Most people want to live a long, healthy life free from ailments and health problems. Not only because we want to feel good about ourselves for as long as possible but also because we may want to be around for our loved ones, fulfill a long successful career, or experience the changes in the world. We as humans inherently have a zest for being alive and will always strive to live longer, whatever the reason.
According to the Office for National Statistics, the average life expectancy in the UK from 2018 to 2020 was 79.0 years for males and 82.9 years for females. It might sound obvious, but scientific research suggests that the key to living longer is to make healthy lifestyle choices. But for many of us, this can be a daunting prospect, and we don’t know where to start.
To help you begin your healthy journey, in this article, we will discuss the most important factors to focus on if you want to live longer and healthier.
Key factors that affect our longevity
1Eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet
You are what you eat! Well, not quite literally, of course. But the food we eat has a huge impact on how we feel, how we act, our overall health and most importantly, our life expectancy. According to a recent study, eating a healthy, balanced and nutritious diet can extend our life expectancy by up to an astounding ten years. These new findings highlight the importance of making healthy dietary choices to help your body function at optimal capacity and ward off diseases.
So what do you need to eat to extend your years? According to the review of multiple nutritional studies, the key to longevity is a diet that includes lots of fruit and vegetables, legumes, nuts, fish, healthy fats and wholegrains, a low intake of white meat, no red meat or processed meat, and a low intake of sugar and refined grains.
A Mediterranean diet, which consists of these dietary components, is often considered the best diet to follow for optimal health and long life. It helps combat inflammation in the body, promotes better heart health, reduces the risk of multiple diseases such as cancer, and improves weight regulation.
For longevity, maintaining a healthy weight is vital. Obesity or carrying excess weight is associated with shorter lifespans because it raises the risk of diseases and health complications, such as diabetes and heart disease. Visceral fat, or belly fat, is especially harmful to our health as it affects the function of important organs like the liver and pancreas. By simply following a healthy diet, not overeating and taking part in regular exercise, you can shed those pounds and keep the weight off.
2Do regular exercise
Surprise, surprise, alongside a healthy diet, you must exercise if you want to live longer! In the modern day, many of us live sedentary lifestyles, sitting for long periods at computers or on transport. This is becoming a widespread public health issue. Scientists have found that long-term physical inactivity significantly increases our risk for diseases and can as much as double our mortality risk.
Regular exercise is one of the best lifestyle habits to adopt for good health. It helps us maintain a healthy weight, reduces the risk of heart disease, regulates blood sugar and insulin levels, improves brain function, boosts energy, strengthens bones and muscles, reduces the risk of cancer, and improves sleep, among many other benefits.
It is recommended that adults take part in 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise. This may sound like a lot, but don’t let that put you off. It’s not as scary as it sounds! You don’t necessarily have to work out for that full amount of time, you can always incorporate physical activity into your daily routine. If you aren’t used to exercising regularly, start small – every little helps. Research suggests that as few as 15 minutes of exercise a day may add 3 years to your life.
3Get the right amount of sleep
Sleep is just important as eating and drinking. That blissful moment at the end of the day when you climb into bed and fall asleep is essential for our bodies to be able to function properly the next day. Crucially, sleep regulates cell function, enables your body to repair and restore itself, and allows the brain to process information from the day and store memories.
According to research, having a regular sleeping pattern that involves going to bed and waking up at the same time each day is linked to a longer lifespan – yes, we’re afraid this includes weekends!
The duration of your sleep is also important. Multiple studies have found that too little and too much can be harmful to our health and increase the risk of health problems and diseases. Like goldilocks, it must be just right. According to sleep experts, the ideal amount of sleep for adults is between 7-9 hours.
4Hang out with friends and family
Socialising helps us feel connected and supported and provides enormous benefits to our mental health. This is important for longevity because our mental state strongly impacts the processes that go on in our bodies. For example, maintaining a healthy social circle can help you better cope with stress, which suppresses the immune system and contributes to developing health problems and diseases.
Social relationships benefit not only our mental health but also our physical health. Scientists have found they help reduce inflammation and support proper immune and cardiovascular function. As a result, this can reduce our risk for serious health conditions such as heart disease and cancer.
According to a review of multiple studies, people with healthy social relationships and large social networks have a 50% lower mortality risk!
5Try heat and cold exposure
According to Dr David Sinclair, Professor of Genetics at Harvard and expert on ageing and longevity, one secret tool to slowing the ageing process is hot and cold therapy. This involves exposing the body to extremely high and low temperatures, which are believed to have powerful health benefits for the body.
You may have met people who like to throw themselves into freezing cold bodies of water for fun. Well, don’t worry; there is a method to this madness! Subjecting oneself to freezing cold temperatures for just a few minutes is known as cryotherapy, or “cold” therapy. This usually involves getting inside a cryo-chamber for a few minutes, but according to Dr Sinclair, you can even reap the benefits by taking a cold shower.
One of the major benefits of being cold is that it increases the amount of brown fat in the body. This is beneficial to our health because it boosts metabolism, is high in energy-producing mitochondria and regulates blood sugar and insulin levels. Research has also found that cryotherapy can calm the body’s inflammatory response and improve mental health, both of which contribute to the development of diseases.
From one extreme to another: heat therapy is also believed to increase longevity. This involves exposing the body to sweltering temperatures, usually in a sauna. If you don’t have access to a sauna, taking a hot bath or shower is also effective.
According to research, sauna use activates heat shock proteins which help rebuild damaged proteins in the body to make cells stronger and protect the body against chronic diseases. It is also believed that heat therapy can improve cardiovascular, neurological and mitochondrial function.
Dr Sinclair says: «80% of your future health is in your hands – it’s modifiable, 20% is genetic, which you can’t do much about. You have the tools to change your ageing.»
Let’s sum up
Fostering healthy lifestyle habits is crucial for living a long and healthy life. By eating a healthy, nutritious diet, you provide your body with all the essential nutrients it needs to function at optimal capacity and fight off diseases. Alongside eating healthily, give up a sedentary lifestyle and take up regular exercising, check out hot and cold therapy, get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night, and engage in social activities – your body will thank you!
Now it’s time to take your health into your own hands by following the actionable steps we mentioned earlier to extend your longevity.
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