A local billboard had the following statement, "The first person to live to 150 has already been born."
I don't know if or when people will live to be 150, but I do know that living to be 100 is something that we can strive for. In fact, the number of 100-year-olds in the United States has roughly doubled in the past 20 years to around 72,000, and is projected to at least double again by 2020, making it one of the fastest-growing demographics in America. According to the 2010 census data, about 1 in 4,400 Americans lives to age 100.
Since we all get older every year, it raises an important question: "What should I be doing if I want to continue my annual renewal and stay healthy so I can continue to enjoy the journey?"
In general, your genes will neither kill you nor save you. Our genes dictate only about 10 percent of how long we live. People with "terrible" genes can make lifestyle changes and improve their odds significantly, and people with "designer" genes can run them in into the ground. So a lot of it has to do with what you do with what you have.
So how do we protect the 35 trillion cells that we call our body to make them last for a century? In his book The Blue Zones, Dan Buettner has explored lifestyle changes that increase longevity. I've incorporated his views and expanded on them to include my own. Here are my personal thoughts on how to live the longest, healthiest and happiest life.
1. Start planning for longevity today. If you wanted to have an adequate retirement savings account, you probably would start saving early. The same is true with your health. Start implementing the things we're going to discuss below today.
2. Eat healthy. This is very confusing today because it seems what is healthy keeps changing. But the basics are pretty consistent: Avoid junk food; limit prepared foods (restaurant and takeout), sugary drinks and sodas; eat lots of fruits and vegetables. If possible, eat organically-grown fruits and vegetables to minimize exposure to pesticide. If you haven't heard about the clean 15 and dirty dozen (12 highest pesticide-laden fruits and vegetables), click here.
3. Control your weight. It's really simple; the fatter your body, the harder your heart has to work to supply it with blood and the harder your knees have to work to keep it moving. Some simple tips include don't go back for seconds (keep the food off the table and on a serving counter so people have to physically get up to grab another spoonful), keep only healthy snacks in the house or with you at work, chew your food at least 30 times per bite and put your fork or sandwich down between bites so your meal will take longer and your stomach will have time to tell your brain you are getting full. This will allow you to stop eating before you overeat.
4. Don't add salt to your food. Salt is a growing health problem in the United States, and is contributing to high blood pressure and heart disease. There is so much salt already in the food we eat that adding extra salt is unhealthy.
5. Take a multivitamin and fish oil daily.
6. Maintain family units. In today's fractured world, many families live far away from each other. Yet in places such as Sardinia, Italy where there are 10 times the centenarians as in the United States, families typically live together in units that include the grandparents. They call it "the grandmother effect." Interestingly, in a recent study of killer whales reported in Science, in which the grandmother whale survived and continued to live with the pod, the effect on her adult male offspring was a 14 times greater likelihood of his survival one year beyond the loss of his mother.
7. Eat on a smaller plate. People in Okinawa, Japan use plates about the size of a salad plate. They live seven good years longer than the average American and have one-fourth the rate of breast and colon cancer and one-sixth the rate of heart disease. Okinawan centenarians stop eating when they are 80 percent full.
8. Meditate daily. According to Herbert Benson, people who meditate at least 10 minutes daily to illicit the relaxation response (opposite of fight-or-flight) have lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and more. (Click here for my free "Stress Busters" eBook.)
9. Remain active. It's not about running in the Boston Marathon. It's about staying active and moving. Hardwire some type of physical activity into every week of your life. Walk in nature, take the stairs, do yoga or tai chi, garden. Do this at least two to three times per week. I do resistance training with a personal trainer twice a week and walk almost every other day.
10. Stay connected. People who have ongoing social interactions -- who are able to share their happiness and sorrow and who have companionship -- tend to live longer. This does not mean chat rooms and Facebook. It means sitting in the room with real people. Volunteering, participating and sharing are life-extenders.
11. Have a purpose. People who have a reason to wake up in the morning live longer, healthier, happier lives. What's yours? If an answer doesn't pop into your head, search for one. It could be playing with your grandchildren, gardening, adult education, volunteering at your favorite charity or school, or any of a thousand other reasons. Find yours. According to Dan Buettner, it's worth about seven years of life expectancy.
12. Have a day of rest. Having one day a week where all you do is relax, abstain from work and any stress-related activity, and/or pray has been shown to increase longevity. Even God rested on the seventh day. There is a reason that is part of every major religion. (Enjoy this free download of relaxing instrumental music while you rest and relax.)
14. Choose friends wisely. People tend to become who they hang out with. The Framingham Study showed that if your three best friends are obese, you are 50 percent more likely to become obese. Friends with healthy habits increase your chance of remaining healthy.
15. Smile more. People who are happier and have a more positive attitude live longer. Happiness lowers stress, strengths your immune system and may help to keep the tips of your chromosomes, called telomeres, longer, which helps to prevent cancer and disease.
Click here for my free three video Health Accelerator Series and learn how to prepare for your annual exam, what test results you must know and five tips to jump-start your health today.
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For more by Mache Seibel, MD, click here.
For more on personal health, click here.
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