Living a Long Life

Want to live to a ripe old age? Start now. "It’s what we do with our health behaviours throughout our lives that’s going to get us there," says Thomas Perls, a geriatrician at Boston University Medical Centre and lead author of Living to 100: Lessons in Living to Your Maximum Potential at Any Age. Here are some simple tips on how to make it happen. 

Eat your fruits and vegetables. A wide variety of phytonutrient-rich fruits and vegetables in your daily diet do make a difference. "A lot of people think, if I do that I’ll have boring meals," says Pierrette Gaudreau, a University of Montreal researcher who is involved in a Canadian Institutes of Health Research study on nutrition and successful aging. "It’s not the case. It can be very pleasant. And it doesn’t take that much time — there are quick ways to prepare meals using fresh vegetables and fruit."

Drink your tea. A recent study of Japanese green tea drinkers suggests that several cups a day can actually protect you from fatal diseases. "Green tea has antioxidants that counteract free radicals, those molecules produced by our cells that render them less functional," says Perls. Black tea also has benefits, adds Louise Roberge, president of the Tea Association of Canada: "The important thing is to brew the tea for three to five minutes. If you’re just dipping the tea bag, you’re not getting the antioxidants."

Floss your teeth. It may sound far out, but flossing your teeth may give you a longer life. When bacteria are left to party in your mouth, your arteries pay the price. Your immune system kicks into overdrive to fight the invasion in your body. The added stress causes arterial walls to become swollen and inflamed, actually boosting your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Move your body. Numerous studies show a clear link between physical activity and longevity. As you age, says Gaudreau, "an active lifestyle will help physical functioning and maintain muscle mass and muscle strength." Not only is exercise heart-healthy, it also seems to play a role in preserving our mental faculties.

Deal with your stress. "How you manage it is important, not reducing it," says Perls. Learn to let your stress go. Relax, meditate or take up Tai Chi.

Keep your friends. "We’re finding one of the most important contributors to healthy aging is a social network," says Lynn McDonald, scientific director of the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly. A 2005 Australian study showed that seniors with strong social ties were more likely to live longer. "People really shouldn’t cross their friends. They’re gonna need them!"

The ideas aren’t complicated — and the payoff is big. By taking a few simple steps, you can literally add years to your life.

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