You might want to live forever, like some Greek god or sparkling vampire. But the truth of the matter is, vampires never seem to get gum disease. And Zeus never had prostate cancer. We mere mortals not only die, but get sick—sometimes painfully so.
There’s no point living long if you’re not healthy while doing it.
That’s why we scoured the latest medical journals and studies to uncover the top 38 ways you can live healthy for as long as possible. Not only will this advice extend your life, it’ll lead to a happier and healthier one, too. Hygieia—the Goddess of health—would approve. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You May Have Already Had COVID.
The common wisdom about living longer is to de-stress, so you can finally enjoy life. Since deadlines at work keep a lot of us awake at night, it may come as a surprise that early retirement can be a risk factor for dying earlier. According to research published in the British Medical Journal, healthy people who delayed retirement by just one year past age 65 had an 11% lower risk of death from all causes. The same was found to be true in unhealthy people who retired a year later.
Recommendation: No matter your age, keep busy at work on something—if not a job, then a hobby, like gardening, crocheting or crossword puzzles. You might be at rest but your mind doesn’t have to be.
Maybe good things really do come in small packages. The CIA World Factbook shows people live longer in Monaco than anywhere else on earth—until 89.4 years old, surpassing even Japan (at 85.3). By comparison, the average life expectancy in the United States is 78.6 years. With a combo of their Mediterranean diet, fresh sea air, ample sunshine and wealth, it’s no wonder.
Recommendation: A Mediterranean diet is one that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, and whole grains, low in red meat, and free of refined foods and added sugars. Enjoy wholesome, good-for-you ingredients, and nothing processed. A richness of health will follow.
Aspirin was discovered more than a century ago, and since then it’s been a go-to for headaches, fevers, and lowering the chances of having a heart attack. So many people think popping a baby aspirin is a quick and easy way to stay healthy. But don’t start on an aspirin regimen without talking to your doctor first. The FDA warns that long-term aspirin therapy only works on certain people, and can actually increase risk of brain bleeds and other nasty side effects.
Recommendation: When talking to your doctor, also mention how frequently you take pain relievers like Advil or Tylenol. They can be ineffective if taken for the wrong reasons.
Mental health is just as important to your well-being as your physical health. So it’s time to stop stigmatizing therapy. Research from The Australian National University found that mental health conditions cause a mortality gap: men may have a shorter life by 10.2 years, and 7.3 years shorter for women. There is good news—about 80% of those who are treated for depression or anxiety with drugs improve.
Recommendation: Sites like Psychology Today offer contact information for a therapist near you, and new digital solutions like Talkspace save you a trip.
Smoke alarms save lives—but only if they work. When a home catches fire, you may have only minutes to get out safely. While most homes in the United States have smoke alarms, a study in the Western Journal of Medicine found that 30% didn’t work when tested due to malfunctions or dead batteries.
Recommendation: Here’s a trick—when you change your clock at Daylight Savings Time, change your smoke alarm batteries, too, and ensure the device works.
Pets can do more than get tails wagging—they can help you live better. Studies have linked pet ownership to lower risk of anxiety and depression. Now the American Heart Association has weighed in, recommending that people own a dog, particularly for those who want to get heart healthy. Studies have shown that dog owners walk more—because dogs need walking every day—which improved cardiovascular health. Pet owners also have lower blood pressure, tend to be more physically active, and walk significantly more than those who do not own dogs.
Recommendation: Adopt responsibly, from an organization like the ASPCA.
Now here’s a paradox to wrap your mind around. It turns out that being afraid of death can actually shorten your lifespan. A study published in the Journal of Psychosocial Oncology found that cancer patients with death anxiety experienced more pain and depression, and that “life expectancy was perceived as shortened in patients with death anxiety.”
Does a glass of merlot a day keep the doctor away? Maybe. Red wine is made by crushing whole red grapes and fermenting the juice. As a result, it’s high in antioxidants, which may help prevent coronary heart disease. The Mayo Clinic says the link between antioxidants and heart health is still being studied, but the benefit may come from an increase in “good cholesterol” (HDL).
Recommendation: Enjoy a glass of red wine with dinner. Although doctors are wary of advising anyone to drink alcohol—so don’t start drinking just to prevent heart disease.
Every six months or so, you’re in the dentist’s office for a cleaning—and probably a lecture about flossing. Next time, pay attention. The American Heart Association’s journal Hypertension says there is a link between gum disease and heart disease. Sore, swollen gums are a sign of inflammation. When left untreated, this can lead to periodontitis, which leads to pockets of pus. This is the risk for heart problems. Your gums are full of blood vessels, and when you have a mouth full of bacteria, a tiny sore can let that bacteria into your bloodstream and trigger inflammation throughout your body.
Recommendation: Brush your teeth twice a day and floss once daily.
It turns out that worrying can be good for you after all. A study found that conscientiousness—being persistent, cautious and well-organized—has a significant impact on longevity. Those who are conscientious are more likely to obey the rules, less likely to engage in risky behaviors, and less prone to diseases.
Recommendation: Conscientiousness can be learned. Use your phone’s calendar app to remind you of important dates like birthdays or anniversaries—and mark them “annual” so you’ll be reminded about them next year, too, automatically.
A sunny outlook really can make your life better. Researchers have found that a positive attitude could lead to a longer, healthier life. A study by the Mayo Clinic showed that pessimists had a 50% increased risk of early death than optimists. The study concluded: “A pessimistic explanatory style … is significantly associated with mortality.” Optimists also tend to have easygoing, extroverted, overall positive attitudes—all of which may help to lower stress.
Recommendation: Meditation can lead to a greater sense of calm, and thus optimism. Try it for just 10 minutes each morning, and you should see results within one month.
It’s everywhere, but does it work? Cannabidiol (CBD) oil is a natural remedy that promises a plethora of overall impact. It’s created by extracting only CBD from the cannabis plant. That way, you get the health-related benefits of cannabis without the “high”—because CBD is not psychoactive. While the jury is still out about it’s overall health benefits, recent research has shown a link to heart health, stating “a single dose of CBD reduces resting blood pressure and the blood pressure response to stress.”
Recommendation: Studies on the potential health benefits of CBD oil are ongoing, so more therapeutic uses are likely around the corner. Anecdotal evidence shows it helps everything from inflammation to PMDD. Fans don’t care if it’s real or just the “placebo effect”—they just know it works for them.
The science is clear—social isolation is a significant risk for early death and heart disease. One study showed that marriage is associated with longer lifespans. The researchers concluded “never having never been married is a better predictor of poor health outcomes than either divorce or widowhood.” And the health impacts of loneliness aren’t only for the elderly—in fact, they may be even stronger in younger ages.
Where you live can affect how long you live. According to the CDC, life expectancy is 78.6 for the U.S. population in general. But living in certain states can actually increase (or decrease) that number. Hawaii has the longest life expectancy at 81 years, followed by California, New York, and Minnesota. Kentucky, Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi have the shortest life spans (less than 75 years).
Remember when your mom said “Go outside and play”? Well, she knew what she was talking about. Life expectancy can be increased just by getting a bit of fresh air. When you go outside, your skin is exposed to sunlight—and that’s how you soak up vitamin D. This, along with calcium, is essential for bone health (that’s why your milk is fortified with vitamin D). And here’s the good news—it doesn’t take much time.
Recommendation: Just fifteen minutes a day in the sun is enough to maintain vitamin D levels for most people.
A good night’s sleep is critical for your health. That’s because sleep is one way your body heals—but there is a sweet spot. According to a study conducted in the United Kingdom, too little sleep is dangerous for your health, but sleeping too much is even worse. The study found that sleeping less than 7 hours per night can decrease your lifespan by 12%. Sleeping more than 9 hours is linked to a 30% greater risk of early death. Short sleep is also associated with low-grade inflammation, which increases risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.
Recommendation: Get your 7 to 9 hours each night—no more, no less.
Get busy. Really. Having an active sex life can help you live longer. According to a study by the British Medical Journal, men between the ages of 45 to 59 who reported at least two orgasms per week were half as likely to die from coronary heart disease than their abstinent counterparts. Other studies have shown that sexual activity is linked to health benefits like lower stress lower cancer risk.
Older people who see their glass as half empty may have the upper hand in lifespan. According to a study published by American Psychological Association, being overly optimistic is associated with greater risk of disability and death. The researchers concluded: “being overly optimistic in predicting a better future than actually observed was associated with a greater risk of disability and a greater risk of mortality within the following decade.”
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Think twice the next time you consider having just one more. Drinking too much alcohol—more than one drink per day for women, or two for men—can lead to a shorter lifespan. And patients who are hospitalized due to excessive alcohol use die 24 years earlier than the general population. Heavy alcohol consumption is also linked to liver, heart, and other chronic diseases—and it can lead to weight gain from all those extra calories you’re drinking.
Recommendation: According to the National Institutes of Health, those who drink moderately have a slightly longer life expectancy compared to nondrinkers, so raising a glass is probably okay. Make it red wine.
People who have close friendships have a better chance of a longer life. In fact, research has shown that having good social relationships predicts a 50% greater chance of longevity, and that these connections help us speed up recovery from disease. Social connection is linked to positive emotions and may even increase immune function. Loneliness increases risk of early death by 45%, increases chances of a heart attack or stroke, and decreases immune function.
Recommendation: The next time your friend asks to meet for lunch, do it. Unless it’s Siri.
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Those rugs on your floors may be cozy, but they can also pose a risk for falls. It’s easy to trip over things on your floor, especially when they’re in your path. And as you age, you are at greater risk for serious injury from a fall, because you may be losing bone mass or muscle memory. The CDC says that falls are the second leading cause of accidental deaths worldwide, and adults over the age of 65 are at the greatest risk of suffering a fatal fall.
Recommendation: You might think this is obvious, but chances are you’ve stubbed your toe recently, or stepped on a Lego, or worse: Keeping your walkways clear from things you could trip over are a good way to reduce your risk.
If you want to live a longer, healthier life, eat more fruits and vegetables. The CDC recommends 2 cups of fruit per day and 3 cups of vegetables for adults for a healthy diet because they are rich in nutrition, low in calories, and much better for you than a candy bar. According to a study of English adults over nearly eight years, those who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a “robust reduction” in risk for cancer and cardiovascular disease.
Recommendation: Don’t let a target stop you from eating your greens. Any amount is good for you.
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Even if you’re not up for doing an Ironman, any amount of exercise you do could extend your life. A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that even just ten minutes a day of light activity has big health benefits. Doctoral candidate Ezra Fishman, the author of the study, says you don’t even have to work up a sweat to reap the benefits. “The folks who were walking around, washing the dishes, sweeping the floor tended to live longer than the people who were sitting at a desk.”
Recommendation: “Get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity—such as brisk walking, swimming or mowing the lawn—or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity—such as running or aerobic dancing. You can also do a combination of moderate and vigorous activity,” advises the Mayo Clinic.
A study in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that people who are on a team have a health advantage over those who exercise solo. Researchers found a clear link between longer life expectancy and team sports that encourage friendships and social interactions, concluding “Interestingly, the leisure-time sports that inherently involve more social interaction were associated with the best longevity.”
Recommendation: You don’t have to be on the same team. Playing social sports like golf, tennis, or soccer could add years to your life.
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Here’s something to buzz about—that cup of coffee you drink in the morning could boost your longevity. A study found that people who drink 3 to 5 cups of coffee every day have a 15% lower risk of early death compared to those who do not. There is also some evidence that coffee can reduce risk of stroke and Type 2 diabetes. But there can be too much of a good thing. Consuming more than 400 mg of caffeine can make you feel uneasy and keep you awake at night. So, if you’re into decaf, you’re in luck—researchers found similar benefits in decaffeinated coffee.
Recommendation: Sweeten your coffee with a touch of agave, not spoonfuls of sugar. And avoid anything that starts with “frap.” That’s not coffee. It’s dessert.
Watching your favorite TV show could be taking years off your life. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that every hour spent watching television shortened life expectancy by 22 minutes—the same effect of smoking two cigarettes. And watching six hours of TV per day cuts your life expectancy by five years. A Harvard study linked watching just two hours of TV per day to a 20% greater risk of Type 2 diabetes and 15% increase in risk of heart disease.
Recommendation: We don’t expect you to stop watching Succession. But do be aware of your screen time. TV not only shortens your life, but can prevent you from living life to its fullest.
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Add a little flavor to your diet to boost your health. Turmeric is a plant related to ginger and a common ingredient in curry powder. Rutgers University scientists found that combining turmeric with phenethyl isothiocyanate (a compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli) can help fight prostate cancer.
Recommendation: Sprinkling turmeric on your veggies even once a week could give you some protection. And the capsaicin in chili peppers leads to weight loss, too.
Getting behind the wheel when you’re exhausted might seem like it’s not a big deal—”we all do it,” you might think—but it can be deadly. According to the National Sleep Foundation, drowsy driving is downright dangerous—it can have a similar effect on your body as drinking alcohol. Being awake for 18 hours makes is like having a blood alcohol level of .05 (the legal limit is .08). It will be hard to pay attention and slow your reaction time.
Recommendation: If you’re tired, pull over somewhere safe and take a quick nap or ask someone else to drive. There is less shame in being late than there is seriously hurting yourself or others.
Going for a swim is a great way to relieve stress and get some exercise. But before you dive in, be sure you have a buddy. According to the World Health Organization, drowning is the third leading cause of accidental death worldwide. Men have twice the risk of drowning than women do, in part because men tend to be riskier when swimming (using alcohol and going alone).
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Laughter really is the best medicine. Not only does it reduce stress, lower blood pressure, improve your feelings of well-being, laughing can also dull pain. According to a study in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, women with a sense of humor were found to live longer despite being ill. In fact, the findings show that high scores in cognitive sense of humor are linked to a 73% lower risk of death from heart disease, and an 83% decrease in risk of death from infection.
Recommendation: Rent Top Secret or one of these 30 Funniest Movies of All Time.
According to research, being unemployed can boost a person’s risk of early death by a whopping 63 percent. This risk is exacerbated for older adults who lose jobs during a recession—they may lose up to three years of life expectancy. Studies found a potential link between stress and increased likelihood of cardiovascular disease, alcohol use, and other health problems.
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We spend most of our waking hours at work, so it should come as no surprise that our co-workers have an impact on our health. A study by Tel Aviv University that examined people in professions from manufacturing to finance revealed that risk of death is correlated to the “perceived niceness” co-workers. Those who reported having “little peer support” had 2.4 times greater risk of dying during the study. Whether or not the boss was nice had little impact on lifespan.
It’s no secret that being generous makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. But it may also help you live longer. According to research, spending money for the benefit of others has a profound impact on emotional well-being. Doing good things for others pays an even higher dividend—those who cared for neighbors live the longest.
Recommendation: The Good Place creator Mike Schur turned us on to GiveWell, a site that showcases “high-impact giving opportunities that are supported by in-depth charity research.”
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Sorry guys—women really do tend to live longer. Women tend to be less risky in their behaviors (one reason their car insurance is lower) and do better as widows than their male counterparts when a spouse dies. In fact, a landmark study found that “centenarians are overwhelmingly female except in rare areas of the world.”
Getting your yearly checkup is vital—but may people put off a doctor visit because they don’t want to hear bad news, or they just can’t afford it. According to one study, life expectancy decreases by nearly 2 years for each chronic condition a person has—and it does not vary across sex or race.
Recommendation: Almost all insurances cover a yearly physical. If you’re not going, you’re wasting free money, and putting yourself in danger. See you there.
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It’s worth it to go to school. The odds of dying for women with the lowest education levels is 66% higher than for their more educated counterparts, according to a Harvard study. Higher education is associated with less financial stress, fewer traumatic events like divorce or assault, and better odds of having health insurance and owning a home.
The amount of time you spend sitting can shave years off your life. A study published in the Journal of American Medicine found that sitting for more than 11 hours a day actually increases your risk of death over the next three years.
Recommendation: Maybe it’s time to look into getting a stand-up desk. Or simply stand up from your desk and walk around every 30 minutes.
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Tobacco is still the leading cause of death in the United States. The CDC says mortality among both men and women is three times higher than those who have never smoked. For every pack of cigarettes you smoke, you take 28 minutes off your life. The average smoker loses 25 years of life expectancy. “Vaping” is likely no better, although E-cigs are so new there’s no research yet. E-cigs have been known to cause abdominal pain, seizures, coma, cancer and death.
Recommendation: For support in quitting, including free quit coaching, a free quit plan, free educational materials, and referrals to local resources, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669). And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.