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What 3 Things Can I Do to Extend the Length of My Life?

Feb 16, 2017
TIME Health
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Somewhere out there is a bunch of people who are going to live to be 100. In the U.S. alone, there were more than 77,000 centenarians in 2014. Still, that number is very small: centenarians represent less than a quarter of 1% of the entire U.S. population.

So how do you get to be one of them? You could invent a time machine, start your life over and do everything they did, or try to find a way to borrow their genes. Failing that, here are three things that longevity researchers recommend you start--and keep--doing.

STAY CURIOUS.

Once you've got a few years on you, it's easy to think you've heard it all. But the idea that the world has nothing to teach you makes you stop asking questions--and that has consequences. "There is evidence that curiosity has longevity benefits," says Laura L. Carstensen, a professor of psychology and public policy at Stanford University and the director of the Stanford Longevity Center. "Asking questions and discovering new things keeps you engaged with the world and with other people."

Learning something new can be a form of problem solving: digging into an article about something unusual or asking a family member about her obscure doctoral thesis (and actually listening to the answer) requires you to exercise cognitive muscles that may have gone slack.

EAT WAY MORE PLANTS THAN YOU THINK YOU NEED TO.

The link between diet and well-being is something we learn early in life--and then forget over and over again until we die. That may be why so many people have diet-related diseases. In the U.S., nearly 28 million people have Type 2 diabetes, 86 million adults are prediabetic, roughly 1 in 3 adults suffers from high blood pressure, and a stunning 69% of adults are overweight.

So if there's one thing worth drilling into your mind, it's this: the healthiest diet is the one in which you eat a lot of plants. The celebrated Mediterranean diet is celebrated for a reason, with study after study showing that its focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts and olive oil is linked to a longer life.

A 2015 study of 450,000 European adults found those who ate a diet that was 70% plant-based--fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains and beans--had a 20% lower risk of dying of cardiovascular disease than other people. A Harvard University study found that people who ate eight or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day were 30% less likely to have a heart attack or stroke than people who ate less from the plant group.

Multiple studies on both laboratory animals and humans have shown that caloric restriction--following a diet whose calories are roughly 25% below the recommended adult daily calorie intake--can have life-extending benefits. That's not the way most people would want to live, but replacing meats with fruits and vegetables can go a long way toward slashing calories in a more satisfying way.

RETHINK WHAT IT MEANS TO BE OLD.

It's hard to feel positive about a stage of life when you spend every year leading up to it assuming that it's going to be grim.

That, of course, is a great way to ensure that grim is precisely what it becomes--but the inverse is also true. "Our research has shown that when more-positive beliefs about older individuals are held earlier in life, they can lead to health advantages," says Becca Levy, an associate professor of epidemiology and psychology at the Yale School of Public Health. That, in turn, can mean a remarkable 7.5-year boost in life span compared with people who have negative beliefs about age.

That means remaining mindful of the contributions that older people make to others--and making those contributions yourself. There's no reason to accept that seniors are all addled and frail just because so many TV shows depict them that way.

Mortality is nonnegotiable, which is probably what makes it seem so terrible. But the number of years you get--not to mention the way you spend them--can in many ways be up to you.

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