There are proven ways to lengthen our lives...or at least extend our quality life span," when we can still take care of ourselves and enjoy the activities that make life worth living, according to gerontology expert Edward L. Schneider, MD.
Here are seven things you can do that really make a difference…
1. Cardiovascular exercise. Most people know exercise is good for you, but it's worth repeating here because it's the single best way to improve health. People who exercise 30 to 60 minutes per day can add five to 10 years to their quality life span. Exercise measurably reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, diabetes, insomnia, depression and certain cancers.
Exercise need not be too strenuous. Walking briskly is sufficient.
Important: Don't exceed 60 minutes of strenuous exercise per day. After an hour, the damage your body absorbs from the prolonged strain outweighs the health benefits. Moderate exercise for more than 60 minutes is okay-for example, walking longer than an hour is fine.
2. Lifting weights for just five minutes each day will strengthen your bones and the surrounding muscles, making broken bones less likely. For seniors, broken bones can mean shorter lives-one of every four people who suffers a hip fracture after age 65 will die within 12 months. Building stronger muscles and bones also will keep you active and independent longer, so you can better enjoy the years you have.
Ask a physical therapist or personal trainer to design a low-impact weight-lifting regimen to tone the muscles of your arms, shoulders, abdomen, back and legs for a few minutes each day. Do not use the heaviest weights you can pick up—choose weights you can lift 20 to 30 times in a row. Increase the weight only when this becomes easy.
3. Mediterranean-style diet. Heart disease and cancer are two of the most imposing obstacles standing in the way of long life. The vitamins, antioxidants and monounsaturated fats found in a Mediterranean-style diet have been found to reduce these risks. The diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, garlic, nuts, tomato sauce, berries and fish. You can also have one or two alcoholic drinks per day but no more—women have an increased risk of breast cancer if they have more than one drink a day. Multivitamins are not a suitable substitute for a healthful diet
Minimize consumption of meat, saturated fats and fatty dairy products—these increase heart disease risk.
Important: Not all fat is bad. Olive oil is full of monounsaturated fats, which are wonderful for the heart. The residents of the Greek island of Crete consume more olive oil per capita than any other area in Europe. They have the lowest rate of heart disease and are 20% less likely to die of coronary artery disease than Americans.
4. Sufficient sleep. Your immune system is best able to fight off infection when it's armed with a good night's sleep. Sleep also keeps your mind sharp, reducing the odds that you'll die in an accident. Sleepy drivers are responsible for just as many fatal car crashes as drunk drivers.
How much sleep is enough? The answer is different for everyone. Some people need as little as five hours a night; others need as much as nine. If you're groggy during the day, try to add 15 minutes of sleep each night until you no longer feel sleepy during the day.
Don't use an over-the-counter sleep remedy even if you have chronic insomnia. These often have large doses of antihistamines that might make you groggy well into the following day. Instead, get more exercise...consume less caffeine...buy a more comfortable mattress and pillow..lightproof and soundproof your bedroom...and remove distractions, such as the TV and books, from the bedroom, So your mind associates the room with only sleep and sex.
Supplements such as valerian and melatonin work for some people but not for most people. Prescription sleeping pills should be used only to break cycles of insomnia. Try to avoid taking a nap during the day--this can wreak havoc with your internal clock.
5. A shared life. A good marriage and enjoyable social life truly do help you live longer. A 48-year-old man has a 65% chance of living to age 65 if unmarried, 90% if married. For a 48year-old woman, marriage increases the odds of reaching 65 from 80% to 90%.
Friendships, too, contribute to living longer, making us feel better about ourselves and improving our lives.
6. Fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids). Fish oil pills are one of the few dietary supplements that actually can lengthen life. Research has confirmed that fish oil promotes heart and brain health.
Eat one to two servings of fatty fish, such as mackerel, herring or salmon, each week...or take a daily one-gram fish oil pill that contains equal amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Caution: High intake of fish oil may cause excessive bleeding in some people.
Some people worry about toxins, such as mercury, in certain fish, including tuna. For most people, the benefits of eating one or two servings of fish a week outweigh potential risks. However, pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing mothers and young children may want to avoid certain fish-talk with your doctor.
7. Sunlight and vitamin D. Studies suggest that vitamin D can help prevent breast, prostate and colon cancers, as well as arthritis. It also promotes the absorption of calcium, which is necessary for bone strength. Sunlight is the usual source of vitamin D. Spend three to five minutes in direct sunlight without sunscreen two to three times per week. (Put on sunscreen if you intend to stay in the sun longer, particularly if you're fair-skinned.)
If you live in the northern third of the US, it's impossible to get enough vitamin D from the sun between late November and the end of March, even if you spend all day outside. Multivitamins tend not to provide sufficient vitamin D, either. Take 1,000 international units (IU) per day of a vitamin D supplement during the winter.
A daily dose of sunlight also helps fight insomnia and depression, either of which could lead to a shorter life. However, vitamin D pills won't help here—you still need your three to five minutes of sun (winter sun is fine).