13 Habits Linked to a Long Life (Backed by Science)
Many people think life expectancy is largely determined by genetics.
However, it seems that genes play a much smaller role than originally believed.
Here are 13 things you can do to increase the chances of seeing your 100th birthday.
The link between calorie intake and longevity currently generates a lot of interest.
Research shows that a 10–50% reduction in normal calorie intake may increase maximum lifespan — at least in some animal studies ().
Studies of human populations renowned for longevity also observe links between low calorie intake, an extended lifespan and a lower likelihood of disease (, , ).
What's more, calorie restriction seems to be linked to a reduction in excess body weight and belly fat, both of which are linked to shorter lives (, , ).
That being said, long-term calorie restriction is often unsustainable and can include negative side effects, such as increased hunger, low body temperature and a diminished sex drive ().
Whether calorie restriction slows aging or extends life in humans is not yet fully understood.
Bottom Line: Limiting your calories may help you live longer and protect against disease. However, more research is needed in humans.
Nuts are nutritional powerhouses.
Several studies show that nuts have beneficial effects on heart disease, high blood pressure, inflammation, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, belly fat levels and even some forms of cancer (, , , ).
When it comes to old age, a recent study observed that subjects who consumed at least 3 servings of nuts per week had a 39% lower risk of premature death ().
Similarly, two recent reviews including over 350,000 subjects observed that those who ate nuts had a 4–27% lower risk of dying during the study period, with the highest reduction for those who ate one serving of nuts per day (, ).
Bottom Line: Adding some nuts to your daily food intake may keep you healthy and help you live longer.
When it comes to anti-aging properties, turmeric is undoubtedly the most popular spice. This is because it contains a potent bioactive compound called curcumin.
Due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is thought to help maintain brain, heart and lung function, as well as protect against cancers and fight age-related diseases (, , , , , , ).
When it comes to longevity, curcumin is linked to an increased lifespan in both insects and mice (, , ).
However, these findings have not been replicated in all studies on the topic, and no studies on humans can currently be found (, ).
Nevertheless, turmeric has been consumed for thousands of years in India and is generally considered safe.
Moreover, given its other potential benefits, you don't have much to lose by adding a little extra turmeric to your meals.
Bottom Line: Curcumin, the main bioactive compound in turmeric, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some animal studies suggest that it can increase lifespan.
For example, many studies link a diet rich in plants to a lower risk of premature death. It's also been linked to a reduced risk of cancer, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, depression and brain deterioration (, , , ).
These effects are attributed to plant foods being rich in a variety of nutrients and antioxidants, including polyphenols, carotenoids, folate and vitamin C ().
Accordingly, several studies link vegetarian and vegan diets, which are naturally higher in plant foods, to a 12–15% lower risk of premature death (, ).
The same studies also report a 29–52% lower risk of dying from cancer or heart, kidney or hormone-related diseases (, ).
It is worth mentioning that some studies report that the risk of premature death and certain diseases increases with greater meat consumption (, , ).
However, others report either non-existent or much weaker links, and the negative effects seem to be related to processed meat specifically (, ).
Vegetarians and vegans also generally tend to be more health conscious than meat eaters, which could at least partly explain these findings.
One thing remains clear — eating plenty of plant foods is very likely to benefit health and longevity.
Bottom Line: Eating plenty of plant foods is likely to help you live longer and remain free of various common diseases.
It should come as no surprise that staying physically active can keep you healthy and add years to your life ().
The minimum amount needed to reap the benefits, such as an additional 3 years of life, may be as little as 15 minutes per day ().
Furthermore, the benefits of physical activity seem to be additive, which means that the risk of premature death may decrease by 4% for each additional 15 minutes of daily physical activity ().
A recent review observed a 22% lower risk of early death in individuals who exercised, but less than the recommendation of 150 minutes per week ().
However, people reaching the 150-minute recommendation were 28% less likely to die early. What's more, people who exercised beyond that had a 35% lower risk of death during the study period ().
Finally, some research links vigorous activity to a 5% greater reduction in risk, compared to activities of low or moderate intensity ().
Bottom Line: Exercising more than 150 minutes per week is best, but even small amounts of physical activity can benefit health and longevity.
Smoking is strongly linked to disease and early death ().
Overall, men and women who smoke may lose up to 10 years of their lives and be three times more likely to die prematurely than those who never pick up a cigarette ().
Fortunately, it's never too late to quit.
One study reports that individuals who quit smoking by 35 years of age may prolong their lives by up to 8.5 years ().
Furthermore, quitting smoking in your '60s may add up to 3.7 years to your life. In fact, quitting in your '80s may still even provide benefits (, ).
Bottom Line: Putting out your cigarette can significantly prolong your life. It's never too late to reap the benefits of quitting smoking.
Heavy alcohol consumption is linked to liver, heart and pancreatic disease, as well as an overall increased risk of early death ().
However, moderate consumption is associated with a reduced likelihood of several diseases, as well as a 17–18% decrease in the risk of premature death (, ).Wine is thought to be particularly beneficial due to its high content of polyphenol antioxidants.
Results from a 29-year study showed that men who preferred wine were 34% less likely to die early than those who preferred beer or spirits ().
In addition, a review observed wine to be especially protective against heart disease, diabetes, neurological disorders and metabolic syndrome ().
To keep consumption moderate, it is recommended that women aim for 1–2 units or less per day and a maximum of 7 units per week. Men should keep their daily intake to less than 3 units daily, with a maximum of 14 units per week ().
It's important to note there is no strong research indicating that the benefits linked to moderate drinking are greater than those of not consuming any alcohol.
In other words, there is no need to start drinking if you don't usually consume alcohol.
Bottom Line: If you drink alcohol, maintaining a moderate intake may help prevent disease and prolong your life. Wine may be particularly beneficial.
Feeling happy can significantly increase your longevity ().
In fact, happier individuals had a 3.7% reduction in early death over a 5-year study period ().
A study of 180 Catholic nuns analyzed their self-reported levels of happiness when they first entered the monastery and later compared these levels to their longevity.
Those who felt happiest at 22 years of age were 2.5 times more likely to still be alive six decades later ().
Finally, a review of 35 studies showed that happy people may live up to 18% longer than their less happy counterparts ().
Bottom Line: Prioritizing what makes you happy is likely to have positive effects, both on your mood and your ability to live longer.
Anxiety and stress may significantly decrease your lifespan.
For instance, women suffering from stress or anxiety are reportedly up to 2 times more likely to die from heart disease, stroke or lung cancer (, , ).
Similarly, the risk of premature death is up to 3 times higher for anxious or stressed men compared to their more relaxed counterparts (, , ).
If you're feeling stressed, laughter and optimism could be two key components of the solution.
Studies show that pessimistic individuals have a 42% higher risk of early death than their more optimistic counterparts. However, both laughter and an optimistic outlook on life can reduce stress, potentially prolonging your life (, , , ).
Bottom Line: Finding ways to reduce your anxiety and stress levels should be seen as a long-term investment in your lifespan. Also, having an optimistic outlook on life can be beneficial.
Researchers report that maintaining healthy social networks can help you live up to 50% longer ().
In fact, having as few as 3 social ties may decrease your risk of early death by more than 200% ().
Studies also link healthy social networks to positive changes in heart, brain, hormonal and immune function, which may decrease the risk of chronic diseases (, , , , ).
A strong social circle might also help you react less negatively to stress, perhaps further explaining the positive effect on lifespan (, ).
Finally, one study reports that providing support may actually be more beneficial than receiving it. So in addition to accepting support from your friends and family, make sure you return the favor ().
Bottom Line: Nurturing close relationships may result in decreased stress levels, improved immunity and an extended lifespan.
Conscientiousness refers to a person's ability to be self-disciplined, organized, efficient and goal-oriented.
Based on data from a study that followed 1,500 boys and girls into old age, kids who were considered persistent, organized and disciplined grew up to live 11% longer than their less conscientious counterparts (, ).
Conscientious people may also have lower blood pressure and fewer psychiatric conditions, as well as a lower risk of diabetes and heart or joint problems ().
This might be partly because conscientious individuals are less likely to take risks and react negatively to stress, but more likely to lead successful professional lives and be responsible about their health (, , , ).
Luckily, conscientiousness can be developed at any stage in life, even through steps as small as tidying up a desk, sticking to a work plan or being on time.
Bottom Line: Being conscientious is associated with a longer lifespan and fewer health problems in old age.
Both coffee and tea are linked to a decreased risk of chronic disease.
For instance, the polyphenols and catechins found in green tea may decrease your risk of developing cancer, diabetes and heart disease (, , , , ).
Similarly, coffee consumption is linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's (, , , , , ).
Additionally, both coffee and tea drinkers benefit from a 20–30% lower risk of early death when compared to non-drinkers (, , , ).
Just remember that too much caffeine can also lead to anxiety and insomnia, so you may want to limit your intake to the recommended 400 mg per day maximum, which is the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee or less (, ).
It's also worth noting that it generally takes 6 hours for caffeine's effects to subside.
Therefore, if you have trouble getting enough high-quality sleep, you may want to shift your intake to earlier in the day.
Bottom Line: Moderate consumption of tea and coffee may be beneficial for healthy aging and longevity.
Sleep is crucial for regulating cell function and helping your body heal.
A recent study reports that longevity is likely linked to regular sleeping patterns, such as going to bed and waking up around the same time each day ().
Sleep duration also seems to be a factor, with both too little and too much sleep being harmful.
For instance, sleeping less than 5–7 hours per night is linked to a 12% greater risk of early death, while sleeping more than 8–9 hours per night could also decrease your lifespan by up to 38% (, ).
Researchers believe that getting too little sleep can promote inflammation and increase the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. These are all linked to a shortened lifespan (, , , ).
On the other hand, excessive sleep could be linked to depression, unemployment, low physical activity and undiagnosed health conditions, all of which may negatively affect lifespan ().
Bottom Line: Developing a sleep routine that includes 7–8 hours of sleep each night may help you live longer.
Longevity is partly determined by genetics. However, a large part of how long you live remains within your control.
If you want to reach old age, then make sure to give these tips a try.