We don’t yet have the perfect formula for long life, happiness, and physical health, but a little careful distillation of the massive amount of research on health and longevity reveals that cultivating nine basic habits will significantly increase the odds of your living long, well, and happily — in a robust, healthy, weight-appropriate body.
- Eat your vegetables. No kidding –and I’m talking at least 9 servings a day. Unless you’re following the most stringent first stage of the Atkins Diet, you should be able to consume 60-120 grams of carbs a day (depending on your weight and exercise level), and you’d have to eat a stockyard full of spinach to get to that amount. Every major study of long-lived, healthy people shows that they eat a ton of plant foods. Nothing delivers antioxidants, fiber, flavonoids, indoles, and the entire pharmacopeia of disease fighting phytochemicals like stuff that grows in rich soil.
- Eat fish and/or take fish oil. The omega-3’s found in cold-water fish like salmon deserve the title of “wellness molecule of the century.” They lower the risk of heart disease, they lower blood pressure, they improve mood, and they’re good for the brain. And if you’re pregnant, they may make your kid smarter!
- Connect. And I’m not talking about the internet. In virtually every study of people who are healthy and happy into their 9th and 10th decades, social connections are one of the “prime movers” in their life. Whether church, family, volunteer work, or community, finding something you care about that’s bigger than you, that you can connect with and that involves other people (or animals) — will extend your life, increase your energy, and make you happier — always.
- Get some sun. At least 10-15 minutes three times a week. Interestingly, a recent study showed that the four healthiest places on earth where the people were longest-lived, were in sunny climates. Sun improves your mood and boosts levels of cancer-fighting, performance-enhancing, bone-strengthening vitamin D — a vitamin most people don’t get nearly enough of.
- Sleep well. If you’re low in energy, gaining weight, grumpy, and looking haggard, guess what? Chances are you’re not sleeping long enough or well enough. By sleeping “well,” I mean uninterrupted sleep, in the dark — without the television on, in a relaxing environment. Nothing nourishes, replenishes, and restarts the system like 7-9 hours sleep. Hint: start by going to bed an hour early. And if you’ve got a computer in the bedroom, banish it!
- Exercise every day. Forget this 20 minutes three times a week stuff. Long-lived people are doing things like farm chores at 4:30 in the morning! Our Paleolithic ancestors traveled an average of 20 miles per day. Our bodies were designed to move on a regular basis. New studies show that merely 30 minutes a day of walking not only reduces the risk of most serious diseases, but can even grow new brain cells!
- Practice gratitude. By making a list of things you’re grateful for, you focus the brain on positive energy. Gratitude is incompatible with anger and stress. Practice using your under-utilized “right brain” and spread some love. Focusing on what you’re grateful for — even for five minutes a day — has the added benefit of being one of the best stress-reduction techniques on the planet.
- Drink red wine or eat grapes. The resveratrol in dark grapes is being studied for its effect on extending life, which it seems to do for almost every species studied. (So does eating about one third less food, by the way.) If you’ve got a problem with alcohol, you can get resveratrol from grapes, peanuts, or supplements. (And if you’re a woman, and you choose the alcohol option, make sure you’re getting folic acid every day.)
- Get the sugar out. The number one enemy of vitality, health, and longevity is not fat, it’s sugar. Sugar’s effect on hormones, mood, immunity, weight, and possibly even cancer cells is enormous — and it’s all negative. To the extent that you can remove it from your diet, you will be adding years to your life and life to your years.
This list may not be perfect and it may not be complete, but it’s a start. As my dear grandmother used to say, “Couldn’t hurt.” Not one of these “habits” will hurt you, all will benefit you, and some may make the difference between life and death.
And it’s never too late to start cultivating them.