Simple Steps to Increase Your Life Expectancy

1
Go Outside for a Longer Life Expectancy

Sunlight
Sunlight. Nichola Evans / Getty Images

Life expectancy can be increased with simple steps and changes. This guide will help you find ways to increase your life expectancy and improve your health and feel great as you age. Let's start with the easiest: increase your life expectancy with sunlight.

Life expectancy can be increased simply by going outside. See, what happens when you go outside is that your skin gets exposed to sunlight. That exposure triggers cells in your skin to produce Vitamin D. This vitamin (really a prohormone, but let's not worry about that here) is essential for bone health and is turning out to be important in depression, heart disease, diabetes and just about everything.

Some estimate that 50% of adults have low levels of vitamin D, because we simply don't get outside that much (sitting by a window doesn't count, the glass filters too much of the sunlight). This is a shame, because maintaining vitamin D levels has to be the easiest and cheapest way to improve your health and increase your life expectancy. Getting outside for just 15 minutes a day and exposing your hands and face to sunlight is enough to maintain vitamin D levels in most cases.

If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, your doctor can order a simple blood test that will tell you if your levels are low. If for some reason you can't get outside enough, there are vitamin D supplements that you can take (but getting outside is a better option, if you can).

Elderly people need to pay special attention to their vitamin D levels. If you are a caregiver, be sure to assist your loved one in getting outside just a little bit every day. Not only will with improve vitamin D levels, but it could also improve sleep because sunlight also regulates another hormone in the body called melatonin that controls your sleep cycle.

Read More on Vitamin D Deficiency.

2
Life Expectancy Increased by Hanging Out

Hanging Out With Friends
Hanging Out With Friends. Peter Dazeley / Getty Images

Life expectancy can be increased by just hanging out with your friends and family. The more connected someone is, the better their overall health. Having positive relationships with a spouse, friends and family is the best way to be connected.

We are not sure why relationships play a role in health and life expectancy. It could be that people in positive relationships are less likely to take on risky behaviors and are more likely to take care of themselves. It could be that having people around you reduces the impact of stress on your health. We can make up lots of theories about why relationships have a positive impact, but the bottom line is that people who are engaged in "meaningful" relationships have better health (and therefore better life expectancies).

One way of improving your relationships with people is to get in the habit of telling good stories. Stories are how we communicate with one another, and telling a good story strengthens communications. I can't count the number of times I've been on the phone with someone and was just talking about the weather or giving a dry update on my family. Instead, I should be telling a story about a funny thing my kids did or something crazy that happened at work. Stories keep relationships alive.

So make more time for friends and family. Go do things together (create stories together), and make a real effort to improve your communication with them (whether by e-mail, phone or in person) by having a good story always ready for the telling.

Read More: Relationships and Life Expectancy

3
Improve Life Expectancy with Daily Exercise

Exercise
Exercise. Scott Kleinman / Getty Images

Improve your life expectancy with a commitment to daily exercise. Why daily? Well, after carefully considering all the research and exercise recommendations out there and knowing a bit about how people form habits, I have to conclude that a daily exercise commitment is a great way to improve your life expectancy, your health, and your energy level. Here's why:

A study showed that people who exercise vigorously for around 3 hours a week had DNA and cells that were 9 years younger than nonexercisers. Three hours a week is a little more than 30 minutes a day.

Forget the study, though. What I know (from personal experience and from observing others) is that if you go more than 2 days without exercising, you are at a grave danger of quitting your routine. Somehow it is way too easy to slip from three days of nonexercise to three weeks of nonexercise to three months of nonexercise. The easiest way to create an exercise habit is daily repetition. When you promise yourself to exercise daily, you may skip a day but then get back on the program the following day. If you are exercising three times a week and, say, skip Friday, then you would have gone from Wednesday to Monday without exercising - a total of 4 days with no exercise (very dangerous, from a habit-building perspective). For life expectancy, it is more important that you exercise year after year than go through fits and starts of intense exercise followed by no exercise.

The other reason I feel that daily exercise is important is that daily exercise will help improve your sleep and your energy level. It is important to just rev up your whole body each day. Remember, daily exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym every day. Home exercises, such as yoga, stretching, free weights and more, can be incredibly effective.

Read More: The Hidden Benefits of Exercise

4
Floss Daily for a Longer Life Expectancy

Floss for a Longer Life
Floss for a Longer Life. Paul Burns / Getty Images

The fact that flossing daily can extend life expectancy falls in the weird-but-true category. In fact, floss does two things: it prevents gum disease (that's rather obvious), and it prevents heart disease (not so obvious). Preventing both of these together is what adds years to your life. Here's how flossing improves life expectancy:

When you floss, you help prevent your gums from becoming inflamed. That's a good thing. What is happening when your gums are inflamed is that you have a chronic bacterial infection in your mouth. This harms your arteries through two mechanisms: the bacteria find their way into your arteries and hang out (causing plaques), and your body mounts an immune response to the bacteria in your mouth, causing inflammation (which in turn can cause your arteries to narrow). This makes it hard for your heart to do its job and can lead to heart disease.

There is some debate about how many years you can gain with heart disease. Dr. Perls says 1.5 years, while Dr. Roizen says 6 years. Both of these doctors are gerontologists (aging docs) and have popular books on aging and life expectancy (see reviews: Living To 100, RealAge and You! Staying Young). Who is right? It doesn't matter. Flossing is good for your gums and good for your heart, so we should all just do it.

Of course, this is easier said than done. How do you get into a solid flossing habit? First, you need to make sure you have some floss. There are tons of different kinds of floss (flavored, unflavored, strings, ribbons and on and on). Pick some and give them a try. Next, you have to remember. Put your floss on top of your toothpaste. Hard to forget that way. Then just do it. You already have a habit of brushing your teeth at least twice daily (right? - please say yes), so just anchor your flossing habit to that.

5
More Sex for a Longer Life Expectancy

Bed with Rose
Bed with Rose. Geir Pettersen / Getty Images

Your life expectancy may be increased through having more sex. In fact, in one study, men with a high frequency of orgasms showed a 50% reduction in mortality. This is good news, especially because issues around sex and aging are being taken more and more seriously by the medical community.

Why sex should be linked to life expectancy is something of a mystery. Of course, it could be that healthier people are more likely to have more sex and that the findings linking sex to life expectancy are reflecting this, but I think there is more to it. We have seen elsewhere that having good relationships and being positive are linked to longer life expectancies. Maybe sex is a market for good, positive relationships. Of course, there could be a direct health benefit as well: sex triggers all sorts of endorphins and hormones in the body. Maybe these help with healthy aging and increasing life expectancy.

But who really cares about the reason? The simple fact is that having more sex is healthy. Here are a few links to help deal with any age-related sex problems that may come up:

Sex Tips for the Older Woman

Sex Tips for the Older Man

6
Be Like A Vegetarian for Your Life Expectancy

vegetables
vegetables. Emilio Simion / Getty Images

Life expectancy can be linked to three factors that vegetarians excel at fewer bad fats, more antioxidants, and lower weight. Before we go in to how being a vegetarian can help your life expectancy, though, we have to define what we mean by a vegetarian.

There are some vegetarians who are "junk food vegetarians." These types of vegetarians eat cheese pizzas and ice cream all day long. That is not good for health or life expectancy. What we mean is the person who is eating lots of vegetables prepared in healthy fats (such as olive oil) while limiting animal products, such as cheese and cream. We'll call this type of vegetarian a "whole foods vegetarian."

  • The leading cause of death and the number one shortener of life expectancy in the U.S. is heart disease. As your heart ages, there can be a build of gunk in your arteries and your arteries themselves can become harder (see heart aging for more information). This causes your blood pressure to rise and your heart to work harder, leaving you at risk for heart disease. Vegetarians (whole foods vegetarians) have some of the best arteries around because eating healthy vegetables avoids bad fats and other unhealthy foods.
  • People who eat lots of vegetables take in lots of antioxidants. Antioxidants help your body repair some of the damage caused by aging. The more plants you eat (and the greater variety) the more raw materials your bod has to make repairs. Read more on antioxidants and their evil counterpart, free radicals.
  • Finally, vegetables simply fill you up with very few calories (if prepared without creams, butter or cheese). A healthy vegetarian diet should help maintain or lose weight. A healthy weight is tied to a longer life expectancy.

So be more like a vegetarian to increase your life expectancy and live healthier.

7
Destress for a Longer Life Expectancy

Meditaiton
Meditaiton. Anna Moller / Getty Images

Life expectancy can be messed up by stress in two major ways. The first way is through the direct, unhealthy effects of stress on your body in the long term. The second way stress may shorten your life expectancy is through the negative behaviors that being stressed triggers. These behaviors include comfort eating and smoking. Learn to relax through de-stressing techniques or meditation to keep your life expectancy up where it should be.

Stress has been linked to dozens of health conditions, including the "big ones," such as heart disease or cancer. Stress has also been linked (no surprise) to feeling irritable and not sleeping well. By focusing on stress, you can improve your quality of life right now while improving your long-term health and life expectancy too. That's a pretty good deal.

You can de-stress through a wide range of stress reduction techniques. My personal favorite is called the "relaxation response." This is a scientifically proven breathing technique that will help train your body not to respond to the stressful events in your life.

My other more long-term relaxation technique is meditation. By learning how to meditate, you not only calm your body, but you begin to train your mind. This is great for mental fitness, concentration, and (of course) relaxation.

8
Extend Your Life Expectancy Through Screenings and Tests

Talking with Doctors
Talking with Doctors. Digital Vision / Getty Images

Improving your life expectancy through medical tests and health screenings is certainly not one of the "fun ways to live longer," but it is, without a doubt, one of the most effective ways to add healthy years on to your life. Medical tests and screenings can help treat diseases early, when they are more treatable, and extend life expectancy even with an illness or disease.

Of course, the challenge is figuring out what tests to take when. Only your doctor can really tell you 100% (every individual is different in terms of risk factors and family history), but we can check out some general guidelines for health screenings (see Health Screenings for Women or Health Screenings for Men).

I like to think of health screenings as part of a disease prevention program. Preventing diseases (or catching them early) is probably the single best way to add years to your life expectancy. Make a plan today to prevent disease, get everything checked and feel good that you are doing everything you can for a longer life expectancy.

9
Turn Off Your TV for a Longer Life Expectancy

Turn Off Your TV
Turn Off Your TV. Ryan McVay / Getty Images

If life expectancy and television watching aren't linked, I'd be shocked. Of course, I can't prove that TV and life expectancy are linked (no one has done a study comparing the life expectancy of TV-watchers and non-watchers, probably because they can't find enough non-watchers for a good study). I really do think that cutting back on television watching would improve most people's health and (therefore) increase their life expectancy. Here are ​a couple of reasons:

  • Watching TV makes you inactive. You just sit there burning as few calories as possible, which could lead to weight problems.
  • TV makes you eat more junk food. People who are watching TV eat more than those who don't. It's a fact.
  • TV makes you antisocial. You are at home, zoned in, instead of talking with real people, face-to-face.
  • TV is stressful. The news and many shows are filled with stressful stories. Avoid these, and you may feel things are not so bad after all.
  • TV keeps you from doing other things. This is the big one for me. The average person watches something like four hours of TV every day. That is 28 hours a week or more than 1,400 hours a year. If we all just put that time ​into something else (exercise, volunteering, talking with our children), think of what a different world it would be.

Of course, I can't tell you how many years of life you will gain if you quit watching TV (it depends on your weight and what you do with the extra time), but I can tell you that you will gain back around 1,400 hours each year (on average).

Read More: Turn Off Your TV

10
Avoiding Risks Increases Life Expectancy

Buckle Your Seat Belt
Buckle Your Seat Belt. Gregor Schuster / Getty Images

Life expectancy can be protected by making sure that you don't take any unnecessary risks. For young people, the biggest causes of death aren't diseases or age-related problems. The biggest causes of death for young people are accidents, injuries, and violence. When you add certain behaviors (such as smoking) to that list (which shortens life expectancy by up to 14 years), you get a list of things to avoid to protect your life expectancy.

Here's the list (I know, it sounds like nagging, but do these things anyway): wear your seat belt, drive defensively, avoid situations that may lead to injury, avoid risky sex, avoid violent situations, don't smoke (or quit smoking if you do smoke) and maintain a healthy weight.

If you can do those things, then you are already increasing your life expectancy. Focus on avoiding obvious risks and dangers. Your body is pretty amazing and will keep going for a long time as long as you keep it out of trouble.

Read More: Major Causes of Death in Young Adults

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