Next Avenue

Sept. 7, 2021, 4:59 a.m. EDT

10 ways to improve your health and live longer

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Sergey Young

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To reduce your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes, every meal should include at least one plant-based dish. I always have broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus or zucchini as a side for lunch and dinner. Carrots, beets, and sweet potatoes support a healthy microbiome and help avoid obesity. When I snack, I opt for berries, nuts or fresh veggies.

A good rule of thumb: “eat the rainbow.” That means including vegetables of every color in your diet, as each provides different phytonutrients essential for health.

Other tips: avoid processed foods; go organic; include healthy fats from olive oil, fatty fish, nuts and avocados; limit consumption of dairy and red meat and drink more water.

6. Supplement your nutrition.  Many supplements claim to offer specific longevity benefits. The problem is that the supplements industry is woefully underregulated. Some supplements also interfere with prescription drugs; others contain poor-quality, unlisted and potentially deadly ingredients. Nonetheless, I am a big believer in supplements, and take dozens of them every day.

My advice is to do your research thoroughly, choose the highest-quality supplements you can afford and consult with your physician. As for things like metformin, resveratrol, NMN (a derivative of niacin), and NR (a form of vitamin B3), I urge you to stick with a well-balanced diet and wait on these supplements for a few years until these things are proven.

At , you can download an infographic with guidance on what various supplements do and which are most important. Use it as a starting point for your conversation with a doctor.

7. Get on up! Exercise remediates most of the “killer monster” diseases and reduces your risk of early death by 30% to 35%. Just 15 to 25 minutes of moderate exercise a day adds three years to your life if you are obese and seven if you are in good shape.

In addition to improving cardiovascular and pulmonary health, those who exercise regularly have a 12% to 23% lower risk of bladder, breast, colon and stomach cancers. Sports and physical training strengthen muscles and bones, improve heart health, reduce inflammation, nourish cognitive abilities, moderate hormones and supply many more benefits. You have no doubt heard of the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which fires up your metabolism more effectively than steady-state cardio exercise. 

I say, it doesn’t really matter what exercise you do. Anything that gets you up out of the chair, moving and breathing more intensely on a regular basis is going to help.

That is why the method of exercise I practice and recommend the most is extremely simple — walking. Brisk walking improves cardiovascular health, reduces obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure and eases the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

I wear a Fitbit daily and walk energetically enough to raise my heart rate to about 100–110 beats per minute.

A few ways to get more steps into your life: If you live or work on a reasonably low floor of a high-rise, take the stairs. When you drop by the store, park as far away from the entrance as possible. Get a dog. Take a short stroll after dinner. Get a standing desk so you are still shifting weight and moving your feet throughout the day. It all adds up.

8. Make sleep your superpower.  Getting even one hour less sleep on a single day can increase your chance of heart attack by 24%. More than 15,000 studies link sleeping less than seven hours per night with coronary heart disease, stroke, asthma, atherosclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, arthritis, depression, high blood sugar, diabetes and kidney disease, even after adjusting for other factors like smoking and obesity.

At least 20 studies of millions of sleepers have clearly proven that less sleep leads to shorter life. To ensure that you have at least seven hours of proper sleep, spend at least eight hours in bed per night.

To ensure you get enough restful sleep, try using a sleep-tracking app or device and sleep in absolute darkness and a cool room.

9. Remember: mindfulness over matter.  You may know that mindfulness meditation can reduce stress and anxiety, enhance self-awareness, increase empathy, sharpen thinking and promote happiness.

Stress increases the level of fight-or-flight hormones in your body, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which increase heart rate, dilate pupils, suppress your pain response and immune system, increase blood pressure and pour glucose into your blood.

When you are chronically stressed, these stress hormones damage your blood vessels, increase blood pressure, raise your risk of having a stroke or heart attack, disrupt libido and suppress your immunological defenses. They increase blood glucose levels and blood pressure, obesity, hypertension and other signs of metabolic syndrome.

Meanwhile, chronic stress reduces the production of klotho: an important protein that reduces inflammation, protects the heart against oxidative stress and controls insulin sensitivity.

The bottom line — chronic stress makes you age faster.

Meditation counteracts the age-accelerating effects of stress by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, which reduces blood pressure, slows breathing and heart rate and otherwise counteracts the fight-or-flight response.

New research has even revealed insights about the effect of meditation on telomeres — those protective caps at the end of your DNA strands. Between 2010 and 2018, multiple studies showed that meditating regularly for as little as three months results in significantly increased telomere length and reduced cellular aging.

To live longer and healthier — or simply to live better and happier — I cannot recommend meditation strongly enough. I practice meditation for just 12 to 15 minutes a day. If you’d like to get started with the practice but don’t know how, consider trying one of many good apps, including Calm, Headspace or neuroscientist Sam Harris’ guided meditation app, Waking Up.

10. Think and grow young.  Although I am approaching 50, I think of myself much more like a 30-something. Clearly, how old you feel and how old you are biologically have some kind of relationship. Yes, it is actually possible to “think and grow young.”

Finding purpose in life is a key to survival under any circumstances. The Japanese call this ikigai — “the reason to live.” And having such a reason can actually make you live longer. One of the reasons it is believed that Okinawans live so long — on average, about 90 years for women and 84 for men — is that they know and practice their ikigai. In one study of more than 73,000 Japanese people, those who reported having found their ikigai increased their chances of outliving the study by 7% for women and 15% for men.

Also see: Virtual reality technology is about to improve aging in a big way, especially for isolated seniors

Research shows that just being grateful can bestow substantial longevity benefits, too. A 2019 study at the Boston University School of Medicine followed more than 70,000 individuals for 10 to 30 years, tracking their attitudes and health. The researchers concluded that “optimism is specifically related to an 11 to 15% longer lifespan, and to greater odds of achieving ‘exceptional longevity.'”

Even after adjusting for lifestyle factors, according to one study, older adults who volunteer for two or more organizations enjoy a 44% smaller chance of dying early than those who do not. This is the idea behind my friend Dana Griffin’s platform, which connects vetted older adults with children for virtual story time, activities, conversations or help with homework.

See: Retiring? Keep your skills sharp for your health, wealth and wellbeing

There are, of course, more exotic things you can try to stay in the best possible shape to take advantage of new technologies. I occasionally partake in ice bath treatments, forever experimenting with ways to continue “Growing Young.” The important thing is that you get on the road to living a longer, healthier life and stay there.

Excerpted from “ ” by Sergey Young, published by BenBella Books, August 2021.

Sergey Young, author of “The Science and Technology of Growing Young,” is the founder of the Longevity Vision Fund and on a mission to extend healthy lifespans for at least one billion people.

This article is reprinted by permission from  , © 2021 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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