An American born in 1970 had a life expectancy of about 70 years. For an American born today, life expectancy is about 80 years.
“Most Americans can expect increased longevity,” says Eric Plasker, DC, founder of The Family Practice in Marietta, Ga., and author of The 100 Year Lifestyle. “In fact, the fastest growing age group is people over the age of 100. The Census Bureau predicts that by the year 2040, this group of Americans will increase by over 700 percent. So the question is not, Will you live longer? The question is, Will you develop healthy habits that will allow you to enjoy your long life?”
So how can you develop those healthy habits? “We do know that the majority of chronic diseases that shorten longevity can be prevented by good nutrition, regular exercise, and good mental health,” says Plasker. Also, obesity that may be the result of an inactive lifestyle and poor nutrition is estimated to shorten longevity by 7 to 12 years. Here’s how to get started.
Healthy Habit No. 1: Fill Up on Good Nutrition
“Good nutrition is the first step to better longevity,” says Dr. Plasker. “You should develop these healthy habits not because you want to lower your cholesterol or lose weight, but because you want to enjoy your remaining years.”
For good nutrition, follow these healthy habits:
- Eat a balanced diet that includes a good breakfast.
- “Include fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains,” urges Plasker.
- Be sure to get plenty of fiber in your diet.
- Look for foods that are high in antioxidants, buy organic when possible, and use healthy vegetable oils.
- Avoid fast foods, processed foods, and trans and saturated fats.
Healthy Habit No. 2: Get Regular Exercise
“To enjoy your longevity, you should start getting in shape now. Most people say that they started feeling old when they could not keep up with their usual physical activities. It is easier to maintain good physical health than to try to get it back,” says Plasker.
Effective exercises for longevity include:
- “Exercise for endurance. That means 20 to 30 minutes of exercise that gets your heart working harder four to five times a week,” says Plasker.
- “Exercise for strength. If you watch an older person struggle to get out of a chair, you know how important strength is. When you lose strength, you lose independence,” notes Plasker.
- “Exercise for structure. This includes exercise that increases your flexibility and improves your posture to keep your spine and nervous system healthy,” says Plasker.
Healthy Habit No. 3: Adopt a Better Attitude
“Having a positive attitude means embracing longevity and not being afraid of the future. Someone who is 100 years old today has lived through 21 recessions and the Great Depression. Chances are, we will survive whatever the future holds,” says Plasker.
Try these healthy habits to develop a better attitude:
- “Be an optimist. Studies show that optimistic people live longer and do better at school and work,” notes Plasker.
- Combine physical activity with calming mental exercises like yoga and tai chi.
- Learn how to meditate. Meditation can be as simple as taking a few minutes for reflection in the middle of a busy day.
- Avoid stress, negativity, and holding on to grudges.
Healthy Habit No. 4: Build Strong Relationships
“People who have a strong social support network avoid loneliness and depression. That can also lead to a longer, healthier, more rewarding life,” advises Plasker.
Healthy habits for building strong relationships include:
- Having multiple circles of relationships. These could include your family circle, your religious affiliation circle, and friends from work or school. “By cultivating multiple circles of relationships, you are not too dependent on just one group,” Plasker explains.
- Having relationships in different age groups — don’t just keep to your own age group. Include older relationships for their experience and wisdom. Include youthful relationships for their fresh perspective and energy, advises Plasker.
- Avoiding isolation, closed mindedness, and negativity.
How to Make the Switch to Healthier Habits
Ready for a healthier life? Follow these steps.
- Get informed about nutrition and start changing your diet gradually. Start by changing from white bread to whole grain bread. Next you can eliminate those salty snacks. Gradually add fruits and vegetables and foods that are high in fiber.
- If you have not been physically active, start exercise slowly. You should get 30 minutes of physical activity most days, but you can break it up into 10- or 15-minute segments. Walking is the easiest and best way to get started for most people.
- Start going to bed earlier. A good night’s sleep is an important healthy habit. You can accomplish a lot more by being fresh in the morning than you can when you feel exhausted.
- Invest in a longer life. Get into the habit of seeing your doctor and your dentist on a regular basis — take advantage of preventive care.
- Be safe. All the healthy habits in the world won’t do you much good if you drive recklessly or don’t bother to use your seat belt. Practice safe sex, wear a protective helmet, and make sure your smoke detectors are working.
- Don’t smoke, and drink alcohol only in moderation. Smoking alone can reduce your longevity by about 10 years.
Adopting a few simple healthy habits can lead to greater longevity and also make a long life a lot more enjoyable. “Most of us are going to live longer than we ever expected. We need to embrace that longevity and develop healthy habits to live well for a longer lifetime,” urges Plasker.