How to live longer: The simple exercise that could help increase your life expectancy
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Studies have shown again and again that the way to prolong life is to move your body. Exercise – especially hiking – is a great way to get those endorphins pumping (the hormone that adds to your happiness). Better still, going for a leisurely long walk (that gets your heart beating a bit faster) increases the levels of dopamine and serotonin floating within your bloodstream.
These hormones – produced by glands – help promote positive feelings, including happiness and pleasure.
Specifically, endorphins are the body’s natural painkillers – helping to alleviate any aches or pain.
In 2008, advances in technology made it possible to measure how exercise influenced the number of endorphins released in the body.
Using positron emission tomography (PET) scans, researchers viewed the brains of athletes before and after exercise.
What they discovered was that exercise truly does increase the “feel-good” hormone and, as a result, boosts mood.
High levels of dopamine can lead to a sense of euphoria, bliss, enhanced motivation and concentration, and serotonin contributes to wellbeing and happiness.
How can you life a longer, healthier and happier life? (Image: Getty)
Cheryl Lythgoe, Head Matron at Benenden Health – one of the UK’s longest serving and most respected mutual healthcare societies – says that low-impact exercise, such as hiking, can “reduce the natural bone loss in those over the age of 35”.
“Regular exercise can help to protect the body from heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and obesity and its related diseases, including diabetes,” she continues.
“Exercise is a low-cost, high-return venture for not only our physical health but also our mental health.”
People who hike are “healthier and happier”, Lythgoe adds. “It’s fabulous for those who are recovering from injury, or have some degree of joint damage, such as arthritis.”
Just imagine, getting out and about in the fresh air, moving your body and letting the happy hormones flow freely while setting eyes on beautiful scenery.
There are stunning hiking areas spread throughout the UK.
For one, there’s Hadrian’s Wall – a 135km trek – from Wallsend in Northumberland to Bowness-on-Solway in Cumbria.
The treasure trove of historical sights include the ruins of ancient Roman forts and informative museums.
Hiking is a great way to live a longer, happier and healthier life (Image: Getty)
Heading all the way down to the southern coast of Cornwall is The Lizard Coastal Walk.
The 11km trek starts and finishes at Kynance Cove and it’s one of the best beaches in all of England.
And there are loads of eye-catching walks from the depths of Plymouth to the tip top of Scotland awaiting your arrival.
Joining a hiking group is good for your mental and physical health (Image: Getty)
Research has shown that joining a hiking group is great for your physical and mental health.
Aside from increasing your stamina, joining a hiking society can ward off loneliness and depression in older people and can ease symptoms of anxiety.
Not only that, completing a hike can bring about a great sense of personal achievement.
And working together to take on more and more hiking challenges can increase levels of motivation.
You could even do a trek for your favourite charity – RSPCA, Marie Curie and Mind are all taking part.
All this combined can lead to a happier, longer and more fulfilling life. Now take a hike.
10 Simple Steps to Increase Your Life Expectancy
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.
Verywell Health articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and healthcare professionals. These medical reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more.
Isaac O. Opole, MD, PhD, is a board-certified internist specializing in geriatric medicine. For over 15 years, he’s practiced at the Kansas University Medical Center, where he is also a professor.
Life expectancy can be increased with simple steps and changes. This guide will help you find ways to increase your life expectancy, improve your health, and feel great as you age. Let’s start with the easiest—increase your life expectancy with sunlight.
Paul Bradbury / Getty Images
Life expectancy can be increased simply by going outside. When you go outside, your skin gets exposed to sunlight. That exposure triggers cells in your skin to produce vitamin D.
This vitamin (really a prohormone, but let’s not worry about that here) is essential for bone health and is turning out to be important in depression, heart disease, diabetes, and just about everything. Maintaining vitamin D levels has to be the easiest and cheapest way to improve your health and increase your life expectancy.
Some estimate that 50% of adults have low levels of vitamin D because we simply don’t get outside that much (sitting by a window doesn’t count, the glass filters too much of the sunlight).
Getting outside for just 15 minutes a day and exposing your hands and face to sunlight is enough to maintain vitamin D levels in most cases. Repeated and/or prolonged exposure to UV light, however, increases your risk of skin cancer.
Taking vitamin D supplements and eating foods rich in vitamin D are also effective ways to increase the amount of this vitamin you get.
Elderly people need to pay special attention to their vitamin D levels. If you are a caregiver, be sure to assist your loved one in getting outside just a little bit every day. Not only will this improve vitamin D levels, but it could also improve sleep because sunlight also regulates another hormone in the body called melatonin that controls your sleep cycle.
Hang Out With Friends
Life expectancy can be increased by just hanging out with your friends and family. The more connected someone is, the better their overall health. Having positive relationships with a spouse, friends, and family is the best way to be connected.
We are not sure why relationships play a role in health and life expectancy. It could be that people in positive relationships are less likely to take on risky behaviors and are more likely to take care of themselves. It could be that having people around you reduces the impact of stress on your health.
People who are engaged in “meaningful” relationships have better health and better life expectancies.
One way of improving your relationships with people is to get in the habit of telling good stories. Stories are how we communicate with one another, and telling a good story strengthens communications.
Rather than just give a dry update on the phone to distant family members, tell a story about something funny your kid did or something crazy that happened at work. Stories keep relationships alive.
Make more time for friends and family. Go do things together (create stories together), and make a real effort to improve your communication with them (whether by e-mail, phone, or in person) by having a good story always ready for the telling.
Get Daily Exercise
Improve your life expectancy with a commitment to daily exercise. A study showed that people who exercise vigorously for around three hours a week had DNA and cells that were nine years younger than nonexercisers. Three hours a week is a little more than 30 minutes a day.
The easiest way to create an exercise habit is through daily repetition. When you promise yourself to exercise daily, you may skip a day but then get back on the program the following day.
If you are exercising three times a week and skip Friday, then you would have gone from Wednesday to Monday without exercising—a total of four days with no exercise (very dangerous, from a habit-building perspective).
For life expectancy, it is more important that you exercise year after year than go through fits and starts of intense exercise followed by no exercise.
Daily exercise will also help improve your sleep and your energy level. It is important to just rev up your whole body each day. Remember, daily exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym every day. Home exercises, such as yoga, stretching, free weights, and more, can be incredibly effective.
The fact that flossing daily can extend life expectancy falls in the weird-but-true category. Flossing does two things—it prevents gum disease (that’s rather obvious), and it prevents heart disease (not so obvious). Preventing both of these together is what adds years to your life.
When you floss, you help prevent your gums from becoming inflamed. What is happening when your gums are inflamed is that you have a chronic bacterial infection in your mouth. This harms your arteries through two mechanisms.
The first is that the bacteria find their way into your arteries and hang out (causing plaques). As well, your body mounts an immune response to the bacteria in your mouth, causing inflammation, which in turn can cause your arteries to narrow. This makes it hard for your heart to do its job and can lead to heart disease.
How do you get into a solid flossing habit? First, you need to make sure you have some floss. There are tons of different kinds of floss (flavored, unflavored, strings, ribbons, and more). Pick some and give them a try.
Next, you have to remember. Put your floss on top of your toothpaste. Hard to forget that way. Then just do it. You already have a habit of brushing your teeth at least twice daily, so just anchor your flossing habit to that.
Have More Sex
Your life expectancy may be increased by having more sex. This is good news, especially because issues around sex and aging are being taken more and more seriously by the medical community.
In one study, men with a high frequency of orgasms showed a 50% reduction in mortality.
Why sex should be linked to life expectancy is something of a mystery. Of course, it could be that healthier people are more likely to have more sex and that the findings linking sex to life expectancy are reflecting this, but I think there is more to it.
We have seen elsewhere that having good relationships and being positive are linked to longer life expectancies. Maybe sex is a market for good, positive relationships.
Of course, there could be a direct health benefit as well. Sex triggers all sorts of endorphins and hormones in the body. Maybe these help with healthy aging and increasing life expectancy. But who really cares about the reason? The simple fact is that having more sex is healthy.
Be More Like a Vegetarian
Life expectancy can be linked to three factors that vegetarians excel at fewer bad fats, more antioxidants, and lower weight. Before we go into how being a vegetarian can help your life expectancy, though, we have to define what we mean by a vegetarian.
There are some vegetarians who are “junk food vegetarians.” These types of vegetarians eat cheese pizzas and ice cream all day long. That is not good for health or life expectancy.
What we mean is the person who is eating lots of vegetables prepared in healthy fats (such as olive oil) while limiting animal products, such as cheese and cream. We’ll call this type of vegetarian a “whole foods vegetarian.”
The leading cause of death and the number one shortener of life expectancy in the U.S. is heart disease. As your heart ages, there can be a build of gunk in your arteries and your arteries themselves can become harder.
This causes your blood pressure to rise and your heart to work harder, leaving you at risk for heart disease. Vegetarians (whole foods vegetarians) have some of the best arteries around because eating healthy vegetables avoids bad fats and other unhealthy foods.
People who eat lots of vegetables also take in lots of antioxidants. Antioxidants help your body repair some of the damage caused by aging. The more plants you eat (and the greater variety) the more raw materials your body has to make repairs.
Finally, vegetables simply fill you up with very few calories (if prepared without creams, butter or cheese). A healthy vegetarian diet should help maintain or lose weight. A healthy weight is tied to a longer life expectancy. So, be more like a vegetarian to increase your life expectancy and live healthier.
Lower Your Stress
Life expectancy can be messed up by stress in two major ways. The first way is through the direct, unhealthy effects of stress on your body in the long term.
The second way stress may shorten your life expectancy is through the negative behaviors that being stressed triggers. These behaviors include comfort eating and smoking. Learn to relax through de-stressing techniques or meditation to keep your life expectancy up where it should be.
Stress has been linked to dozens of health conditions, including heart disease or cancer.
Stress has also been linked (no surprise) to feeling irritable and not sleeping well. By focusing on stress, you can improve your quality of life right now while improving your long-term health and life expectancy too. That’s a pretty good deal.
You can de-stress through a wide range of stress reduction techniques. Ibe is called the relaxation response. This is a scientifically proven breathing technique that will help train your body not to respond to the stressful events in your life.
A long-term relaxation technique is meditation. By learning how to meditate, you not only calm your body, but you begin to train your mind. This is great for mental fitness, concentration, and (of course) relaxation.
Get Health Screenings and Tests
Improving your life expectancy through medical tests and health screenings is certainly not one of the “fun ways to live longer,” but it is, without a doubt, one of the most effective ways to add healthy years on to your life.
Medical tests and screenings can help treat diseases early, when they are more treatable, and extend life expectancy even with an illness or disease.
Of course, the challenge is figuring out what tests to take when. Only your healthcare provider can really tell you 100% (every individual is different in terms of risk factors and family history). Mammograms, colonoscopies, and Pap smears have been proven to decrease mortality and morbidity from the diseases they screen for.
Turn off Your TV
No one has done a study comparing the life expectancy of TV-watchers and non-watchers (probably because they can’t find enough non-watchers for a good study). But cutting back on television watching is likely to improve most people’s health and (therefore) increase their life expectancy.
Here are a few reasons:
- Watching TV makes you inactive. You just sit there burning as few calories as possible, which could lead to weight problems.
- TV makes you eat more junk food. People who are watching TV eat more than those who don’t.
- TV makes you antisocial. You are at home, zoned in, instead of talking with real people, face-to-face.
- TV is stressful. The news and many shows are filled with stressful stories. Avoid these, and you may feel things are not so bad after all.
- TV keeps you from doing other things. The average person watches about four hours of TV every day. That is 19 hours a week or more than 1,000 hours a year. If that time were put into exercise, volunteering, talking with our children, etc., think of what a different world it would be.
If you quit watching TV, you will gain back around 1,000 hours each year (on average). Depending on what you do with that time, you could reduce your health risks and increase your life expectancy.
Life expectancy can be protected by making sure that you don’t take any unnecessary risks. For young people, the biggest causes of death aren’t diseases or age-related problems.
The most common causes of death for young people are accidents, injuries, and violence.
When you add certain behaviors (such as smoking) to that list (which shortens life expectancy by up to 10 years), you get a list of things to avoid to protect your life expectancy.
- Wear your seat belt.
- Drive defensively.
- Avoid situations that may lead to injury. .
- Avoid violent situations.
- Don’t smoke (or quit smoking if you do smoke).
- Maintain a healthy weight.
If you can do those things, then you are already increasing your life expectancy. Focus on avoiding obvious risks and dangers. Your body is pretty amazing and will keep going for a long time as long as you keep it out of trouble.
Lifespan is continuing to increase regardless of socioeconomic factors, Stanford researchers find
Life expectancy data from the past 50 years shows that people who survive to age 65 are continuing to live longer than their parents – a trend that doesn’t appear to be slowing down.
Stanford biologist Shripad Tuljapurkar had assumed humans were approaching the limit to their longevity – that’s what previous research had suggested – but what he observed in 50 years of lifespan data was more optimistic than he was.
A Stanford study indicates that people in developed nations who survive past 65 will on average live six years longer than their grandparents did. (Image credit: Cecilie Arcurs / Getty Images)
Analyzing the average age of death in people who lived to be over age 65 in developed countries showed that human lifespans are increasing by approximately three years every generation and that this trend is likely to continue, at least for a while. The researchers published the results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“The data shows that we can expect longer lives and there’s no sign of a slowdown in this trend,” said Tuljapurkar, professor of biology and Morrison Professor of Population Studies. “There’s not a limit to life that we can see, so what we can say for sure is that it’s not close enough that we can see the effect.”
Living longer than our parents
Tuljapurkar and his colleagues wanted to answer two pressing questions: Is humanity approaching a limit to human lifespans? Are there factors that allow some people to live longer than others?
The researchers looked at birth and death data for people above age 65 from 1960-2010. They found that the average age of death in those who live to be older than 65 increased by three years in every 25-year period, which means that people can expect to live about six years longer than their grandparents, on average.
Furthermore, this trend continued at a relatively stable pace over the entire 50-year period and in all 20 countries that they analyzed. Factors like medical breakthroughs caused minor fluctuations in how quickly lifespans increased, but these variations averaged out over time.
The increase in lifespan during any given decade was very similar.
Getting rid of the fuzziness
Most longevity studies look at the outliers, the people who live longer than everyone else. The data get fuzzy, however, because so few people live that long. Instead, Tuljapurkar and his colleagues, including Sha Jiang, a visiting graduate student from China, looked only at people over age 65, an age range with a large number of individuals.
“Our method is novel because it allows us to get rid of the fuzziness,” Tuljapurkar said. “Our focus is on the age range where we have an accurate idea of what’s going on.”
If we were about to hit a limit to human lifespans, the distribution of ages when people die should compress – like a rolling wave crashing into a wall – as they approach the limit. But the researchers didn’t see that pattern in the data. The wave continued to move forward.
Definitely not yogurt
Tuljapurkar was surprised to see that the average age of death increased at a constant speed, but he was even more surprised that the shape of the distribution didn’t change. He expected that certain endowments would allow some people to live longer than others.
“There used to be so many ads about how people could live longer by, say, eating yogurt,” Tuljapurkar said. He wasn’t convinced that yogurt was the key to a longer life, but he did suspect that factors like wealth could increase the likelihood that someone would live longer.
If this were true, the distribution of the data should widen as rich people live past the average age of death. But the shape of the data was consistent over the 50-year period they studied. There was no single factor that allowed some people to live longer than others – at least not one that was showing up after age 65. Tuljapurkar noted that by the time someone has reached 65, he has already overcome many of the factors that could shorten life, like violence or early disease.
“But as someone who would like to be a one-percenter but is not, I’m certainly very happy to know that my odds of getting to live longer are just as good as the millionaire down the street,” said Tuljapurkar.