Something remarkable is happening. We are living longer
lives than at any time in history — and not just a little
longer — a lot longer. In 1900, the average life expectancy
for an American was about 46 years; it is now
approaching 80. That’s average life expectancy. Many of
us are living well beyond 80 to even 100 years old and
The fact that so many of us are living longer is
wonderful. Yet, with advancing age comes a greater
potential for conditions associated with aging — arthritis,
hip fractures, memory loss, etc. It is important to
understand that these conditions are not a normal part
of aging. They are more likely to develop as we age, but
they should not be seen as an inevitable part of aging.
(MORE: 10 Myths About Aging, Debunked)
The good news is that we have a good deal of control
over how quickly and, maybe more importantly, how well
we age. Not everyone looks their age. Some 60-year-olds
look 40 and some 40-year-olds look 60. Why is that?
There are three things that determine how we age:
genetics, environment and our lifestyle. While we can’t
choose our parents who give us our genes, we can
control our environment and lifestyle. It’s the last two
factors that play a huge role in how well we age.
With that in mind, here are 10 tips to help maximize your
longevity and quality of life:
1. Control stress. Very few things age us faster than
stress, especially chronic stress. Have you ever noticed
how quickly presidents age while in office? We all have
stress in our lives, and in small doses it can even be
beneficial. But when stress is part of our everyday
comings and goings, it begins to take its toll. While we
will never eliminate stress, there are things we can do to
reduce it — some included below.
2. Manage your blood pressure. Hypertension is a very
common problem in our society. High blood pressure
can do real damage to your body and place you at
increased risk for stroke and vascular disease. Think of
your blood and its circulation through your body as
plumbing in your house. If the water pressure gets too
high it can burst a pipe — the equivalent of a stroke in
your body. If it remains high all the time, it will place
undue wear and tear on the pipes shortening their life —
the equivalent of atherosclerosis (hardening of the
arteries) in your body.
The good news is that high blood pressure is controllable
if recognized and managed properly. It is important to
check your blood pressure regularly and keep it under
good control. Diet, exercise and a healthy, low-salt diet
can all help.
3. Don't smoke. This is pretty much a no-brainer. Almost
all of us understand that smoking causes significant
heart and lung disease. But did you know that it also
accelerates aging, especially of the skin?
(MORE: Leonard Nimoy's Stop Smoking Message)
There is absolutely no doubt it will shorten your life and
probably the lives of those around you who breathe in
the second-hand smoke. If you do smoke and have been
unsuccessful in quitting, don’t beat yourself up. Quitting
smoking is one of the hardest things to do. So don’t
give up. Most people who have been successful have
required several attempts. Mark Twain once said,
“Quitting smoking is one of the easiest things to
do….and I should know, I’ve done it a thousand times.”
4. Get your sleep. OK, wake up. This is really important.
Sleep may be one of the most underappreciated aspects
of good health. Why do we need sleep? Sleep in many
ways has remained a scientific mystery. What has been
discovered recently is its profound effect on overall
health. Even more fascinating is its importance for
maintaining a healthy memory — something many of us
worry about as we get older. It is now known that sleeps
helps embed in our brain the things we learn during the
So how much sleep do we need? At least seven to eight
hours each night. That’s a challenge for many of us, but
it should always be our goal. Sleep is not just important
for memory. Having a lifestyle that lacks adequate sleep
can increase blood pressure, cause depression and
ultimately shorten life.
(MORE: Can't Sleep at Night? Look at Your Day. )
A good tip for getting better sleep is to cut out the
caffeine in the late afternoon and at night. Caffeine stays
in our body for many hours after ingestion. So eliminate
that last cup of coffee after dinner or switch to decaf.
5. Maintain good nutrition. Most of us know which
foods are good and bad for us. The best advice about
nutrition is not to make your self miserable eating foods
you don’t like just to lose weight or stay healthy. Food is
one of the basics joys of life. So eat the foods you love
but be smart about portions. Most importantly, eat a
varied diet that includes lots of vegetables and fruits.
Most of us eat the same food over and over again. Be
honest, when you go grocery shopping, aren’t you
putting the same things in you cart each visit? Be
adventurous. Try something new now and then. A varied
diet is a healthy diet.
6. Exercise your body. Move. Just move. If you want to
keep your muscles and bones young, it means using
them. Find an activity you enjoy. If you don’t enjoy the
activity, you will not stay with it. If you hate running on
a treadmill, don’t do it. If you love tennis, play tennis. It
can even be just walking, but commit to doing it
7. Exercise your brain. Your brain is amazing; your brain
is you. It defines who you are. Your brain holds every
memory and emotion of your life; it gives you the ability
to laugh, cry, create, to appreciate art/music and even
the capacity to love. Every effort should be made to
keep your brain young and healthy. Aside from the other
recommendations listed here, the best way to keep you
brain healthy is to use it. Keep your brain challenged,
especially with new things. Replace routine with new
learning. Seek out new experiences. Your brain thrives on
challenges and learning. So be a student for life.
8. Stay positive. There is a saying: “The me I see, is the
me I’ll be.” If you choose to see yourself as old and
failing, you’ll likely carry yourself that way. The key word
is “choose.” You have a choice with how you see
everything in life, including yourself. Even circumstances
outside of your control can be managed positively with
proper attitude. If you are stuck in traffic, getting upset
or angry will not help to get the traffic moving. You can
choose instead to accept the moment and perhaps think,
pray or listen to some music. Allowing yourself to get
stressed and increasing your blood pressure will not help
to keep you young and healthy. See tips one and two.
9. Maintain close relationships. The hurt of loneliness
and isolation goes beyond emotional pain — it is terrible
for our health. It is so important to have others around
us. Things, of course, change as we age — children
move away, we sometimes lose friends. But we can go
out and meet new people. Stay involved with others.
Take classes. Volunteer. Take someone out to dinner at
a new restaurant. Even get a pet. Studies have shown
that people live longer and healthier with companionship.
Many years ago I shared with my dad the fact that
married people generally live longer than single people.
He suggested humorously to me that when you’re
married you don’t live longer — it just seems longer.
10. Be spiritual. The 17th century philosopher, Pascal,
once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s
inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Our body, mind
and spirit need moments of quiet reflective peace —
probably more so today than at any time. It can be
prayer, meditation or just peaceful silence. The power of
such moments should not be underestimated. They help
to calm and comfort and clarify our busy lives.
“It is the silence between the notes that makes the
music.” (Zen prophet)
So it looks like we can all expect to live a lot longer. Why
not make that time count with the goal of quality and
good health. Living long and living well is a choice — and
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