MONEY Aging

Why Most Seniors Can’t Afford to Pay More for Medicare

Replacing Medicare with vouchers would push costs higher and put older Americans at risk.

Should seniors pay more for Medicare? Republicans think so; they have repeatedly called for replacing the current program with vouchers that would shift cost and risk to seniors.

There’s no doubt this is where Republicans will take us if they capture control of Congress this year, and the White House in 2016. Representative Paul Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who chairs the House Budget Committee, advocates “premium support” reforms that would give seniors vouchers to buy private Medicare insurance policies in lieu of traditional fee-for-service Medicare.

Under the latest version of Ryan’s budget proposed in April, starting in 2024 seniors could opt to buy premium-supported private plans or stay in traditional Medicare. Ryan has argued that introducing competition will bring down costs over time, and capping the government’s costs does sound like a tempting way to address Medicare’s financial problems.

Medicare’s trustees project total annual spending will jump 78% by 2022, to $1.09 trillion. Much of that increase will be fueled by higher enrollment as the baby boom generation ages.

But premium supports would shift risk to seniors, and could effectively make traditional Medicare much more expensive by siphoning off healthier seniors to private plans. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that this effect could boost traditional Medicare premiums 50% by 2020 compared with current projections.

Most seniors simply can’t afford to pay more. If you doubt it, check out the new interactive tool launched last month by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, one of the country’s leading healthcare research groups.

The tool analyzes the income and assets of today’s 52.4 million Medicare beneficiaries, and how their financial picture will change between now and 2030, when 80.9 million people will be covered by the program. It can compare different demographic slices of the Medicare population based on variables such as education, race, gender and marital status—and here you get a stark look at how economic inequality affects the pocketbooks of seniors.

Kaiser’s tool is based on a simulation model developed by the Urban Institute that uses population data to analyze the long-range impact on retirement and aging issues. I encourage you to test-drive the tool, but here are some highlights:

INCOME

Fifty-three percent of Medicare beneficiaries had $25,000 or less in annual income last year; half had savings below $61,400 and less than $67,700 in home equity on a per-person basis.

The income figures reflect the sharp divisions that characterize the wider U.S. population. Just 4% of seniors had income over $100,000 last year; 27% had income below $15,000 (which is just a bit higher than the average annual Social Security benefit).

Healthcare already is one of the largest expenses for seniors, most of whom are on fixed incomes. HealthView Services, which develops software for gauging healthcare costs, recently estimated that a senior retiring this year in high-cost Massachusetts would pay $7,020 in Medicare premiums alone—a number that will jump to $11,536 in 2024. And that figure doesn’t include co-pays and out-of-pocket costs for things Medicare doesn’t cover, such as dental care. It also doesn’t include costs for a catastrophic event.

“Sixty-six thousand in savings is less than the cost of one year in a nursing home,” says Tricia Neuman, senior vice-president at the foundation and director of the foundation’s Medicare policy program. “That tells us that many people on Medicare today don’t have the resources they’d need to pay for a significant health or long-term-care expense if it should arise.”

DEMOGRAPHIC DIVIDES

Neuman says she was especially surprised by the extent of the gaps in income and saving by race, ethnicity and gender. Median 2013 per capita income for white Medicare beneficiaries was $26,400, compared with $16,350 for African Americans and $13,000 for Hispanics.

Men had $25,880 in median income, compared with $21,800 for women. And married couples were better off than singles: Per capita income for married seniors in 2013 was $27,400, compared with $20,250 for divorced people, $21,050 for widows and $14,150 for those who never married.

That’s unlikely to change by 2030. “The model suggests there won’t be phenomenal changes in wealth, or that seniors will be that much more comfortable,” Neuman says.

Neuman says the data also points to continued income inequality and sharp divisions in the status of seniors. In 2030, 5% of Medicare beneficiaries will have income over $111,900, while half will have income below $28,250.

“There will always be a small share of the Medicare population with sufficient wealth and resources to absorb higher costs, but most will not be in that position,” she says. “The assumption that boomers are healthier and wealthier and that we’ll have a much rosier Medicare outlook down the road just isn’t going to happen.”

MONEY Aging

Help for People Who Can’t Handle Their Money Anymore

Younger person assisting elderly client.
Gary John Norman—Getty Images/Cultura

A daily money manager can pay bills, keep spending under control, and protect a client from scams.

Martha Nurenberg knew her 86-year-old father, Paul, had a problem when he was almost taken in by a letter promising untold riches if he provided a bank account number and payment of legal fees for a money transfer.

Though Paul never sent any money, he did answer the letter with interest.

As dementia set in, Paul could no longer remember the password to his computer where he kept his financial records. Then Nurenberg received a call from the director of her dad’s senior living facility, who said Paul had not paid his last two bills.

“We realized that he couldn’t keep the financial records anymore,” says Nurenberg, who runs the AARP’s employee volunteer program in Washington, D.C. But neither she nor her three siblings lived anywhere near their dad’s facility in Middlesex, N.Y. Nor did their mother, who is also suffering from dementia, know anything about the complicated records her husband kept.

So they called a professional, Jacquelyn Bell, a Rochester, N.Y.-based CPA who wears a second hat as a daily money manager for clients such as the Nurenbergs. Instead of just filing quarterly or annual tax forms, Bell receives her clients’ mail, pays their bills, balances their checkbooks and helps them keep to a budget if they are on a fixed income.

For the families of the more than 5 million Americans suffering from Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia, such hands-on services can be a necessity. “Most of my clients fall into a few categories — no family or children, have children but not local, children are too busy, or elder financial abuse,” says Bell.

CHOOSING AND USING THE RIGHT MANAGER

Demand for daily money management services as America ages is likely to grow significantly, but at least for now the profession is virtually unknown. The American Association of Daily Money Managers (aadmm.com), the profession’s primary trade group, has only about 700 members nationwide.

What is more, no government agency regulates daily money managers, even though they have access to clients’ sensitive financial information. For this reason, properly vetting a potential manager is essential. That means asking for references from other clients, and, when possible, checking with state professional licensing boards for credentials and for such things as malpractice.

The AADMM provides certification to daily money managers and lists of credentialed members. This guarantees at least a certain level of proficiency in the field.

To avoid fraud, be sure to establish certain safeguards. Money managers should provide monthly reports of all their financial work, including copies of bills paid, if requested. Some clients create a bank account specifically for the money manager that has limited funds, just enough for the monthly bills and a small amount left over.

Meanwhile, the rest of the client’s money is off limits.

EXPERTISE

Bill paying alone is usually not all that hard, but if health, long-term care or other complex issues become part of the mix, expertise may essential.

That is where someone such as Sheri Samotin may come in. Prior to founding her daily money management business, LifeBridge Solutions, in 2009, she spent some 25 years in the healthcare industry, much of it as a manager of a medical practice where she often negotiated with health insurers unwilling to pay claims. She is familiar with the complex codes hospitals and insurers use for medical procedures, including what is covered and what is not by different policies.

But if tax, estate or small-business issues are more of a concern, a CPA such as Bell would likely fit the bill.

TRUST

Also, since trust is such an important factor, ceding power to a manager all at once may not be wise. Initially, Nurenberg’s father would sign all the checks Bell was writing for the bills so he had a chance to review them. As he deteriorated, Nurenberg, who had power of attorney for her parents, signed them. Now Bell, having proven herself, handles everything.

Dementia or other disabilities are not the only reasons to hire a money manager. Parents often hire managers to handle the affairs of their mentally disabled children’s estates after they are gone.

Addictions are another reason. Bell has shopaholic and gambler clients whose checkbooks she keeps in her safe so they cannot get to them.

For many the service can be a matter of convenience. “While mom’s very capable of paying her bills, this lets her focus on enjoying her retirement,” says Mitchell Dannenberg, a Naples, Fla. insurance salesman who hired Samotin to handle his mother’s finances.

Costs of daily money managers vary depending on the services required and your location. Bell charges $90 an hour but says services can cost as much as $150 a hour in pricier New York City. Some clients only require an hour of service a month while others need five to six, she says.

It is not cheap by any means. But for Nurenberg, Bell is more than a financial security blanket. She is a “godsend,” Nurenberg says.

TIME Research

Scientists Are Getting Closer to a Blood Test for Alzheimer’s

Brain of a patient affected by Alzheimers disease
Brain of a patient affected by Alzheimers disease Getty Images

The new prediction method had 87% accuracy in a recent study

A team of scientists have identified 10 proteins in the blood that can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The study, which was published in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia, looked at more than 1,000 people and is considered a significant step toward the development of a blood test for Alzheimer’s. The trouble with the disease is that developing drug treatments is difficult since they are often given in clinical trials when the disease has already progressed too far. The hope is that identifying the disease earlier could pave the way for drugs to halt its progression.

In the study, researchers examined blood samples from 1,148 people. There were 476 with Alzheimer’s, 220 with ‘Mild Cognitive Impairment’ (MCI) and 452 elderly control subjects who did not have dementia. All the blood samples were tested for 26 proteins that were previously linked to Alzheimer’s, and some the participants also had an MRI scan on their brain. First, the researchers found that 16 of the 26 proteins were strongly linked to brain shrinkage that happens with Alzheimer’s and MCI. In a second round of testing, researchers looked at which of the 16 could predict if MCI became Alzheimer’s. It was then that they found the combination of 10 proteins that were able to predict which people with MCI would eventually get Alzheimer’s within a year. The prediction method had 87% accuracy.

“Memory problems are very common, but the challenge is identifying who is likely to develop dementia,” slead study author Dr. Abdul Hye from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London said in a statement. “There are thousands of proteins in the blood, and this study is the culmination of many years’ work identifying which ones are clinically relevant. We now have a set of 10 proteins that can predict whether someone with early symptoms of memory loss, or mild cognitive impairment, will develop Alzheimer’s disease within a year, with a high level of accuracy.”

Detecting the disease early-on could be a major breakthrough for clinical trials and would be less expensive than current methods that use brain imaging or cerebrospinal spinal fluid to identify the disease.

 

TIME Aging

Meet the New Oldest American

Gertrude Weaver holds a flower given to her a day before her 116th birthday at Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation in Camden, Ark on July 3, 2014. Danny Johnston / AP

Gertrude Weaver of Arkansas loves wheelchair dancing and manicures and tells TIME the secret to long life is worshipping God and being kind to others

Gertrude Weaver of Arkansas celebrated her 116th birthday on July 4 and is the new oldest-living American, according to the Gerontology Research Group, which keeps track of super-centenarians worldwide.

The organization’s database administrator Robert Young told the Associated Press that Weaver earned the title after records from the 1900 Census and her 1915 marriage certificate (she wed at 17) confirmed her 1898 birth year. She is now the second-oldest living person, after Misao Okawa of Osaka, Japan, who was born March 5, 1898. Until July 4, the record of oldest living person in the United States was held by Jeralean Talley of Inkster, Michigan, who recently celebrated her 115th birthday on May 23.

When TIME asked how it feels to be the oldest person in the United States right now, Weaver said, “I don’t know. I’ve never been this before.”

The secret to long life is: “Kindness. Treat people right and be nice to other people the way you want them to be nice to you,” she said over the phone, speaking from her room at Silver Oaks Health and Rehabilitation, a nursing home in Camden, Ark., about two hours southwest of the state’s capital city Little Rock. “The Lord blessed me, I think, because I’m good to my family and good to my children and grandchildren. And I feed them.”

Nowadays, the highlights of her week are manicures, Bible study, concerts by singers at schools and church groups, and “wheelchair dancing”, part of an exercise class called “Sittercise,” which she attends three times a week. “We chair dance because we can’t get up anymore,” Weaver says. She is also visited regularly by friends and her granddaughter Gradie Welch, 78, who swings by in the mornings and helps her lay out her clothes for the Sunday church service at the facility. “She is a loving and compassionate grandmother,” Welch tells TIME.

In terms of Weaver’s health, the administrator at Silver Oaks Kathy Langley says she does not suffer from any chronic health conditions, which is generally common for super-centenarians. Weaver says she does not drink or smoke and sleeps well. “I do my sleeping anytime.”

TIME recently reported the prevalence of centenarians in the U.S. population at about 1 per 5,000 and 1 per 5 million for super-centenarians, according to Thomas Perls, director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, the world’s largest study of centenarians and their families. He argues that the secret to longevity has to do with a rare combination of genes, many of which may be on the X chromosome. Other studies suggest long life may have to do with having strong social ties and just generally being a happy, conscientious and giving person.

Weaver would add trying your best at everything to that list. “Just do what you can, and if we can’t, we can’t.”

MORE: The Third Oldest American Eats Bacon and Loves Lace Lingerie

MORE: The Second Oldest American Says Worship God and Eat Pigs Feet

TIME Aging

Long-Life Secrets From An (Almost) 115 Year Old Woman

Joseph C. Lin—TIME

Bacon and lingerie are among Susannah Mushatt Jones's favorite things

What’s the secret to living to be almost 115?

“I don’t have a secret,” says Susannah Mushatt Jones, 114, her head tied in a yellow scarf for warmth, and her body wrapped in a pink and green blanket. Then she adds: “Believe in the Lord.”

It’s a few weeks before her 115th birthday, on July 6, and Jones is spending time with family in her Brooklyn, New York, living room. Jones is the second-oldest American, according to the roster of supercentenarians validated by the Gerontology Research Group, and her niece, Lois Judge, 74, is trying to remind her of that fact. (Update: On July 4, the Gerontology Research Group confirmed that Gertrude Weaver is the oldest American at 116 years old, now making Jones the third-oldest American.)

“I’ll be 115? I ain’t gonna be 115,” says Jones. “Nope.” Frankly, her family can’t believe it either, though Jones is doing remarkably well. She never drank or smoked, and to this day she sleeps like a champion—upwards of 10 hours a night. And while it’s impossible to isolate one thing that can explain any supercentenarian’s longevity, Jones seems to have made some interesting choices along the way.

For starters, she loves bacon. Every morning she eats four strips of it, followed by scrambled eggs and grits. “Sometimes, she’ll take the last strip, fold it in a napkin, put it in her pocket and save it for later,” says her niece Selbra Mushatt, 70. She also seems to be a minimalist when it comes to interfering with her health. The only medication she takes is a multivitamin and a pill for her blood pressure. Blind from glaucoma since she was 100, Jones refused cataract surgery, and her nieces say Jones has never had a colonoscopy or a mammogram. Lavilla Watson, 82, another one of her nieces, said a doctor recommended a pacemaker, but she refused. She sees a primary care physician every three to four months.

Jones’s Backstory

The third oldest of 11 siblings, Jones was born and raised in Lowndes County, Alabama, about an hour southwest of Montgomery. In 1922, she completed high school, and the graduation roster recognizes her for studying “Negro Music in France.” She always wanted to be a teacher and was accepted to the Tuskegee Institute’s teacher training program, but could not afford to go.

A year later, she moved to New York City and worked as a child care professional for wealthy families. She was married briefly to a man named Henry Jones and didn’t have children, so she has always called the kids she cared for “her children.” Photos of them all grown up with their own kids are propped up on a coffee table next to her in the living room.

She used her salary to help send her nieces to college and fund a college scholarship program that she established for African-American students called The Calhoun Club. She was generous with her family, but when it came to splurging on herself, Jones’s weakness was, of all things, high-end lace lingerie. “She would save her money and then go to Bloomingdale’s,'” says her niece Selbra Mushatt. “One time, when she had to get an EKG, the doctors and nurses were surprised to see her wearing that lingerie, and she said, ‘Oh sure, you can never get too old to wear fancy stuff.'”

After retiring in 1965, she lived with her niece Lavilla Watson, who remembers coming home to find Jones cracking up at I Love Lucy while cradling Watson’s newborn son in a rocking chair.

Life at 115

The world’s oldest person, 116-year-old Misao Okawa of Osaka, Japan, says the answer to a long life is eating sushi, while the oldest American, 115-year-old Jeralean Talley of Michigan, says it’s pigs’ feet. Some studies argue that long life has to do with being a conscientious, giving and most importantly, happy person. Other research says that strong personal connections play a big role, which may in part explain Jones’s long life.

She was active in her neighborhood for nearly 30 years, serving on its tenant patrol team, and these days, her nieces visit almost daily. Sunday evenings, they all gather together for a BBQ feast.

Becoming a supercentenarian likely has to do with genes, says Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine and the director of the New England Centenarian Study at Boston Medical Center, the largest study of centenarians and their families worldwide. “You have to have some relatively rare combinations of a whole bunch of genes, probably hundreds, that will help people age more slowly or protect people from age-related diseases [dementia, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer],” he says. “The super-centenarians, they not only delay disability toward the very end of their lives but also diseases. In fact, they’re often functionally independent and disease-free, except for some things you can’t get away with like cataracts and osteoarthritis.”

He estimates the prevalence of centenarians in the U.S. population is about 1 per 5,000, 1 per 5 million for super-centenarians, and thus 1 per about 100 million for people over 114. And most are female. “Why women do this better than men is really unclear in terms of what genetic advantages they have versus men,” he says, “but one possibility is that many of the genetic variants of interest that may be slowing aging and decreasing the risk for age-related disease could be on the X chromosome. And women have two of those, men just have one.”

A life that lasts 115 years is, by all measures, an extraordinary thing. But the gift of time comes with the very human fear of loss, compounded perhaps by the extra years. Reflecting on the significance of her aunt’s upcoming birthday in a phone conversation, her niece Lavilla Watson says, “I’m very emotional about it. It makes me sad. Now that she’s going to be 115, they don’t live that long after that, you know?”

Then again, this birthday also feels like a thrill. “Listen,” says Judge. “Who knows anyone who is 115? That’s excitement in itself.”

TIME sleep

Less Sleep Pushes Your Brain to Age Faster

Researchers find connection between sleep deprivation and a marker of aging brains

We know that sleep is important for a host of body functions, from weight control to brain activities, but the latest study hints that it may also keep aging processes in check.

Scientists at the Duke-NUS Graduate School Singapore report in the journal Sleep that among a group of 66 elderly Chinese volunteers, those who reported sleeping less each night on average showed swelling of a brain region indicating faster cognitive decline.

The participants had MRI brain scans every two years, and answered questions about their sleep habits as well. Other studies have suggested that adults need about seven hours of sleep a night to maintain proper brain function; future research will investigate how sleep helps to preserve cognitive functions and hold off more rapid aging.

TIME Aging

The Vast Majority of Baby Boomers Are Overweight or Obese

Though aging baby boomers are smoking and drinking less, a new U.S. Census Bureau report shows the vast majority of baby boomers are overweight or obese, which may cause diabetes and arthritis, among other conditions

Aging baby boomers are smoking and drinking less, but overweight and obesity are on the rise, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s especially concerning when you consider the many other diseases and disabilities—including arthritis, type-2 diabetes, heart disease and hindered mobility—that can come with excess body weight.

The percentage of overweight and obese Americans 65 and older has grown: 72% of older men and 67% of older women are now overweight or obese. Baby boomers started reaching age 65 in 2011, and the report, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health, also shows many of these older Americans are not financially prepared to pay for long-term care in nursing homes. That’s concerning, since America’s aging population, which is now around 40 million, is estimated to double by 2050.

What’s the best way to handle overweight and obesity in people 65-plus?

“There are not many studies of weight loss among the elderly. It’s a rich and fertile area,” says Dr. Adam Bernstein, research director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Wellness Institute. “The prescription would not be the same for a middle-aged person or youth.” Bernstein, who was not involved in the report, says it is possible for older men and women to lose weight, though doctors are likely to immediately focus on the consequences of excess body fat, like high blood pressure and erratic blood sugar. “If the clinician makes the determination a person is overweight and no other comorbid conditions, then what seems appropriate is a diet and exercise plan,” he says.

Past research published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine has shown the baby boomer generation has its share of pervasive health problems, including high rates of cholesterol and hypertension. The authors concluded that there’s a need for policies that encourage prevention efforts and healthy-behavior promotion among boomers.

This new report adds urgency to the call for better health among boomers. Indeed, the costs of not taking action could be severe.

The new Census Bureau report shows that the average cost of a private room in a nursing home in 2010 was $83,585 a year—and less than one fifth of older men and women have the finances to live in a home for more than three years. Medicaid covers long-term care for qualified, low-income seniors, but as the number of people in that group grows, the costs will hurt.

“Most of the long-term care provided to older people today comes from unpaid family members and friends,” Richard Suzman, director of National Institute on Aging’s division of behavioral and social research, said in a statement. “Baby boomers had far fewer children than their parents. Combined with higher divorce rates and disrupted family structures, this will result in fewer family members to provide long-term care in the future.”

The findings highlight the need to make healthy changes early. And if we want to cut long-term healthcare costs in the future, Americans need to get healthier.

 

TIME movies

Susan Sarandon Wore Prosthetic Cankles for Tammy, and They Were Liberating

Susan Sarandon in Tammy
Susan Sarandon in 'Tammy' Michael Tackett / Warner Bros.

Playing a grandmother has its advantages, the actress tells TIME

Susan Sarandon knows that it can be risky for an actress to mess with her appearance. “If you’re a woman and you gain weight for a part and you look really terrible, the business is more concerned about hiring you than when a guy does it,” she tells TIME. “I mean, people do sometimes have a lack of imagination and just think, ‘Oh wow, she’s really changed.'”

But when Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone asked her to play McCarthy’s grandmother, Pearl, in their new road-trip comedy, Tammy (out July 2), Sarandon’s concern wasn’t that it was dangerous to go gray as a grandmother — even if, in reality, McCarthy is less than 25 years younger than she is. Sarandon did the math and decided the role was age-appropriate: if Pearl had her daughter as a teen mom, and her daughter was a teen mom too, the character of Tammy could easily be 30 — “I mean, [McCarthy]’s not playing 40; she looks about 4,” Sarandon jokes — and Pearl could still be younger than Sarandon, who’s about to be a grandmother in real life.

Sarandon’s bigger concern was whether how exaggerated the grandma-ness would be. If Pearl were all about facial hair, little glasses and a funny voice, she says, she worried the extras would distract viewers from the personhood of the character. When it became clear that McCarthy and Falcone had in mind to keep the character realistic, despite the crazy situations she gets into, Sarandon signed on. And the Pearl costume ended up relatively minimal, relying heavily on three sets of prosthetic “cankles,” for different degrees of the swollen ankles that figure into the movie’s plot; minimized eyebrows and eyelashes; peppercorns in her shoes for when the character’s feet were supposed to be hurting; and a grandma-approved wardrobe.

“If you put on a pair of baggy, high-waisted, under-your-breasts, elasticized jeans, it does change your outlook,” Sarandon says. “But she could be 70, and I’m almost 68. Pearl has just led a very aging, hard life and doesn’t have the advantage of my makeup and hair people.”

It’s not news that aging in the real world and aging in Hollywood are different, though both can be tough. For Sarandon, playing the former wasn’t all bad, as it meant that she didn’t have to waste any energy worrying about her appearance while she did her job. “It’s very liberating, actually, to not ever be looking at what you look like,” she says. “You hope that whenever you’re working your makeup and hair people are catching things and you don’t have to pay attention, but certainly I’m aware. I can’t help after all these years to be aware, if you’re being badly lit from above or if the camera is at your knee, but in this instance that helped everything.”

In the real world and in movies alike, Sarandon thinks it’s important to show people who are old enough to be grandparents doing more than sitting around at home. “You can’t suddenly just decide, Oh God, I’m old, because then you certainly are old. And age — I don’t want to say age is a number because that’s a really silly expression,” Sarandon says. “There are so many women who are my age and older who are so vital and engaged and creative and still working. That’s why all these young kids are having problems in the workplace, because people are not retiring.”

And that means showing those people who have a lack of imagination that playing a gray-haired grandmother doesn’t mean an actress is looking for “old lady” parts — and it certainly doesn’t mean wearing grandma pants forever. “I’m very aware,” Sarandon says, “that I’m glamming it up for the premiere.”

 

TIME Aging

14 Ways to Live a Longer, Healthier Life

These tips will reverse your aging

The answer is more complicated than counting the number of candles you blew out on your last birthday cake. Your daily habits can either add or subtract years from your life—like how much you exercise, or how stressed you allow yourself to be. Read on for 14 things you can start doing today to live a longer, healthier life.

Drop some pounds

Being obese increases the risk of diabetes, cancer and heart disease, possibly shaving up to 12 years off your life, per an analysis in the journal Obesity. But being too thin can hike your risk of osteoporosis and poor immune function. So aim to stay at a weight that’s healthy for you.

Cap your drinks

Regularly exceeding one drink a day or three in one sitting can damage organs, weaken the immune system and increase the risk of some cancers.

Ease your stress

Chronic stress makes us feel old—and actually ages us: In a 2012 study, Austrian researchers found that work-related tension harms DNA in our cells, speeding up the shortening of telomeres—which protect the ends of our chromosomes and which may indicate our life expectancy. Of course, it’s impossible to completely obliterate stress. “What’s important is how you manage it,” says Thomas Perls, MD, associate professor at Boston University school of Medicine. Practice yoga, pray, meditate, relax in the shower or do whatever else chills you out.

Health.com:Best and Worst Ways to Cope With Stress

Keep learning

Having more education lengthens your life span, according to a study in the journal Health Affairs, for a number of reasons. Extra schooling may help you become better informed about how to live a healthy life. And educated folks, as a group, have a higher income, which means greater access to good health care and insurance.

Connect

More and more research points to the value of having friends, and not just on Facebook. An Oxford University study found that being married makes you less likely to die of heart disease, which researchers suggest may be due to partners encouraging the other to seek early medical treatment. Same goes for friendships: Australian research showed that people with the most buddies lived 22 percent longer than those with the smallest circle. “Having positive, meaningful, intimate relationships is critical to most people’s well-being,” says Linda Fried, MD, dean of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

Extend a hand

Volunteering is linked to a lower risk of death, a University of Michigan study suggests. But you don’t have to log hours at a soup kitchen: Simply helping friends and family—say, by tutoring your niece or assisting your neighbor with her groceries—lowers blood pressure, according to researchers at the University of Tennessee and Johns Hopkins University.

Health.com: 14 Reasons You’re Always Tired

Work out often

Exercising regularly—ideally at least three days of cardio and two days of strength training a week—may help slow the aging process, Canadian doctors reported. “Being physically active is like keeping the car engine tuned,” Dr. Fried says. “Even if there’s decline with age, it’s less severe.” You were never an athlete? Don’t worry: Starting to work out now can reduce your likelihood of becoming ill going forward, a 2014 study suggests.

Reconsider your protein

A diet rich in processed meat—including hot dogs, sausage, cured bacon and cured deli meats—has been linked to a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer. Limit your intake as much as possible.

Give up smoking

Lighting up increases your risk of not only lung cancer but also heart disease and cancer of almost every other organ. “Just one cigarette a day can take 15 years off your life,” Dr. Perls says. Though you won’t instantly revert to pre-smoking health, kicking butts will cut your added cardiovascular risk in half after a year and to that of a nonsmoker after 15.

Health.com:15 Ways Smoking Ruins Your Looks

Enjoy your joe

Good news for java lovers: Research indicates that drinking it regularly may protect against diabetes, cirrhosis and liver cancer. And Harvard research suggests that drinking 3 1/2 cups a day may lower risk of heart disease.

Sleep better

For evidence that you can—and should—make slumber a priority, look no further than a 2013 study from the University of Surrey in England, which compared a group who got less than six hours of sleep a night with a group who got 8 1/2 hours. After just one week, snoozing less had altered the expression of 711 genes, including ones involved in metabolism, inflammation and immunity, which may raise the risk of conditions from heart disease to obesity.

Have more sex

The feel-good rush you get from it helps you fight stress and depression, jolt the immune system and lower blood pressure.

Health.com:15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Go Mediterranean

In a 2013 Annals of Internal Medicine study, women who followed a Mediterranean-style diet were 40 percent more likely to live past 70 without major chronic illness than those with less healthy diets. Eat lots of veggies, fruit, fish and whole grains, and avoid simple carbs, such as pasta and sugar (“age accelerators,” Dr. Perls calls them).

Know your history

Have one or more relatives who lived into their 90s? You may be genetically blessed. But that doesn’t mean you should quit the gym and live on doughnuts. “Before you get to extreme ages, healthy lifestyle is more critical than genes,” Dr. Perls says. So thank your ancestors, but stick to vegetables and cardio as life insurance.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Aging

Older Mothers Tend To Live Longer, Study Finds

hands on pregnant stomach
Alex Mares—Asia Images RM/MantonGetty Images

A new study found that women who have kids after age 33 are twice as likely to live to 95 or older than those who stopped having babies earlier

Waiting a few years to start your family may give you some unexpected benefits, according to a new study.

Women who are able to give birth after the age of 33 tend to live longer than those who stopped having children before age 30, according to a study from the Boston University School of Medicine.

“Of course this does not mean women should wait to have children at older ages in order to improve their own chances of living longer,” the study’s co-author Thomas Perls, a professor of medicine at BU, said. “The age at last childbirth can be a rate of aging indicator. The natural ability to have a child at an older age likely indicates that a woman’s reproductive system is aging slowly, and therefore so is the rest of her body.”

The study, published in the journal Menopause, did not prove causation but it did find that women gave birth after age 33 had twice the odds of living to 95 years or older than those who had their last child by age 29.

Researchers said the link exists because gene variations that enable women to have babies by natural means at a later age may also be tied to living longer lives. “If a woman has those variants, she is able to reproduce and bear children for a longer period of time, increasing her chances of passing down those genes to the next generation,” Perls said.

Previous studies have turned up similar results to this one. An earlier study from the New England Centenarian Study found that women who had children after the age of 40 were four times more likely to live to 100 than women who had their last child at a younger age.

More research is still needed, according to Perls. The information found in this study shows the importance of research about genetic influences and reproductive fitness, because these trends can affect susceptibility to age-related disease.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 46,434 other followers