According to a 2018 study, just by changing five simple things in your life, you can extend your life expectancy by 12-14 years. Curious to know what you can do to have a longer life? Here’s what top health and wellness experts recommend that we do to have a healthier lifestyle and consequently, a longer life.
Take regular breaks at work
Breaks at work are extremely helpful in de-stressing and re-charging for the rest of the workday. According to various studies, they can improve job satisfaction and increase productivity. “Take several breaks at work: Go to the restroom and open the faucet with cold water, keep your hands underwater for a few seconds, and splash some of that water on your face. You will feel refreshed and energized,” says Milana Perepyolkina, an international best-selling author.
Movement can have a significant effect on your mental and physical health and can help you seriously decrease the risk of serious diseases. “Exercise contributes to longevity, but not just living longer—living a vital life longer. Exercise decreases the risk of all major health complications, including heart disease, diabetes, and cognitive decline. Try adding in 15-30 minutes 2-3 times a week to begin, and build from there,” says Sarah Thacker, LPC, health coach, and yoga instructor.
Being active and adopting a balanced diet is the perfect combination to live a longer, healthier life. When it comes to nutrition, the secret is to not stick to strict rules that seem like a punishment.
“When I think of nutrition, I think about how it can not only be preventative but how it can manage diseases,” says Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based RD, Certified Diabetes Educator, and National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “I always say that it’s not one day that’s going to make you healthy or one day that’s going to make you unhealthy. It’s about adding that accountability in every single day that will help you improve your overall nutrition so that you can improve your health and longevity.”
Pack up the protein
Speaking of nutrition, a good way to make sure you don’t eat all sorts of unhealthy foods is to consume protein. Protein is known to promote satiety and prevent overeating, and nutritionists recommend incorporating it in every meal.
“Focusing on protein is something that’s really important as we get older because it plays a crucial role in keeping our muscles strong. You should be having a good protein source at breakfast, lunch, and dinner—whether that be beans, nuts, yogurt, eggs, meat, or fish. Aim for 20-30 grams per meal,” says Crandall.
Eliminate fake foods
One of the most important rules when it comes to food is if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. In fact, don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food. This is also valid for ingredients.
“As we get older, I think it’s important to cut out non-nutritive foods like added sugars and really limiting sweets. As we age, our palates can sometimes shift toward sweeter foods, so be mindful of that. The more sweets we have, the more inflammation we have. Inflammation in the body can put you at greater risk for cardiovascular disease, joint pain, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome,” warns Crandall.
Eat your Omegas
Omega-3 fatty acids have numerous benefits for your body and brain. This means their consumption can only help you in the long run. According to Crandall, you should “focus on omega-3-rich foods like tuna, salmon, mackerel, and herring. You should be eating fatty fish two or three times per week in three- to four-ounce servings. This helps decrease inflammation. If you don’t eat seafood, you can take a fish oil supplement as an alternative. Aim for around 1,200 to 2,400 mg of omega-3s each day.”
Consult a dietitian
When you don’t know what type of foods are best for your health or if you want to lose weight and don’t know where to start, the best approach is to seek professional advice. This will stop you from wondering if what you’re doing is right or wrong.
“The best thing we can have on our side is prevention. Working with a preventative specialist such as a dietitian can be really instrumental in making sure you’re hitting those good quality nutrition markers. I’d recommend seeing an RD once a year at a minimum; some people do it three or four times per year if they have an actual concern that needs to be addressed,” says Crandall.
Take time for yourself every day
We are living in a fast-paced world, where stress is a daily occurrence. But it doesn’t have to be. You need to learn how to reduce stress and enjoy life more. “Learning to de-stress is very important,” says Rachel Goldman Ph.D., psychologist, and clinical assistant professor, NYU School of Medicine. “If you’re typically at a high-stress level to begin with, it can make managing stressful situations much more difficult and as a result can take a greater toll on your health. If you can fit in some ‘me’ time into your day on a daily basis, your overall stress level or baseline is lower. Making sure you have good coping mechanisms to deal with stressors is important to our overall wellbeing as we age.”
Learn how to breath
Another effective method to decrease the effects of stress on your mind and body is to use relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, yoga etc. “The easiest relaxation technique to do either in the moment or on a daily basis is to practice deep breathing techniques like diaphragmatic breathing. I usually have my clients practice doing that when they’re not stressed to learn how to do it properly. Try taking five deep breaths before you sleep or when you wake up. That way when a stressor comes, you have the technique readily available to you,” suggests Goldman.
Get out of your house at least once a day
You might not feel like going out on cold mornings, but in the long run, your body and mind will thank you for it. Just the fact that you are outside, moving, breathing in the fresh air, will increase your serotonin levels, boost your feel-good hormones and age more gracefully. “In the winter months, people start isolating themselves, and it has a ripple effect. You don’t want a 24-hour period to go by without leaving the house unless you’re sick or have a good reason. Even if it’s a walk around the block or going to your local coffee shop, doing something to get fresh air is so important. Our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are all linked. By changing one of these things, the rest will follow. In general, this really helps people try to combat depression or seasonal affective disorder,” says Goldman.
Know when to ask for professional help
If you feel like something’s off with you, don’t hesitate to ask for someone’s help to work through your problems. Don’t let pride, paranoia or insecurity stand in the way of your mental health. “I think people don’t realize the benefit of being in therapy until they start,” Goldman says. “Usually, there’s a major life problem or stressor that gets them in the door. Once they’re there, they realize the benefit of it. The time at which I tell people to seek therapy is when people notice that their symptoms are impacting their daily functioning, or if the issues feel troublesome to the person. If things seem to be going well overall and you have a good supportive network, then you probably don’t need to seek professional help.”
Remember to stand up
Most of today’s jobs involve sitting in a chair, working in front of the computer 8-9 hours a day. One thing you need to remember is that your health matters the most. Therefore, no matter your workload, your health should be your number one priority.
“One of the biggest mistakes people can make when it comes to heart health is that they ignore their hearts. Everyone is so busy that they sit at their desks all day and work. They have to remember to get up and walk around. Bad habits such as smoking and sitting too often can increase your risk for heart attack,” says Dr. Nieca Goldberg, MD, and Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Medicine at NYU.
Use a timer when brushing
How long does it take you to brush your teeth? Most people do it for 30 seconds, in the morning and in the evening. According to various oral care professionals, people should pay more than a few seconds of attention to their dental hygiene and one way to that is by using a timer.
“One of the biggest mistakes with oral health is that people tend to forget about it. It’s important to keep your teeth clean and remove plaque and bacteria by brushing and flossing daily. The American Dental Association recommends brushing twice a day for two minutes. Two minutes doesn’t sound like much, but most people don’t spend that much time brushing. Try putting yourself on a timer while you’re brushing. If you’re not doing that already, it will make your mouth much healthier,” says Edmond Hewlett, Consumer Advisor for the American Dental Association and Professor at the UCLA School of Dentistry.
Don’t forget about flossing
Besides having a proper brushing technique, flossing can also help you take your dental hygiene to the next level. “Flossing is just as important as brushing, and you should do it once per day. Flossing helps remove the plaque buildup between the teeth where the toothbrush can’t reach. Missing those areas can put you at risk for gum disease and cavities,” says Hewlett.
If your gums start bleeding, don’t be scared. Hewlett advises you to make flossing a daily habit and the bleeding will eventually stop.
Use sunscreen every day
Your skin plays an important part in protecting your body, which means it’s extremely important to keep it safe and healthy as well. One way to do that is to protect it from the sun by using sunscreen. It will not only reduce the risk of skin cancer, but it will also keep your skin wrinkle-free and spotless.
“Ninety percent of the signs of aging and 90 percent of skin cancers come from unprotected daily exposure to ultraviolet light. It’s raining, it’s snowing, I’m in the car, I have darker skin—for all these reasons, people may not think they need to wear sunscreen, but it’s a big misconception. Wearing sunscreen every day is essential. It should be SPF 30 or higher. There’s a big selection of what people can wear, so find whatever works for you,” suggests Dr. Mona Gohara, Associate Clinical Professor in the Department of Dermatology at Yale School of Medicine.
Don’t wash your face with soap
Speaking of your skin, another way to keep it healthy and ageless is to use the proper skin cleansing products. Unfortunately, many people use harmful or no products at all. For instance, many people use soap to wash not only their hands but also their faces.
“The biggest problem I see with washing your face is that people use the wrong thing to cleanse—like soaps, which are not good for your skin. They strip the epidermal barrier of its natural proteins and lipids. By soap, I don’t mean a bar, I mean a product with a pH of 13 or higher. The skin has a natural pH of 5.5, so you want a product that’s within that range, like the Dove Beauty Bar, which is the quintessential bar that you can use on your face that’s not a soap. If you’re only going to wash your face once, I would suggest doing it at night. If you can do it twice per day, that’s better,” says Gohara.
Believe it or not, more mess equals more stress. Clutter can affect anxiety levels, sleep patterns, and even the ability to focus. “This means [getting rid of] the old acid wash jeans that you will never wear again, as well as the menus from the Chinese food place that went out of business three years ago. The friendships that are no longer working for you and the destructive habits that you know are not serving you. They all need to go. We often dread cleaning the house as it seems way worse than it actually is once we get to it. Digging deep and doing the work and having the spaciousness in ourselves and our homes lets in the creativity and possibility that we didn’t see when we were surrounded by the clutter,” says Wathen.
Keep your heart healthy
A healthy, balanced diet and an active lifestyle are essential for your heart’s health. However, just because you’ve got this part covered, doesn’t mean you are off the hook. To make sure everything is in order with your heart, go to regular checkups. It’s the best way to find potential health issues before they become a problem.
“Schedule a checkup with your primary care physician to learn about your personal risk factors. You will learn about your blood pressure and have labs drawn to check your cholesterol and glucose levels. Go to the appointment with information about your family’s history of heart disease [so that your doctor can provide you with the best and most accurate advice possible to keep your heart healthy],” says Dr. Goldberg.
I’m sure you’ve heard it all before, but we’ll just say it one more time: smoking is bad. Quitting, on the other hand can help you improve your life in more ways than one.
“Joining a smoking cessation program is a great gift to give to yourself. Smoking is a well-known risk factor for multiple chronic diseases. Cutting back or quitting smoking is an excellent way to live a healthier life,” says Summer Yule, MS, RDN.
Reduce your sugar intake
Sugar is public enemy number one, these days. That’s because it’s almost everywhere and it’s very difficult to eliminate completely from your diet. But this doesn’t mean you cannot reduce it to a safer level. “It’s almost impossible to consume zero sugar at all, [which is why I recommend trying a] sugar budget where you aim for no more than 50 grams of sugar per day (and that includes ALL sugar, not just added sugar). Consuming 50 grams per day [is about] 10 percent of your 2,000 calorie diet (sugar is 4 calories per gram, 200 calories from sugar). Just like with any budget, it’s something you strive to maintain, but sometimes you’re going to go over and sometimes you’re going to be under—as long as you’re balancing where you can,” says Paddy Spence, 30+ year health industry veteran and CEO of Zevia.
Change your shopping pattern
Supermarkets use all sorts of tricks to make you spend more, most of the times on items you don’t really need. The key to smart grocery shopping and avoiding the aisles with processed and unhealthy foods is simple. “By shopping outer edges of the grocery store, you’ll stick to aisles containing fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and dairy, but NOT the junk food aisles. For those inside aisles, try to make a list of exactly what you need, and purchase only those items. This step alone will stop you from impulse shopping for ice cream when you meant to buy frozen broccoli or sugary cereal when you meant to buy oatmeal,” says Kelsey Peoples, MS, RDN.
Do altruistic acts
Being kind and helping other people without any ulterior reason can help you feel really good about yourself, improve your mood, confidence and even impact longevity.
“Doing altruistic acts helps more than just the recipient; studies show that the giver also gains a great sense of meaning and happiness. It can even inspire and encourage people around you, giving everyone a much-needed boost in the goodness of humanity. That happiness is something you’ll carry around with you well after the act itself, putting a spring in yourself and creating a virtuous cycle of action. Maybe it starts with something simple like, buying a hot coffee for someone on the street, or you could check out altruistic sites like Kiva, which allows you to help people change their lives for the better via microlending. Each of us has our own capacity to help others—why not make the world a bit brighter,” says Salvador.