What is the most important thing you can do to live longer?
- Floss your teeth.
- Practice stress management.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Refuse to feel old.
Before giving away the answer, I’ll tell you why all of the above are worthwhile additions to your daily health routine.
Many years ago, I was devouring the tiny psychology and self-help section of my local library. I’d read everything else, so I picked up a book on longevity, the science of living longer.
I was in my early thirties at the time. I didn’t have any real reason to worry about getting old. I was still a few years away from spotting my first white hair. But I was bored, and the book was there, so I read it.
Most of it wasn’t memorable, but two facts stuck with me.
- Blueberries and walnuts are powerful superfoods that work even better together.
Since then, I’ve added a handful of blueberries and walnuts to my breakfast each morning. I can’t say if I’ll live longer as a result, but it sure tastes good.
- Daily flossing adds 6.4 years to your life.
Who knew? Dental hygiene isn’t just important to avoid painful trips to the dentist. Rather, it’s crucial to manage bacteria in the mouth, which can trigger an inflammatory immune response. Periodontal disease is linked to a higher rate of cardiovascular disease.
So floss daily, like your mother told you.
2. Manage stress
My parents used to joke that having kids gave them white hair. They were onto something.
Chronic stress can make you go gray 5 to 10 years before your time. Just compare pictures of recent U.S. presidents before they took office and again after they left. They look significantly, painfully older.
Science now knows exactly how chronic stress causes aging. Thanks to the winners of the 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, we now know it has to do with telomere shortening.
Telomeres are the protective caps at the end of DNA strands. They’re often described as being similar to the plastic sheaths at the end of shoelaces that keep them from unraveling. Every time a cell divides, a bit of the telomere is cut off. Shortened telomeres kickstart the aging process and increase the risk of aging-related diseases like cancer.
Chronic stress speeds up telomere shortening.
Want to feel old fast? Get stressed!
You can’t eliminate stressful life situations, but you can control how you respond. Find effective ways to cope with life’s irritations. The most powerful stress-management strategies include a combination of exercise, meditation/mindfulness, and a strong social network.
Among a certain brand of over-achievers, it’s popular to boast how little sleep they need to perform. “You can sleep when you die!” they pronounce.
They’re quite right.
And they’ll get to enjoy eternal sleep sooner than most people, according to the latest research.
Sleep deprivation accelerates aging. For older folks, even one sleepless night makes them age faster. Lack of sleep also makes your skin look older and impairs your ability to think clearly.
If you want a lifetime of achievement and success, get your beauty sleep now.
4. Refuse to feel old
Are there days when you wake up and just feel old?
Just like we have fat days and bad hair days, we have old days. Days in which we feel ancient. Our bodies creak and ache and move at the speed of molasses. We can’t remember our own names, let alone the next thing on our to-do list. All we want to do is sit and vegetate.
You are the age you feel. Feeling old makes you old.
Luckily, the reverse is also true. Feeling young makes you young.
It’s not just pop psychology. It’s cutting-edge scientific research. Having a negative view of getting older wipes years off your life—7.5 years, to be exact.
That’s the word from Dr. Christiane Northrup in her book The Wisdom of Menopause. One study revealed you could lose weight, exercise regularly, keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels in check, and make sure you never pick up a cigarette … but it still won’t be as effective as changing your mind about aging.
Which means that thinking positively about aging might just be the single most important thing you can do to live longer.
It’s not easy. Advertisements encourage you to fight aging, as if it were a deadly enemy. The media portrays elderly people as fragile, irrelevant, and in constant need of assistance. No one wants to grow old.
Start by refusing to let your age define what you can and cannot do.
Find role models such as those in Russian photojournalist Vladimir Yakovlev’s book How I Would Like To Be When I Am 70. The book features astounding photos of men and women who took up surfing, skateboarding, skydiving, ice skating, and DJ-ing at ages most of us would consider gentle retirement hobbies.
Try this affirmation on for size:
“I love the age I am, and my life is only going to get better.”
The more you look forward to life, the healthier and happier you’ll be for years to come.