9 keys to living a longer, happier life

Experts say having strong, positive relationships is one of the keys to longevity. (Lumos sp, Adobe Stock)

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ATLANTA — Whether it’s pursuing a demanding career, eating better or maintaining friendships, achieving the feats we all crave requires a healthy foundation.

“The long-term effects of good and bad health habits are cumulative. Simply put, you can’t look beyond your past,” Dr. William Roberts, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, said via email.

Getting enough physical activity and seeing your doctor regularly is a good place to start, says CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

“There’s a lot of evidence that we can do things proactively to improve our longevity and quality,” said Wen, an emergency physician and visiting professor of health policy and management at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Here are some habits worth developing to give yourself the best chance of living a longer, happier life.

1. Regular screenings

Young people tend to have fewer chronic diseases than older adults, but prevention is key, Wen said. “For example, if you screen positive for prediabetes, there are things you can do to prevent developing diabetes.”

Annual checkups also allow you and your doctor to get to know each other, she adds. “The best time to see a doctor isn’t when you already have symptoms and need help — it’s about building and building that relationship on a regular basis so your doctor can understand your health.”

2. Sustained physical activity

Getting enough physical activity can reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, Wen said.

“There is a lot of research supporting that regular aerobic exercise not only prolongs lifespan but also improves cognitive function,” said Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of Atria in New York City and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Grossman. medical school.

The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week for adults and at least 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic and strength training for pregnant women.

3. Healthy BMI

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, BMI is a measure of body fat that measures a person’s weight category and risk of potential health problems.

A 2018 study found that maintaining a healthy BMI can extend your life by more than a decade and is associated with a lower risk of dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Regular physical activity and eating healthy foods can help you achieve this.

4. Proper nutrition

Eating more plant-based foods can provide a good source of antioxidants, Goldberg said. “Oxidation is a hallmark of stress in our system and can lead to changes in plaque build-up such as arteries,” she said. “And this oxidation is also associated with aging.”

You can live longer by eating less red and processed meat and more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts, according to a study published in February in the journal PLOS Medicine. The potential benefits are especially clear if you start young—women who eat optimally from age 20 can live a little more than 10 years, while men who start at the same age can live 13 years longer.

At mealtime, at least half of your plate should be full of fruits and vegetables, Goldberg says. Also, it’s “not just what’s on the food, but how you prepare it,” she adds. “So baking and grilling is better than frying.”

5. Be mindful of your mental health

Mental health is often “such a neglected part of our overall health, but actually contributes a lot to overall health and well-being,” Wen said.

Goldberg said the past few years have brought stress and anxiety, which can affect blood pressure, sleep, dietary choices, and alcohol or smoking cessation attempts.

Just 15 minutes of some mental health hygiene can make your life easier, experts say. Try taking deep breaths when you wake up, drinking coffee in the morning instead of being distracted, going for a walk, journaling and taking breaks from screens.

The benefits of these mindfulness practices come from lowering levels of cortisol, a stress hormone associated with health complications. Being able to better regulate your emotions — which can be achieved through meditation — has been linked to healthy resilience in older adults.

6. Get enough sleep

People who get less than seven hours of sleep a night tend to have higher levels of stress hormones, blood sugar and blood pressure, Goldberg said.

You can improve the quality and quantity of sleep with regular exercise and good sleep hygiene. Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, and cold at night, and use it only for sleep and sex.

7. Drink less alcohol

“Alcohol has long been linked to a healthier heart,” Goldberg said. But “heavy drinking can actually be a direct toxin to the heart muscle and lead to heart failure. It also raises (blood sugar levels) and causes weight gain.”

A 2020 study found that avoiding excessive alcohol consumption can reduce your risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic diseases, thereby extending your life span by at least a few years.

8. No smoking

“Smoking is a major risk factor that increases the likelihood of developing many types of cancer — not just lung cancer, but diseases like breast cancer,” Wen said. It also “increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and other life-shortening diseases”.

Wen added that if you’re a habitual smoker, it’s not too late to quit smoking to prolong your life.

9. Build strong relationships

Experts say having close, positive relationships can add happiness and comfort to our lives and reduce stress. Research shows that people who develop satisfying relationships with family, friends and community have fewer health problems, live longer, and experience less depression and cognitive decline later in life.

If implementing all of these habits feels like a lot, think of them as a gradual process, Win said. “We may not always be perfect in everything, but (there are) things we can do to improve one or more aspects, and we can work on improving that way of life,” she said.

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