and responsibility lived longer than those who had cushier gigs (i.e., a job with low stress, low expectations, low investment of time or energy), according to the results of an 80-year Stanford University study called the Longevity Project.

16. Siesta at your desk. Midday napping reduced coronary mortality by about one third among men and women in Greece, found a large study published in The Archives of Internal Medicine. Those who took a 20- to 30-minute snooze at least three times a week had a 37 percent lower risk of death from coronary heart disease than those who didn't, and occasional nappers had a 12 percent reduction in risk. (If your boss catches you, share this: Other studies show that a power nap can wake up the right hemisphere of the brain -- and your creativity.

17. Become the mayor of your block, your condo association or your apartment building. Men and women in the Longevity Project who liked to lend a helping hand -- the ones who cared for their neighbors, the ones whom others turned to for advice -- tended to live longer than those in the study who were not involved in such projects.

18. Exercise. You knew this was coming. But did you know that just 15 minutes of exercise a day can buy you an extra three years of life? And those who go the extra mile and put in 30 minutes daily (versus zero) tend to be rewarded with an extra four years of life. Moderate-intensity aerobic exercise can offset age-related brain shrinkage and improve memory as well as decrease your risk of cancer (by 10 percent) and heart disease (20 percent.

19. When choosing veggies, think "Christmas." You know about the nutritional benefits of kale, chard and other leafy greens. But also add scarlet cruciferous veggies like red cabbage, which are known to help protect against cancer, while beet juice contains nitrates that relax blood vessels.

20. Simmer some sauce. Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, and a study published in the journal Neurology suggests that high blood levels of this phytochemical may offer protection against strokes. Finnish researchers followed more than 1,000 men ages 46 to 55 and found that those with the highest levels of lycopene were 55 percent less likely to have a stroke than those with the lowest levels.

21. Eat the right sweet treats. Tufts University researchers found that those on low-sugar diets had lower levels of depression and anxiety than those who consumed all types of carbs (the perkier people also limited their total carb intake to 40 percent of total calories). When craving a cookie, reach for chocolate: In one large German study, eating a square of dark chocolate a day lowered women's blood pressure and reduced their risk of heart attack and stroke by 39 percent.

22. Occasionally indulge your inner Eeyore. Research suggests that an overabundance of it-won't-happen-to-me optimism could be as detrimental to longevity as high cholesterol and hypertension. A little worry can be helpful if you channel it into productive action, like coming up with an escape plan in case of a house fire, or preparing a living will.

23. Make peace with getting older when you're still young(-ish). Researchers found that people in their 30s and 40s who looked on the bright side of aging (it brings wisdom, retirement, and more time with family) were less likely to develop cardiovascular disease later in life (and had lower mortality rates) than those who faced each birthday with dread.

24. Set your alarm... to go to sleep. Multiple studies show that 7 hours is the optimal amount, and those who report sleeping less than 6.5 hours a night just don't live as long. Regularly hitting the sleep sweet spot also helps keep your brain sharp: 7 hours is linked to a lower risk of dementia later in life, and when sleep decreases to 6 or less hours night after night, the brain effectively ages four to seven years.

As a reminder, always consult your doctor for medical advice and treatment before starting any program.

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