The good news is more Americans are living longer and healthier lives than ever before. As life expectancy continues to climb, research is revealing a handful of factors that are contributing to these long lifespans. Beyond the obvious choices, like not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight, there are other health habits that have been shown to contribute to longevity. If you’re hoping for many healthy years ahead, make sure the following factors are part of your life.
Establish a strong relationship with your health providers.
People who have a good relationship with their doctor are more likely to be influenced by medical advice and live healthier lives. Many medical groups are moving toward communication-centered models, making it easier for patients and doctors to connect. It’s becoming clear that better patient-doctor communication means reduced emergency room visits, specialist referrals, and hospital care. Your relationship with your doctor can reap real rewards, so make it a habit to reach out when you have health concerns, big or small.
Pursue your education.
When researchers look at older populations, education stands out. As of 2014, more than 80% of Americans older than 65 had at least a high school degree. While a diploma with your name on it won’t magically add years to your life, the process of learning about yourself and the world is thought to teach skills and strategies needed for a healthier, more meaningful life. Going back to school could not only be a financial investment, but a health investment, too.
Prioritize your heart health.
Heart disease and stroke have been leading causes of death in the United States for nearly a century. However, in the past few decades, death rates from cardiovascular disease have declined 60%—a significant reason why Americans are living longer. Add years to your life with heart-healthy behaviors, like eating healthy fats, keeping blood pressure low, and avoiding smoking. Work with your doctor to keep an eye on your heart health, especially if cardiovascular disease or stroke runs in your family.
Eat nutritious food.
What you eat predicts how well you age. If you eat a balanced, plant-based diet, you’re more likely to maintain good physical health and mental clarity into your later years. Conversely, people who consistently eat processed meats, like ham and sausage, have a higher risk of heart failure and certain types of cancer. Hit your local farmers market, eat what’s in season, and experiment with a variety of fiber-filled fruits and vegetables to find the ones that you like.
Cope with stress.
Stress takes a toll on your heart and may even cause you to age more rapidly. Researchers have begun looking at a particular hormone, klotho, which regulates aging and promotes brain and body health. They’re seeing that stress causes this hormone to decline, which brings on the mental and physical signs of aging earlier than normal. Keep stress under control with exercise, calming activities like yoga and meditation, and talking to your doctor if you feel overwhelmed.
Build a social-support network.
The impact looks significant: People with little social support have a mortality risk similar to alcoholics, and higher than people who are obese or lack physical activity. One research team found that people with meaningful social relationships were half as likely to die during study periods. Furthermore, people with strong social ties seem to heal more quickly from colds and common sicknesses. While scientists continue to examine this association, it’s safe to say a supportive community can positively impact your health.
Move your body.
Adding exercise to your days is associated with a longer life expectancy—even at low levels and regardless of your body weight. Physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight and prevent heart disease and diabetes, potentially adding years to your life. Aim for the World Health Organization’s 150 recommended minutes of moderate to vigorous weekly activity, but remember—if you don’t hit it, you’re still positively impacting your health. Something as simple as a daily walk outside can make a difference.
The number of hours you sleep and the consistency of your sleep schedule impact your longevity. Long livers generally have strict sleep-wake times, getting up and going to bed at similar hours each day. Also, the time in bed matters: Regularly sleeping less than 6 or more than 9 hours is associated with a shorter lifespan. Keeping a regular schedule and sleeping between 6 and 9 hours per night should leave you feeling alert and with plenty of nights ahead of you.