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11 Health Habits

11 Health Habits That Will Help You Live to 100 One of the biggest factors that determines how well you age is not your genes
but how well you live. Not convinced? A study published in 2009 in the British 
Medical Journal of 20,000 British folks shows that you can cut your risk of having 
a stroke in half by doing the following four things: being active for 30 minutes a day, 
eating five daily servings of fruit and vegetables, and avoiding cigarettes and excess 
alcohol.
While those are some of the obvious steps you can take to age well, researchers have 
discovered that centenarians tend to share certain traits in how they eat, move about, 
and deal with stress—the sorts of things we can emulate to improve our own aging process. 
Of course, getting to age 100 is enormously more likely if your parents did. (Recent 
research suggests that centenarians are 20 times as likely as the average person to have 
at least one long-lived relative.) Still, Thomas Perls, who studies the century-plus set 
at Boston University School of Medicine, believes that assuming you've sidestepped genes 
for truly fatal diseases like Huntington's, "there's nothing stopping you from living 
independently well into your 90s." Heck, if your parents and grandparents were heavy 
smokers, they might have died prematurely without ever reaching their true potential 
lifespan, so go ahead and shoot for those triple digits. Follow these 12 habits and 
check out Perls' lifetime risk calculator to see how long you can expect to live.

1. Don't retire.
"Evidence shows that in societies where people stop working abruptly, the incidence of 
obesity and chronic disease skyrockets after retirement," says Luigi Ferrucci, director 
of the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The Chianti region of Italy, which has a 
high percentage of centenarians, has a different take on leisure time. "After people 
retire from their jobs, they spend most of the day working on their little farm, 
cultivating grapes or vegetables," he says. "They're never really inactive." Farming 
isn't for you? Volunteer as a docent at your local art museum or join the Experience 
Corps, a program offered in 19 cities that places senior volunteers in urban public 
elementary schools for about 15 hours a week.

2. Floss every day.

That may help keep your arteries healthy. A 2008 New York University study showed that 
daily flossing reduced the amount of gum-disease-causing bacteria in the mouth. 
This bacteria is thought to enter the bloodstream and trigger inflammation in the 
arteries, a major risk factor for heart disease. Other research has shown that those 
who have high amounts of bacteria in their mouth are more likely to have thickening 
in their arteries, another sign of heart disease. "I really do think people should floss 
twice a day to get the biggest life expectancy benefits," says Perls.

Cancer and Age: Why We May Face a Tradeoff Between Cancer Risk and Aging

3. Move around.

"Exercise is the only real fountain of youth that exists," says Jay Olshansky, a professor 
of medicine and aging researcher at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "It's like the 
oil and lube job for your car. You don't have to do it, but your car will definitely run 
better." Study after study has documented the benefits of exercise to improve your mood, 
mental acuity, balance, muscle mass, and bones. "And the benefits kick in immediately 
after your first workout," Olshansky adds. Don't worry if you're not a gym rat. Those who 
see the biggest payoffs are the ones who go from doing nothing to simply walking around 
the neighborhood or local mall for about 30 minutes a day. Building muscle with resistance 
training is also ideal, but yoga classes can give you similar strength-training effects if 
you're not into weight lifting.

4. Eat a fiber-rich cereal for breakfast.

Getting a serving of whole-grains, especially in the morning, appears to help older folks 
maintain stable blood sugar levels throughout the day, according to a recent study 
conducted by Ferrucci and his colleagues. "Those who do this have a lower incidence of 
diabetes, a known accelerator of aging," he says.

Could Getting More Fiber Help You Live Longer?

5. Get at least six hours of shut-eye.

Instead of skimping on sleep to add more hours to your day, get more to add years to your 
life. "Sleep is one of the most important functions that our body uses to regulate and 
heal cells," says Ferrucci. "We've calculated that the minimum amount of sleep that older 
people need to get those healing REM phases is about six hours." Those who reach the 
century mark make sleep a top priority.

10 Ways to Get Better Sleep (and Maybe Cure Your Insomnia)

6. Consume whole foods, not supplements.

Strong evidence suggests that people who have high blood levels of certain nutrients—
selenium, beta-carotene, vitamins C and E—age much better and have a slower rate of 
cognitive decline. Unfortunately, there's no evidence that taking pills with these 
nutrients provides those antiaging benefits. "There are more than 200 different 
carotenoids and 200 different flavonoids in a single tomato," points out Ferrucci, 
"and these chemicals can all have complex interactions that foster health beyond the 
single nutrients we know about like lycopene or vitamin C." Avoid nutrient-lacking 
white foods (breads, flour, sugar) and go for all those colorful fruits and vegetables 
and dark whole-grain breads and cereals with their host of hidden nutrients.

Whole Foods Diet Cookbook: How to Eat for Health and Taste

7. Be less neurotic.

It may work for Woody Allen, who infuses his worries with a healthy dose of humor, 
but the rest of us neurotics may want to find a new way to deal with stress. "We have a 
new study coming out that shows that centenarians tend not to internalize things or dwell 
on their troubles," says Perls. "They are great at rolling with the punches." If this 
inborn trait is hard to overcome, find better ways to manage when you're stressed: Yoga, 
exercise, meditation, tai chi, or just deep breathing for a few moments are all good. 
Ruminating, eating chips in front of the TV, binge drinking? Bad, very bad.

8. Live like a Seventh Day Adventist.

Americans who define themselves as Seventh Day Adventists have an average life expectancy 
of 89, about a decade longer than the average American. One of the basic tenets of the 
religion is that it's important to cherish the body that's on loan from God, which means 
no smoking, alcohol abuse, or overindulging in sweets. Followers typically stick to a 
vegetarian diet based on fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts, and get plenty of exercise. 
They're also very focused on family and community.

5 Common Myths About Aging

9. Be a creature of habit.

Centenarians tend to live by strict routines, says Olshansky, eating the same kind of 
diet and doing the same kinds of activities their whole lives. Going to bed and waking 
up at the same time each day is another good habit to keep your body in the steady 
equilibrium that can be easily disrupted as you get on in years. "Your physiology becomes 
frailer when you get older," explains Ferrucci, "and it's harder for your body to bounce 
back if you, say, miss a few hours of sleep one night or drink too much alcohol." This 
can weaken immune defenses, leaving you more susceptible to circulating flu viruses or 
bacterial infections.

10. Stay connected.

Having regular social contacts with friends and loved ones is key to avoiding depression, 
which can lead to premature death, something that's particularly prevalent in elderly 
widows and widowers. Some psychologists even think that one of the biggest benefits 
elderly folks get from exercise the strong social interactions that come from walking 
with a buddy or taking a group exercise class. Having a daily connection with a close 
friend or family member gives older folks the added benefit of having someone watch their 
back. "They'll tell you if they think your memory is going or if you seem more withdrawn," 
says Perls, "and they might push you to see a doctor before you recognize that you need to 
see one yourself."

11. Be conscientious.

The strongest personality predictor of a long life is conscientiousness—that is, being 
prudent, persistent, and well organized, according to The Longevity Project, coauthored 
by Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin. The book describes a study that followed 1,500 
children for eight decades, collecting exhaustive details about their personal histories, 
health, activities, beliefs, attitudes, and families. The children who were prudent and 
dependable lived the longest, Friedman says, likely because conscientious types are more 
inclined to follow doctors' orders, take the right medicines at the right doses, and 
undergo routine checkups. They're also likelier to report happier marriages and more 
satisfying work lives than their less conscientious peers.



 
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