Living to 100 years old is quite the feat. And the statistics prove it. According to the United Nations, in 2015 there were only 500,000 centenarians (the term for people aged 100 and older). When you compare it to the entire world population (which was 7.3 billion in 2015,) it puts into perspective just how rare it is to reach triple digits in age.
But it’s not impossible, and the numbers are continuing to grow. And according to Pew Research Center, they project that by 2050, there will be 3.7 million centenarians. If your aim is to reach 100, implementing some healthy lifestyle changes can help your chances of achieving your goal.
Here are 12 life changes you should make to help you live longer, according to doctors and registered dietitian nutritionists.
If you smoke or use tobacco, quit.
It’s no surprise that smoking can shorten your life. So if you’re looking to live longer, smoking should absolutely not be part of your lifestyle.
“Smoking and tobacco are associated with increased cardiovascular disease risk, COPD and cancer,” says Dr. Juliana Kling, MD MPH NCMP FACP, internist with Women’s Health Internal Medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Stopping smoking gives you the opportunity to lower those risks, and will also save you a lot of money!”
Limit your consumption of red meat.
Sure, red meat has tons of flavor, but it’s also packed with saturated fats that could be hurting your health.
“It’s recommended to limit your intake of red meat such as beef, lamb, sausage, bacon and other processed meats. Red meat is high in saturated fat, which is a pro-inflammatory, meaning it promotes inflammation in the body, and can cause plaque buildup, which increases risk for heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases (harmful to our heart and brain),” says Roxana Ehsani, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and National Media Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Processed meats like sausage, bacon and deli meats also contain high amounts of sodium, which also isn’t beneficial for our overall health and heart health.”
For longer life, she notes it’s best to swap out red meat for leaner cuts of protein such as chicken breast, turkey breast, seafood, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, tofu and non-fat, or low-fat Greek yogurt and cottage cheese.
Consider following a Mediterranean diet.
The Mediterranean diet has been extensively studied for its health benefits since the Mediterranean region is known to have a high number of people who live to a very old age.
“There is more than just the way these people in this geographical location eat, but the diet has been a major factor in their longevity,” says Liz Weinandy, MPH, RDN, LD, registered dietician nutritionist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “A Mediterranean diet includes many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils and nuts. It has moderate amounts of animal foods like meat and dairy and is low in highly processed snack foods and desserts. The main source of fat is olive oil, which is high in polyphenols which are compounds that benefit humans in several ways.”
Get enough sleep.
Sleep plays a crucial part in longevity, and it’s a myth that older people need less sleep than younger people, according to the National Institute on Aging.
“Sleep is important for so many things including the most obvious – energy! But also adequate, quality sleep leads to higher quality of life and lower disease risk,” says Dr. Kling. “Good sleep is even associated with better sex! So make sure you get about 7-9 hours each night and keep to a good bedtime routine that optimizes your sleep hygiene.”
Eat dark leafy greens daily.
If salads aren’t your thing, you can still get tons of greens by adding them to a delicious smoothie.
“Dark leafy greens are one of the most nutrient rich foods! They are packed with vitamins, such as vitamin K, A, and C. They are rich in folate, iron, and contain a few grams of both dietary fiber and protein,” says Ehsani. “Research has shown that individuals who eat dark leafy greens daily, had a slower rate of cognitive decline than those who didn’t. So, eat more spinach, kale, collard greens, arugula or romaine lettuce and try to incorporate them into your diet daily. Eat them raw, in a salad, add to smoothies, stuffed in between a sandwich or wrap, lightly saute them or add them to the cooking pot right before you’re done cooking.”
Set goals to improve your health.
Start with setting SMART goals. SMART is an acronym for: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time-bound. For example, if your goal is to start eating more vegetables, you may list your goal like this, says Weinandy:
Specific: I will eat a serving of vegetables at least 5 days a week at dinner over the next month (specific states how many vegetables and when)
Measurable: You can measure if you did this or not. Either you ate vegetables at dinner or you did not.
Attainable: Is this attainable for you? 5 days probably is for most people and every day is usually NOT. If 5 days seems like too much, start with 2 or 3.
Realistic: Again, is this going to work for you? Maybe 5 days is attainable but not realistic in the long run. Start off with an easier, attainable and realistic goal and build your up.
Time-bound: Your goal is to eat so many servings of vegetables over the next month. You can reassess and change this as it fits you but you have a start and end point to focus your efforts on.
According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults should aim to get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week.
“Being active and exercising are associated with better health including improved quality of life, more energy, less weight and less disease risk,” says Dr, Kling. “Try to get about 30 minutes per day of some type of activity, whether that’s walking, swimming, dancing or just doing something fun that makes you move. Weight bearing exercise is also important for your bones, strength and balance.”
Eat more fish.
Ninety percent of Americans don’t meet the recommendation for weekly consumption of seafood, which is 8 oz per week. “Fatty fish like salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel and trout are all rich in essential omega 3 fats. Seafood is also an excellent source of protein, and a diet rich in seafood has been linked to lower risk for depression, improved memory and cognition,” says Ehsani. “Research has found that even consuming as little as 2 oz of fish per day was associated with a reduction in risk of dying, reduced risk for Alzheimer disease, certain cancers and cardiovascular disease.”
Limit alcohol intake.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends 2 alcoholic drinks a day or less for men, and 1 alcoholic drink or less a day for women.
“Research has found that moderate to high amounts of alcohol consumption is linked to increased risk of death, increased risk for disease such as liver and cardiovascular diseases and several types of cancers,” says Ehsani. “Alcohol also does not supply any amount of nutrients, and consumption of cocktails and mixed drinks will likely increase a person’s intake of sugar coming from sodas and/or juices. Some studies have even indicated that moderate alcohol consumption can harm brain health and memory and cause cognitive decline. For longevity, it's best to stick to the daily recommendations and not exceed them and opt for more mocktails rather than cocktails.”
Budget your money for healthy foods.
It is a fact that eating healthy is more expensive than highly processed, unhealthy foods.
“Paying a little more upfront can help alleviate medical bills down the road,” says Weinandy. “Think about adding cheaper, healthy plant foods like beans, lentils, frozen vegetables to lower the cost of your grocery bills. By cutting back on chips, sugary beverages like pop and Gatorade, and desserts, there will be more money for healthier foods.”
Drink enough water.
According to the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, men should aim for 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day, and women should aim for about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day.
“Our bodies are made of a lot of water and need to stay replenished to keep everything healthy, from your skin to your kidneys and your brain,” says Dr. Kling. “Carrying a water bottle around during the day increases the chance you will stay hydrated. Make sure to fill up before you head out for your activity for the day!”
Eat more cruciferous veggies.
Cruciferous veggies are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, collards, bok choy and kale.
“Studies have found that consuming cruciferous veggies may promote cardiovascular health, reduce cancer risk and even promote longevity,” says Ehsani. “They are rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, antioxidants and contain phytonutrients, which are plant-based compounds that can help reduce inflammation and reduce the risk of cancer. Eat your cruciferous veggies raw, steamed, roasted, sauteed, pureed (add them into a sauce or soup), chop them up and add them to soups, stews, stir-frys, rice dishes, chilis. Add fresh or dried herbs and spices to them to change up their flavor and variety.”
Emily Shiffer is a former digital web producer for Men’s Health and Prevention, and is currently a freelancer writer specializing in health, weight loss, and fitness. She is currently based in Pennsylvania and loves all things antiques, cilantro, and American history.
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