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  • Joel Werner

3 Ways to Add Healthy Years to Your Life

Recent longevity research from Harvard has found that life expectancy can be extended by nearly 15 years by implementing healthy habits. Currently, the oldest known human being is France’s Jeanne Louise Calment, who was born in 1875 and passed away in 1997 at age 122.

Human life expectancy has increased by about three months per year since the mid-1800s, and many experts believe this record will be broken before the end of the century.

Better health in old age means fewer age-related diseases and disabilities and significant healthcare savings. But for many Americans, their lifestyles aren’t contributing positively to their health or longevity. As a result, people 65 years and younger in the country's wealthiest areas are dying at higher rates than their compatriots in the poorest regions of Europe. Scientists say the key to changing this may be introducing a particular type of stress known as hormesis. It involves inducing stressors via diet and physical exertion, which activate genes to slow down cell aging. The following are three ways we can induce hormesis and possibly live longer.

1. Eating More Vegetables Can Help You to Live Longer

The Harvard study found a positive correlation between a high plant diet and longevity. This most likely stems from when our ancestors failed to source protein-rich red meat and would increase their intake of vegetables. Scientists say our bodies still understand a diet high in hardy plants to infer scarcity, and in response, switch on our longevity genes.

Ensuring at least half your protein intake comes from plants should be sufficient to trigger hormesis. It is best, however, to avoid starchy carbohydrates such as pasta and potatoes and obtain most of your remaining proteins from fatty fish. Starchy carbs have been associated with cognitive impairment in the elderly, so replacing them with legumes and other vegetables with higher fiber and mineral content is preferable.

Extensive animal studies also indicate that fasting activates longevity genes. Of course, extended fasting can have harmful outcomes, but "fasting-mimicking" diets that trick the body into inferring scarcity have proved safe and effective for losing weight. Research is still being carried out on the different fasting regimens that have recently become popular. But if nothing else, it could be that longevity is extended merely from losing excess weight. The is because the inflammation associated with obesity can lead to premature aging.

2. Moderate Exercise Extends Lifespan

Cardio exercise multiplies the mitochondria in cells and may extend longevity. Recent Mayo Clinic research found people who regularly played sports for between 2.6 and 4.5 hours a week were 40 percent less likely to die than those who exercised less often. Additionally, 12 weeks of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) was found to reverse several age-related differences in protein synthesis by older people, strengthening their mitochondria. Strength training may also reverse some aspects of aging.

However, exercising more than 10 hours a week has been associated with decreased longevity, so, as with fasting, there seems to be a “sweet spot.” In particular, excessive intense exercise can cause premature aging of the heart and other health problems.

Mayo endocrinologist K. Sreekumaran Nair advocates three HIIT sessions of 35 minutes per week, with strength training on two non-consecutive days and walks of between 7,000 and 10,000 steps on the remaining two days. It's also a good idea to get in three minutes or more of movement after every hour sitting, he says.

3. Healthy Relationships and Optimism Can Also Extend Life

A study carried out over nearly 80 years has found long-term loving relationships to be the most crucial driver in a healthy, long life. A spouse or partner who is also a trusted ally seems to give people a reason to live or improve the quality of life such that longevity is extended. It may also help provide a future to look forward to, and an optimistic outlook on life has also been associated with exceptional longevity. The excellent news is that optimism is only 25 percent determined by heredity, so it can be learned and cultivated.

It's never too late to start living healthily, but the experts warn that changes to longevity won't happen overnight and that the choices we make when we're young will have far-reaching consequences. So, parents need to teach healthy habits to their children right from the start.

Personal circumstances also play a huge role in our ability to make healthy choices, and the coronavirus pandemic has made us more aware of this than ever. Not only do people living in poverty have lower levels of optimism, but they have less access to healthy food, less time and resources for exercise, and less access to health care, all of which account for why people in lower-income brackets typically die younger. It is also why aging experts are calling for policies that will change the circumstances of the underprivileged to make a long and healthy life a possibility for all.

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