The Secret to Living to 90 and Beyond

Health

If you’re hoping to live a long time, the news is good. Life expectancy in the United States is at an all-time high. A 2011 Census Bureau report found that the 90-and-older crowd nearly tripled in the past three decades and is expected to more than quadruple over the next four decades. 

Truth is, though, living into your 10th decade isn’t always a picnic and can come with numerous challenges. So how do you live longer but still maintain a high quality of life? It turns out aging well is not all about being blessed with good genes. 

Research shows that your daily habits play a big role in the aging process. “At least 70 percent, if not more, of how you physically age is determined by your lifestyle choices,” says Roger Landry, M.D., M.P.H., a preventive medicine physician in Cape Cod, Mass. Landry is also the author of Live Long, Die Short and the president of Masterpiece Living, a multi-specialty group that promotes successful aging.

No matter your current age, it’s never too early or late to put these six strategies on your to-do list:

  1. Move More
    Experts are raising alarm bells about society’s sedentary ways, even calling sitting “the new smoking”—and for good reason. “You either use it or lose it, and a major component of using it is movement,” says Landry. Although going to the gym is terrific, that doesn’t make up for sitting during the rest of the day. That’s why it may help to set a goal to walk more throughout the day until you’re eventually logging 10,000 steps. Buy a pedometer or activity tracker to help you track your steps; get your baseline and then progress slowly up to that 10,000 mark. 
  2. Stay Socially Connected
    “All of the research points to social connections as a critical part of helping us age well,” says Landry. Why? When you lose friends, either because of death or lifestyle changes, you become isolated, which may increase your risk of life-threatening diseases like cancer, heart disease, and dementia. While social media, like Facebook, can help bring people together, face-to-face contact is best, so reach out and reconnect with old friends and look for ways to make new pals. 
  3. Have a Purpose  
    Without purpose, people wither. A recent study even found that cognitive function declines by 30 percent when people lack purpose. How you define purpose is your call, but whatever it is—a hobby, your role in your family, or volunteer work—should motivate you to get up every day.
  4. Learn Something New
    Brain function is vital to quality of life, which is why you need to keep learning new things as you go through life. Learning creates new brain pathways, which may help decrease the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. For instance, pick up a new skill or sign up for a language class.
  5. Manage Stress
    When Landry spent several years living in Europe, he was surprised to find that although some Europeans were engaging in unhealthy behaviors, like smoking and eating fatty foods, they were relatively healthy and had a higher quality of life than Americans who were engaged in the same behaviors. The missing factor? Stress. “Stress is toxic to the body, especially when combined with unhealthy lifestyle habits, and it could shorten your life,” says Landry. Of course, living totally stress-free is impossible, but getting chronic stress under control is a must. Find activities that help you let go of your worries.
  6. Fuel Your Body Well
    Forget trendy diets and go back to the basics. “What our ancestors ate way back when is a good indicator of what our bodies need,” Landry says. That’s why he recommends following a Mediterranean style of eating, which studies have found to extend longevity. That means loading your plate with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, and only a small amount of red meat.
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