Let’s be honest — if you could find the recipe for a long, robust life of optimal health and vibrant energy, you’d probably discover it has a lot more than five ingredients. People who maintain phenomenal health well into their ninth and tenth decades probably do a whole lot of things differently than the average person. That said — you can’t go wrong cultivating the following five habits. Each one has been shown to have a significant connection to either a longer or a healthier life — sometimes both.
Stay Connected. Study after study demonstrates that people who maintain strong personal and social connections have better health outcomes than people who don’t. Stay involved. Even caring for an inanimate object can actually extend your life and boost immunity. In one study, a group of nursing home residents who were given a plant to take care of had significantly better health outcomes (and less deaths) than those who weren’t. There’s a reason married men live longer than single men!
Walk every day for 30 minutes. We can debate whether walking is the ultimate complete exercise (it’s not), but the fact is 30 minutes a day of aerobic exercise protects the brain and may stave off nasty degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and cognitive decline. Evidence from the National Weight Control Registry shows that walking is one of the main habits of people who successfully keep weight off. And massive evidence shows the cardio-protective effects of even moderate aerobic exercise.
Take fish oil daily. If there’s one supplement that could benefit just about everyone on the planet it’s fish oil. The omega-3 fats in fish lower triglycerides, protect the heart and brain, help regulate mood, fight depression and may impact memory and cognition. Best of all, fish oil is one of the strongest natural anti-inflammatories there is, and inflammation — “the silent killer” — is a component of virtually every degenerative disease from obesity to heart disease to Alzheimer’s.
Eat a high fiber diet. High fiber diets have been associated with just about every positive health outcome you can imagine. Health organizations recommend 25–35 grams of fiber a day — the average American gets a paltry 8–11 grams. Fiber helps with weight loss, helps regulate blood sugar, and may protect against some forms of cancer. Best of all, the only way to get it is by cultivating yet another life-extending habit; eating real foods, namely vegetables, vegetables and more vegetables. Plus fruit and beans.
De-stress your life. Sure, it’s easier said than done but consider this: a consistently high level of the stress hormone cortisol kills cells in the hippocampus, an important area of the brain needed for memory and learning. While some stress is actually beneficial, most of us have way too much, much too often. De-stressing — and its companion activity, restful sleep — restores valuable balance to the body’s systems and probably extends life. Maybe it’s no coincidence that the ever mellow Tibetan monks are among the longest lived people on the planet.
And hey, while you’re on a roll, it wouldn’t hurt to add a few more healthy habits to the list. Drinking green tea and red wine would be really good ideas, as would eating fish a couple of times a week. Reducing calories (you don’t need nearly as many as you think) has been shown in animal studies to extend life — give it a try. Add eight glasses a day of clean water, a little sunshine and a healthy dose of gratitude. I’m willing to bet you’ll be around to watch your grand kids graduate college.
You’ll probably even be able to drive yourself to the graduation.