9 Healthy Habits That Add Years to Your Life
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9 Healthy Habits That Add Years to Your Life

Some of these lifestyle tweaks could add more than a decade to your life expectancy.

1 / 10

By Taylor Dahl

Go online and you can find hundreds of tips and tricks all claiming to be the secret to the fountain of youth. But the real keys to living longer aren’t that mysterious, and most can be added to your everyday routine. These healthy habits can help lower your RealAge—the age your body thinks it is compared to your chronological age. To help you get started and stay motivated, try following these nine, easy habits—all proven to help boost longevity.

Stay active

2 / 10 Stay active

Walking has a host of health benefits, including easing stress and boosting weight loss. But it can also help fight serious diseases. “Walking gets your heart beating a little bit faster and tends to help it stay strong,” says Keith Roach, MD, chief medical officer of Sharecare and co-creator of the RealAge® Test. In fact, a 2013 study found that regular walking lowers the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes just as well as running or jogging.

The benefits don’t end there. Daily strides may help you live longer, according to a 2018 study published in Circulation. The study suggests regular exercise, about 30 minutes a day, can help lengthen your life, but there's even some research linking as little as 120 minutes of walking a week—just 17 minutes a day—to lower mortality.

Need help keeping tabs on how much walking you actually do each day? Try tracking your daily activity using the Sharecare app, available for iOS and Android. Once you activate the Steps tracker, your phone will automatically count your steps. 

Don't skip sex

3 / 10 Don't skip sex

A healthy sex life can benefit your relationship and lower your RealAge. Men who engage in regular sexual activity can reduce their risk of prostate cancer, according to Dr. Roach. For women, the benefits include less stress and better relationships—both of which can reduce the risk of chronic health problems, he says.

Having regular sex needn't be a chore—there are simple (and fun) ways to get busy. Communicating with your partner is key, so don't be afraid to share your desires and dislikes, and if you've got a packed calendar, it's OK to schedule the deed.

Manage your anger

4 / 10 Manage your anger

Do coworkers call you a hothead? Does 6 p.m. traffic send you into a bout of road rage? You could be hurting your health. Many men won't admit to having a short fuse, but research links those who do to a higher risk of developing heart disease, says Roach. Extreme anger in both men and women is rare, but it can be dangerous. “If somebody is walking around stressed and ready to explode at any minute, that can’t be good for their heart,” he says.

Anger can increase your heart rate, blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Outbursts of anger may even trigger a heart attack. If you feel your face begin to flush and your fits clench, give yourself a moment to breathe or try channeling your energy into exercise. 

Break the sitting habit

5 / 10 Break the sitting habit

No one knows exactly why a sedentary lifestyle is bad for your health, but it's possible a seated position puts an abnormal amount of pressure on the vascular system, which comprises the vessels that carry blood throughout the body. This stress may slow blood flow, increase the likelihood of blood clots and make it harder for the heart to pump blood. “People who sit for a large part of their day are at a considerably higher risk for developing heart disease, the number one killer in the United States,” Roach explains.

To lower your risk of heart disease and other siting-related conditions, like obesity and certain cancers, walk and stand whenever possible. If your job requires long hours behind a desk, take standing meetings or skip the email and hand-deliver a note to your coworker.

Skip the junk and fill up on healthy foods

6 / 10 Skip the junk and fill up on healthy foods

You may be great at ignoring the office candy machine, but processed foods—especially refined carbs found in chips, pretzels and snack cakes—can be just as dangerous. Shortly after sucking down pre-packaged foods, your body turns them into sugar, causing a spike in glucose and forcing the pancreas to make even more insulin, warns Roach. This added insulin can lead to weight gain, diabetes and heart disease—potentially cutting years off your life.

A diet rich in healthy, whole foods might have the opposite effect on the body. When combined with other good-for-you habits—like limiting alcohol consumption and steering clear of cigarettes—a healthy diet may add more than a decade to your life expectancy, according to research published in 2018.  

When building your next meal, start with a base of colorful vegetables, a serving of whole grains, a portion of lean protein and a drizzle of healthy fats. To stay on track, try jotting down your daily food and drink consumption in a nearby notebook, or log your intake using apps like Sharecare, which you can easily download on iOS and Android devices.

Give meditation a try

7 / 10 Give meditation a try

Think meditation isn't for you? You may want to reconsider. “Meditation isn’t necessarily about sitting on a prayer mat with your eyes half-closed and in the lotus position,” says Roach, “It may be about learning some breathing exercises you can do when you find yourself worrying.”

Not only can techniques like mindfulness meditation help you find Zen in the midst of a hectic day, they may also change your brain. According to a 2016 study published in Biological Psychiatry, meditating regularly can help you stay calm and handle stressful situations better, which may help reduce your disease risk. Want to give it a try? While sitting or standing in a comfortable position, give yourself a few minutes to become aware of the steady rhythm of your in and out breathing. As your mind calms, notice your thoughts and feelings, allowing them to pass without judgement. You can also try mantra meditation, which involves the silent repetition of a calming word or phrase like "peace" or "take it easy."

A 2017 study published in The Lancet also suggests a link between stress and an increased stroke risk. Keep your cardiovascular health in tune by giving simple meditation practices a try.

Steer clear of cigarettes

8 / 10 Steer clear of cigarettes

It’s no secret smoking is harmful for your health, but never developing the habit may be more beneficial than you think. Research published in Circulation in 2018 shows that avoidance of smoking makes the list of life-lengthening habits, along with regular exercise and a healthy diet.

Cigarette smoking can increase your risk for a slew of health problems, like cancer, heart disease, lung disease and stroke and up your likelihood of premature death. Mortality rates among smokers are three times higher, compared to those who've never picked up a cigarette.

If you’re already a smoker, it's not too late to improve your health. Just minutes after taking your last puff, your heart rate and blood pressure begin to normalize. Over time, kicking the habit can improve lung function, lower your likelihood of developing heart disease and cancer and reduce your mortality risk. Patches, gum and support groups can help make cessation a bit easier. Tracking your tobacco use can also help—just download the Sharecare app for iOS or Android and log your progress. 

Maintain a healthy weight

9 / 10 Maintain a healthy weight

Warnings about obesity and excess body weight have saturated the media—and for good reason. Obesity—a condition that affects more than 30 percent of American adults—is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. These conditions can lead to premature death, but can often be prevented. There is no single cause of obesity, but factors like inactivity, an unhealthy diet, genetics and certain health conditions and medications may play a role.    

Obesity is measured using your height and weight to calculate a number known as body mass index (BMI). A score greater than 30 is indicative of obesity; a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight, which is also unhealthy. There are proven ways to lower the number you see on the scale, and 2018 research suggests the work is worth it, since maintaining a healthy weight can help add years to your life.

To slim down, start by swapping sugary drinks for water or seltzer, minding your portions and moving more throughout the day.

Don't overdo the booze

10 / 10 Don't overdo the booze

Both the benefits and the risks of moderate alcohol consumption—one drink a day for women and two for men—have been questioned in recent years. While more research is needed to confirm the health benefits or drawbacks of modest drinking, the harmful effects of excess alcohol consumption are well-established. Exorbitant alcohol use has been linked to higher rates of certain cancers, increased risk of stroke and heart attack and a higher likelihood of mental health problems.

According to the same 2018 study that touted regular exercise, a healthy diet and weight control, alcohol consumption of less than two daily drinks has been linked to a greater life expectancy. If you don’t already enjoy a nightly scotch on the rocks or chocolatey glass of cabernet, there's no reason to start sipping. But, if you're slinging back more than 30 grams of liquid courage per day—about two drinks’ worth—this research could be the push you need to scale back.

Since you're already tracking your steps and food and beverage intake with the Sharecare app, available for iOS and Android, log your alcohol consumption, too.