Disregard hyperbaric chambers and infrared light therapy; instead, focus on these scientifically supported methods for aging gracefully.
For millennia, humans have sought the elusive secret to immortality. Today, some individuals pursue this quest through unconventional means, such as sleeping in hyperbaric chambers, exploring cryotherapy, or exposing themselves to infrared light.
However, most experts on aging remain doubtful that such methods will significantly prolong human lifespan. Instead, they advocate for the adoption of simple lifestyle behaviours that can enhance overall health and well-being, enabling individuals to reach the advanced ages of 80, 90, or even 100 while maintaining good physical and mental conditions. These interventions, while not as sensational as some experimental techniques, offer promising pathways to longevity without the need for exotic measures like blood transfusions from younger individuals.
“People are in search of a miracle solution,” stated Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, the scientific director of the National Institute on Aging, “and that solution is already within reach.”
Here are seven suggestions from geriatricians on how to enhance the quality of your life with more healthy years.
1. Stay active
The top recommendation from experts is to maintain an active lifestyle. This is because numerous studies consistently demonstrate that exercise lowers the risk of premature death.
Regular physical activity promotes a healthy heart and circulatory system, offering protection against various chronic illnesses that impact both the body and mind. It also enhances muscle strength, reducing the likelihood of falls among older individuals.
Dr. Anna Chang, a geriatrics specialist and professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, emphasizes the importance of building muscle mass, strength, balance, and cardiovascular endurance during adult years. This ensures a stronger foundation as the body ages and faces potential challenges.
The most effective exercise is any activity you enjoy and can commit to regularly. It’s not necessary to engage in strenuous workouts — the American Heart Association suggests 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, which translates to just over 20 minutes of walking each day.
2. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables
While the experts didn’t advocate for one specific dietary regimen over another, they generally recommended moderation and a focus on consuming more fruits and vegetables while reducing processed foods. The Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes fresh produce alongside whole grains, legumes, nuts, fish, and olive oil, serves as a beneficial model for healthy eating. Research indicates that adhering to this diet can lower the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and dementia.
While some experts stress the importance of maintaining a healthy weight for longevity, Dr. John Rowe, a professor of health policy and aging at Columbia University, views this concern differently, particularly as individuals age. Dr. Rowe expressed less concern about weight gain and more about patients who experienced weight loss.
3. Prioritize adequate sleep
Although sleep is sometimes undervalued, it plays a crucial role in promoting healthy aging. Studies have revealed a correlation between the average duration of sleep per night and the risk of mortality from any cause. Consistently obtaining good-quality sleep can potentially extend a person’s lifespan by several years. Sleep is particularly vital for brain health, as evidenced by a 2021 study that found that individuals who slept less than five hours per night were twice as likely to develop dementia.
Dr. Alison Moore, a professor of medicine and the chief of geriatrics, gerontology, and palliative care at the University of California, San Diego, emphasizes that as people age, their need for sleep tends to increase rather than decrease. She recommends aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
4. Refrain from smoking and limit alcohol consumption
It’s well-known that smoking cigarettes significantly increases the risk of various life-threatening diseases. According to Dr. Rowe, “There is no safe amount of exposure to cigarette smoke.”
Similarly, the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption are becoming increasingly evident. Consuming more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, and possibly even less, heightens the risk of heart disease, atrial fibrillation, liver disease, and seven types of cancer.
5. Addressing chronic health conditions
It’s noteworthy that nearly half of American adults suffer from hypertension, 40 percent have high cholesterol, and over one-third have pre-diabetes. While adopting healthy habits can assist in managing these conditions and preventing their progression into more severe illnesses, lifestyle changes alone may not always suffice. This underscores the importance of adhering to your healthcare provider’s recommendations to manage these conditions effectively.
Dr. Chang emphasized, “Taking medications or regularly monitoring blood pressure and blood sugar levels isn’t fun. However, optimizing all these aspects collectively can significantly contribute to leading longer, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.
6. Prioritize Meaningful Connections
While physical well-being often garners more attention, psychological health holds equal significance. Dr. Chang emphasizes this, stating, “Isolation and loneliness pose as significant threats to our health as smoking does,” underscoring their correlation with heightened risks of dementia, heart disease, and stroke.
Maintaining strong relationships not only contributes to better health but also enhances overall happiness. The Harvard Study of Adult Development highlights the profound impact of robust social connections on well-being.
Dr. Rowe advises his medical students that one of the most telling indicators of an elderly patient’s well-being in the next six months is inquiring about their social interactions: “How many friends or family members have they seen in the past week?”
7. Foster a Positive Mindset
Embracing positivity can contribute significantly to a longer life. Numerous studies have revealed a strong association between optimism and a reduced risk of heart disease, with individuals scoring high on optimism tests living 5 to 15 percent longer than their more pessimistic counterparts. While this link may be attributed to optimists typically adopting healthier lifestyles and experiencing lower rates of certain chronic illnesses, research consistently demonstrates that maintaining a positive outlook is inherently linked to increased longevity.
Dr. Moore emphasizes the importance of engaging in physical activity as a priority for longevity. However, if physical activity is not feasible, she advises focusing on maintaining a positive attitude.