Walter Bortz, II, M.D., gerontologist and author, observed, “Longevity is neither an accident nor an isolated phenomenon. It is a product of specific healthy behaviors, a direct consequence of health maintenance.”
In other words, it’s your thoughts, choices, decisions and commitments that can add years to your life.
A 60-year-old woman in excellent health, according to Stanford’s Center on Longevity, has a 50% chance of living to age 90 and a 14% chance of living to age 100. A 60-year-old man in excellent health has a 42% chance of living to age 90 and an 8% chance of living to 100. The folks at Stanford found that among Boomers aged 55-64, 25% smoke, more than 39% are obese, more than 55% do not exercise enough, 37% don’t get enough sleep, and 75% don’t eat enough fruits and veggies.
Clearly, the greater the number of healthy lifestyle behaviors you maintain, the lower your risk of dying prematurely. In one study of 113,000 generally healthy men and women that were followed for more than 30 years, the risk of early death fell with every additional lifestyle behavior. Activities such as not smoking, doing more than 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous movement every day, eating healthy, drinking no more than one for women or two drinks for men per day helped decrease the risk.
Those who had at least three healthy behaviors and were in a range of healthy weight had a 61% lower risk of dying from all causes compared with overweight people with no healthy lifestyle behaviors. This is only further evidence of your ability to control your longevity more than you might have realized.
There is no doubt that diet and exercise are widely known major factors for longevity and health. We know the healthy lifestyle habits drill all too well:
- Move for about 150 minutes each week through moderately intense aerobic activity with strength training a couple of times each week.
- Eat wisely with fruits, veggies, whole grains, legumes, lean meat and fish, low and non-fat dairy.
- Have no more than two drinks for men and one for women per day.
- Sleep for a minimum of six hours per night.
- Work out your brain by reading, writing, playing games.
- Cut out the smoking habit.
But whether it’s eating well, moving regularly, or other healthy lifestyle activities, one very recent finding has captured the attention of those of us in the active aging movement – the remarkable importance of social connections.
Your social life may well predict your longevity far more than you ever thought. That’s right. It’s not just food and exercise. You would be wise to feed your psychological and mental wellbeing for longevity as well.
According to Robert Waldinger of Harvard’s Study of Adult Development covering 80 years of research, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.” He also noted, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” Indeed, loneliness has an equivalent risk factor to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, shortening one’s lifespan by eight years.
We’ve come to learn that loneliness affects 25% to 60% of older Americans, putting millions at risk of poor health from prolonged loneliness. One AARP Medicare Supplement Plan group reported that about 30% described themselves as lonely and about 10% described themselves as severely lonely. But, of those in the top 5% with the most chronic health conditions impacting longevity, loneliness rose to 55% of that group.
Want to add years to your life beyond the obvious healthy lifestyle behaviors? Try these 14 powerful, often overlooked, steps for increasing positive, meaningful social engagements, and a mindset that’ll promote your longevity:
- Deepen your interactions with your spouse or partner
- Increase your get-togethers with family and friends
- Find more group social support with family and friends
- Don’t talk much with your neighbors? Time to change that!
- Volunteer more – giving gratefully is good for the heart
- Find opportunities to continue working, for pay and for that all important social interaction
- Increase your involvement in religious or community philanthropic organizations
- Work on creating a “future orientation” and the ability to plan positively (“I figure if I can do this when I’m 85, I’ll be doing pretty well.”)
- Grow your capacity for both gratitude and forgiveness
- Work on building the ability to see the world through the eyes of another
- Strengthen your desire to do things with, and for, people
- It’s time to be sure your thinking focuses on what’s right, not on what’s wrong
- Imagine that you have a strong immune system since studies show that you are able to stimulate your immunity just by thinking about it – stop thinking of yourself as a sick person
- Be a whole lot easier on yourself
Perhaps Mark Twain had the best advice about all of the medical related suggestions about aging, “Be careful reading health books. You may die of a misprint.”