Life’s too short. You may not have control over the giant meteor that hits you in the head while you’re walking down the street. But assuming your unlucky lottery number doesn’t come up, you have a remarkable amount of control over how long you live. It turns out, lifestyle is more important than genetics in determining how long you’ll live, according to a study from the University of Gothenburg published in the Journal of Internal Medicine.
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And luckily, the lifestyle changes that can score you more years can also score you more quality years, according to Eudene Harry, M.D., medical director for Oasis for Optimal Health wellness center in Orlando and author of "Live Younger in 8 Simple Steps."
To that end, we found eight healthy habits that can add 35 years to your retirement plan.
Get More Friends: Add 7 Years
When it comes to friendship, the more the merrier (and healthier). In a study of 1,477 people in their seventies, Australian researchers found that people with the most friends had a seven-year-longer lease on life. While friends can provide a support network and can help people pull through tough times, biochemistry may also play a role, says Harry.
“The act of befriending actually enhances the production of oxytocin,” she says. Oxytocin (the cuddle hormone) has a calming effect on the brain and could be the secret behind friendship’s ability to improve blood pressure, decrease binge eating, and heal faster, she says.
Use a Standing Desk: Add 2 Years
Forget about a numb behind: When sitting, your circulation slows, you burn fewer calories, your sugar metabolism stagnates, and the enzymes responsible for breaking down triglycerides switch off, according to Susan Block, faculty member for the American Council on Exercise and director of fitness for the California Health & Longevity Institute. So get off your bottom more often. A 2012 study published in BMJ Open found that reducing your on-the-tush time to less than three hours a day can increase your life expectancy by two years.
Block suggests setting up a standing desk, walking when you are on the phone, leaving your snacks in the office kitchen so you have to walk to get them, or even scheduling meetings as a walk around the building. “Even standing once an hour for 5-10 minutes can go along way to help you feel better and live longer,” she says.
Floss: Add 6 Years
By allowing inflammatory substances to travel into the body, dirty chompers have been linked to increased risk for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and even autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. So important is oral hygiene that regular flossing can add 6.4 years to your life, according to research from Michael F. Roizen, M.D., the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic and co-founder of RealAge.
Even flossing every other day for six months can reduce the levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation that increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, to return to normal, according to research from the International Heart and Lung Institute.
Eat a Cup of Raw Veggies a Day: Add 2 Years
Your mom was right: Finish your vegetables. Men who eat at least 60 grams (about 1 cup) of veggies a day are going to live, on average, two years longer than people who eat less than 20 grams a day.
While both raw and cooked vegetables have numerous phytochemicals and antioxidants that make them lengthen lifespans, a nutritional review published in the Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers Preview found that raw vegetables have a stronger effect. Cooking (especially boiling) can zap up to 50 percent of the antioxidants in some vegetables, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of Food Science.
Think Positive: Add 7 Years
“Studies confirm what we’ve suspected for some time: A positive outlook on life and laughter can actually help you to live longer,” Harry says. For example, a Yale University study of older adults found that people with a positive outlook on the aging process lived more than seven years longer than those who did not, while a 2012 study published in Aging found that positivity and laughter are defining characteristics in people who celebrate their 100th birthday.
Positive thinking increases the brain’s levels of the hormone Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor, which improves memory, helps to alleviate depression, and fights Alzheimer’s disease, Harry explains. What’s more, the simple act of laughing decreases levels of the stress hormone cortisol as well as inflammation, she says.
Reach Your Target BMI: Add 3 Years
A barometer of body composition, body mass index (BMI) compares weight to height by dividing weight measurement (in kilograms) by squared height measurement (in meters). Maintaining a body-mass index of 25 to 35 can shorten your life by up to three years, according to University of Alabama researchers. A BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight, while a BMI of more than 30 is considered obese.
By promoting inflammation, excess body fat raises your risk of diabetes, heart disease, stroke, sleep apnea, and colon cancer, while throwing hormones including cortisol, insulin, testosterone, and growth hormone out of whack, says Harry.
Eat More Nuts: Add 3 Years
Bar food might not be so bad. When Loma Linda University researchers studied the health habits of 34,000 Seventh-Day Adventists (a group known for its longevity) they discovered that those who ate nuts five days a week lived 2.9 years longer on average than those who ate nuts less than once a week.
Nuts decrease the risk of high blood pressure, insulin resistance, high cholesterol, unstable heart rhythms, and diabetes, Harry says. What’s more, their high protein and fat content can promote feelings of satiety and weight loss.
Exercise Regularly: Add 5 Years
Whatever your scale says, working out can help you live longer. A recent study from the National Cancer Institute examining 654,827 adults ages 21 to 90 found that those participants who exercised the most outlived those who exercise the least by 4.5 years.
The simple act of exercising—even if you don’t lose weight—improves mood, balances hormones, boosts memory, strengthens bones, decreases cholesterol, and prevents constipation, Harry says. For the biggest benefit, she suggests a combination of strength training and aerobic exercises.