15 Ways To Live Longer
05.01.06, 12:30 AM ET
It's been said that a man dies simply because he doesn't
know how to live longer. Well, thank goodness for progress.
People are living longer these days. According to the Centers
for Disease Control, in 1920 the average life expectancy was
54. Today, people can expect to live to 78.
Feel free to speculate about why--better food supply, better
medical care, better hygiene or any number of other factors.
It's not totally clear to scientists how they all add up. But
what we do know is that studies are finding genetics don't
tell the whole story when it comes to which diseases will
likely kill us.
a saying that genetics load the gun, but it's the environment
that pulls the trigger," says Dr. David Fein, medical director
at the Princeton Longevity Center, a clinic in Princeton,
N.J., which focuses on quality of life and prolonging it. "You
can have the gene for a certain disease, but it doesn't mean
you're going to get it."
Take heed: Your lifestyle choices are very significant.
While there is no way to ultimately defy death, that isn't an
excuse to start indulging in vices and neglecting your health.
There are plenty of ways to keep the grim reaper at bay--and
many of these "secrets" result in an improved quality of life.
If you really want to live longer, then
start with your
attitude. Your way of thinking not only improves your
outlook on life, but also how long you actually live. In 2002,
researchers at the Mayo
Clinic in Rochester, Minn., found that optimistic
people decreased their risk of early death by 50% compared
with those who leaned more toward pessimism.
"The exact mechanism of how personality acts as a risk factor
for early death or poorer health is unclear," says Dr.
the main investigator in the study. Most likely, it has to do
with the fact that pessimists have an increased chance for
future problems with their physical health, career
achievements and emotional stress--particularly depression.
"Yet another possibility could be more directly biological,
like changes in the immune system," Maruta adds.
Besides looking through rosier-colored glasses, there other
personality traits that can help us live longer, healthier
lives. According to Dr.
Howard Friedman, a psychologist at the University of
California, Riverside, conscientiousness is related to
mortality in a significant way. The Terman Life-Cycle Study,
which ran from 1921 to 1991, examined an array of factors like
personality, habits, social relations, education, physical
activities and cause of death.
"Those low on adult conscientiousness died sooner," Friedman
concluded. Conscientiousness does not mean looking both ways
before crossing the street, it means looking both ways when
the light turns green so you don't accidentally run down a
slow-moving pedestrian. Beyond that, a conscientious person's
long-living qualities probably have to do with the fact that
they are predisposed to constructively reacting to emotional
and social situations, and are more likely to create work and
living environments that promote good health.
There are also more traditional practices that the aspiring
centenarian can take. People should
eat a balanced diet and
maintain a healthy
weight. While these may sound "nanny-ish," they are
factors that cannot be overlooked. This might not sound like
much fun, but it's a lot more fun than being dead.
Research shows that obesity, for example, contributes to a
slew of medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease
and various cancers. So powerful are certain lifestyle choices
that recommended diets along with
physical activity and appropriate body mass can, over
time, reduce the incidence of cancer by 30% to 40%, according
to the American Institute for
Animal lovers will be happy to know that
having a pet
can add years to your life, as well. One of the first studies
in this arena, which appeared in Public Health Reports
in 1980, showed that the survival rates of heart-attack
victims who had a pet were 28% higher than those of patients
who didn't have an animal companion. "The health effects seem
to be very real and by no means mystical," says
Alan Beck, director
of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University.
"Contact with companion animals triggers a relaxation
response," he says.
Rebecca Johnson, a
professor of gerontological nursing at the University of
Missouri, Columbia, showed that interaction with pets does, in
fact, reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. The
ability of companion pets to
reduce our overall stress level probably accounts for
most of their life-extending qualities. "For many people, pets
also provide a reason to get moving," adds Johnson. How many
people, after all, would actually get any exercise if it
weren't for overenthusiastic dogs?
To many people, quality of life is equally as important as
life span. It is a good thing, then, that many of the factors
that can improve your longevity can also improve your quality
of life. After all, who really wants to live forever when they
can have a life that ended perfectly?