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Home/Blog/Healthy Longevity: How to Age with Intention (13 Ways)

Healthy Longevity: How to Age with Intention (13 Ways)

By Ethan Boldt

April 1, 2024

Healthy longevity

It’s a truism: Regardless of your age, you’re getting older. While “age is just a number,” it’s one that goes in one direction — and it can be felt in the joints, reflected in the face (hello crow’s feet) and even experienced by less energy.

However, aging does not need to mean a downward slope. It doesn’t mean that you need to feel and look that much older.

Welcome to the concept of “healthy longevity” or “healthy aging.” It’s about strategizing, including incorporating new lifestyle habits and improving your nutrition, in order to help maximize your health (physical, mental and cognitive) and lifespan at the same time. These life extenders can help slow the aging process by activating so-called longevity pathways.

Simply put, you can change how you age — now, next week and for years to come — by doing the right things. What are those things? Learn more below.

As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to beginning any new dietary or lifestyle regimen.

What Is Healthy Longevity?

While longevity is defined by many as simply aging and living until an old age, healthy longevity (or healthy aging) is achieving a long life that remains healthy and relatively vigorous until the end. A life full of quality time rather than increasingly burdened by suboptimal health as one ages.

While people do live longer today than previous generations, often those latter years can be marked by poor health. Healthy longevity can flip that on its head.

While you can’t stop aging, as living is literally aging, it’s never too late — or early — to start healthfully aging. This means finding more ways to optimize your health and feel vibrant while also finding more time for meaningful life experiences.

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, “Developing and maintaining healthy aging practices throughout the lifespan contributes to greater resilience and opportunities to thrive as we age – from infancy through older adulthood.”

Meanwhile, the National Institute on Aging states that the factors influencing healthy aging are not always in our control, such as genetics or accidents. But many other factors are — including exercise, diet, seeing your healthcare professional regularly and taking care of one’s mental health.

This information is all backed by outside research as well. For instance, the American Heart Association looked at 30 years of data to unearth ways to add years to life and found some people may be able to add up to 12 years or more to their lives by following a healthy lifestyle.

Common Obstacles to Achieving Longevity

Dr. David Sinclair, Ph.D., is a professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. He’s also the co-Director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for Biology of Aging Research and founder of the Sinclair Lab at Harvard’s Blavatnik Institute, which specializes in genetics and longevity.

He declares that there are four key factors in longevity:

  • healthy blood sugar levels (already in the normal range)

  • healthy inflammation levels (a healthy response to inflammation)

  • healthy liver function

  • healthy testosterone and hormone levels

Sinclair’s team can determine a person’s biological age by examining these factors. In the process, they discovered a group of longevity genes called sirtuins. “They control how fast we age. There are molecules in foods we eat that activate these defenses in our body,” he says.

In fact, these are the same molecules in food types that people in Blue Zones (renowned for healthy longevity among those who live there) eat, such as resveratrol and oleic acid found in foods like olive oil, avocado and nuts.

And guess what? These genes are not predetermined. They can be fostered to help extend longevity and support a healthier overall lifestyle.

“We’ve got the wrong conception about what aging is. We tend to think that it’s just a natural process that we can do nothing about, but we’ve learned that that’s not true — 80 percent of the rate of our aging is in our own hands. It’s actually controlled by how we live and what we eat,” Sinclair says.

13 Steps to Healthy Longevity

According to the American Heart Association study mentioned above, people only need to adopt five low-risk lifestyle rules to help increase their longevity:

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Don’t smoke

  • Exercise regularly

  • Limit or eliminate alcohol consumption

  • Maintain a healthy body weight

In a similar Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals follow-up (which collected information from more than 78,000 women and 44,000 men), when compared to people who didn’t follow any of these five rules, those who met the criteria for all of them had a 74 percent reduced overall mortality risk.

For women, it translated to an increased life expectancy of about 14 years; for men, it was 12 years.

While those five rules will be included below, we will add a few steps that can help ensure healthy longevity.

1. Allow Yourself to Be Hungry

“There’s a lot of evidence that fasting turns on these longevity pathways,” Sinclair says. “Don’t eat three large meals a day and snack in between. I think the old idea of always having food around and never being hungry has to be revised.”

Learn about intermittent fasting as well other types of fasting, even OMAD.

2. Exercise Regularly

Sometimes this simply means to move more. In a study of adults 40 and older, it was found that taking 8,000 steps or more per day (compared to only 4,000 steps) was directly associated with a 51 percent lower risk of death from all causes.

“Don’t sit in a chair all day. Get a standing desk if you can. Go for walks, and even better do HIIT if you can. Work out. Keep your muscles from declining,” says Sinclair.

Social time is also a life extender, so kill two birds with one stone by playing a sport or doing an activity with a friend or two. Maybe it’s pickleball, yoga class or a bike ride.

3. Work on Your Muscles

It’s also important to choose some exercise that will build your muscles as you age. In a 2019 investigation of data from NIA’s Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, researchers found that moderate to vigorous physical activity is strongly associated with muscle function, regardless of age. This suggests that exercise may be able to alleviate normal age-related decline in muscle function.

In another study, researchers found that in adults older than 55, muscle mass was a better predictor of longevity than was weight or body mass index (BMI).

4. Get to or Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being at a healthy weight is one of the best ways to add years to your life. Adults with obesity have an increased risk of death, disability, and many diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

The study’s authors came to this determination by looking at people’s Body Mass Index (BMI). Those with a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 had a lower risk of early death. There are, however, pros and cons of the BMI chart. It doesn’t take into account things like muscle mass and frame size or that body fat in certain areas, like belly fat, is more harmful than in others.

Getting to or staying at a weight that’s appropriate for your gender, height, ethnicity and more is very important. But rather than relying solely on your Body Mass Index (BMI) — which doesn’t take into account one’s muscle mass or frame size — pay attention to the visceral fat around your middle section. Also track markers related to healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

See our article on how to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, including helpful exercise, nutrition and supplement tips.

5. Focus on Eating the Right Foods

There’s long been a connection between eating a diet free from processed foods and loaded with fruits and veggies and an increased life expectancy. The Japanese following the Okinawa diet regularly live up to 100 years. And on the other side of the world, the Mediterranean diet’s focus on plants, fish and healthy fats has helped reduce heart disease, one of the leading causes of death.

That’s because what we put into our bodies directly influences how they perform. Eating processed foods that offer little nutritional value lead to unhealthy levels of inflammation and weight gain. Meanwhile, not getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function at its best can cause health problems.

Confused about what to eat in a healthy longevity diet? It doesn’t have to be. Stick to:

  • Fresh fruits (especially organic berries) and veggies (plenty of leafy greens)

  • Healthy proteins like grass-fed beef, organic chicken and wild-caught fish

  • High-quality dairy, including organic yogurt and kefir

  • Good-for-you fats like avocado, coconut oil and olive oil

  • Mushrooms and onions

  • Nuts and seeds like almonds, chia seeds and flaxseeds

  • Complex carbohydrates like beans, Ezekiel bread and brown rice

Besides avoiding ultra-processed foods, it’s also important to skip foods with added sugar and limit sugar intake overall.

6. Get Enough Sleep

Sleep affects all aspects of health and impacts aging significantly. Aim for at least seven hours a night but try to get between eight and nine when possible.

This is especially true for people 50 and older. One study that looked at data from nearly 8,000 people showed that those in their 50s and 60s who got six hours of sleep or less a night were at a higher risk of developing dementia later in life.

Another study revealed that people who slept less than seven or more than nine hours per night had one to three years fewer healthy and disease-free years compared to those who got seven to nine hours daily.

Learn about the best foods to help you sleep, such as almonds and bananas.

7. Develop a Calm Mental Attitude

“Chronic stress is a real problem for aging,” says Sinclair. “It can rapidly shorten the ends of chromosomes, the telomeres.”

Research out of Harvard Medical School found the nervous system may play a surprising role in aging, and it turns out limiting brain activity may actually have a part in extending longevity. Learn about ways to develop a positive outlook.

8. Go to Your Healthcare Professional Regularly

Going to the doctor for regular health screenings is essential for healthy aging. A 2021 study found that getting regular check-ups helps doctors catch serious health problems early — in addition, it helped patients lower certain risk factors, such as healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

People who went to the doctor regularly also report an improved quality of life and feelings of wellness.

9. Cold Plunge

A cold plunge refers to immersing oneself in cold water, typically for a short duration. It can take different forms, including cold showers, ice baths, or natural bodies of cold water like lakes or rivers.

The benefits of cold plunges help healthy longevity, including improved circulation, muscle recovery, alertness, energy levels, sleep and even outlook. This isn’t for everyone, though, so consult your healthcare professional prior to attempting cold plunges.

10. Consider Taking Supplements

For most people, certain vitamins, minerals, probiotics and other nutrients are more valuable than others — based on both their broad benefits and the likelihood that you may be lacking them in your diet.

For example, experts say that the most common nutrient shortfalls in women include vitamins like B12 and D, minerals like iron and calcium, and even nutrients like omega-3s. Meanwhile, collagen — a type of structural protein that’s found throughout the body, particularly in connective tissues — declines as we age.

Learn what the best healthy aging supplements are for your daily routine and to help take care of your entire body — your gut, joints, skin, muscles, bones, brain and more. In addition to a healthy diet and lifestyle, it can help set you up for healthy longevity.

11. No Smoking Allowed

At this point, we all know that smoking is terrible for our health. It’s the leading cause of preventable illness and death worldwide, plus it can increase your risk of multiple health problems. Not smoking is essential for your health.

12. Limit or Eliminate Alcohol Consumption

While moderate drinking — considered as one drink per day for women and two for men — can help lower the risk for certain health problems, going over that amount may increase that risk. If you do consume alcohol, consider red wine (full of health-benefiting compounds) one of the best options.

13. Surround Yourself with Family and Friends

The Harvard Happiness Study found that strong, meaningful social connections and relationships are the keys to happy lives. At the same time, loneliness is a risk factor for an early demise as well as cognitive health challenges.

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