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How to live longer

Dad's response:

Researchers all over the world are trying to identify the causes of aging. While numerous factors have been identified to be related to aging - from telomeres to diet, from oxidants to hormones and from social life styles to psychological dispositions - no consistent, undisputed theory has emerged that would explain the process in its totality. Some research seems to indicate that low levels of the enzyme telomerase are associated with progressive erosion of telomeres, which may then contribute to tissue degeneration and functional decline. There might be progress in the future with therapies that restore levels of telomerase to pre-aging levels - without causing caner (which apparently also use telomerase to keep alive).

But aging is a multi-faceted process: it involves all parts of the body, the brain and the mind. People can age in good physical health, but suffer from depression or become suborn and cranky. Others may be physically frail, but strong-willed, alert and determined to live each day of their life with utmost intensity. Aging, obviously, is a social, biological, and mental process. Below are fourteen suggestions that may help you to live a longer, healthier life.

Stop smoking immediately! More people die prematurely from smoking than from any other cause of death. But even if smoking would not shorten your life span, it will degrade your health and lower the quality of your life. If you don't believe this I cannot help you.

Reduce your weight, if you have a body-mass index above 24. Especially, reduce the fat around your waist. Recent research indicates that a smaller waist may be more important than a lower body-mass index. Obesity is a primary cause of heart disease. If you want to get a stroke or heart attack just keep on munching those cheeseburgers. Heart disease and cancer, the first and second leading cause of death among males and females in the USA have a strong relation to bad diet and overweight (as well as lack of exercise).

Calculate your Body-Mass-Index (BMI) - Online Tool from the National Institute of Health

Does intermittent fasting diet work? (NIH)

Fasting for a longer healthier life: Is there a scientific basis?

Stop taking (hard) drugs or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. In some countries, alcohol is the number one killer. Life expectancy in Russia, for instance, is many years lower for men than for women, primarily because of drinking. Taking drugs, such as cocaine and heroin, can make you reckless and get you into high-risk sexual behavior: A growing proportion of people with HIV/AIDS are IV drug users.

USA, 2006: 10 leading causes of death in males

Causes of death - males

USA, 2006: 10 leading causes of death in females

Causes of death - female

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2011

Exercise. Use every opportunity to exercise your body in daily life. Get out of your car whenever you can. Rent an apartment in a house without elevator. Forget about excessive sports! Hiking vigorously around the block on a regular basis is better than running marathons. You can also join a dancing club or gymnastics group. This also increases your social contacts.

The Health benefits of physical activity (CDC)

Eat healthy. Eat fruits, vegetables, roots and tubers, beans, lentils, fish and nuts and reduce the consumption of (red) meat. Forget those stupid vitamin "supplements". If you don't have a serious health problem, you don't need all those pills. Just eat a diverse, healthy diet.

An old man from Tajikistan. 25 September 2006
Author: Steve Evans from India and US
Old woman feeding birds in Kazimierz, the old Jewish district in Krakow, Poland. 30 April 2007
Autor: Christopher Walker from Krakow, Poland

Get married and have children. Humans are social primates. We need contact to other human beings. Keeping someone isolated for a long time from other human beings is a form of torture. Widowers and singles usually have a higher mortality than married men and women. By the way - in 2006, suicide was the seventh leading cause of death among men in the United States.

Work hard - but don't overdo it. Working hard and loving what you do for a job is good for your health! It is nonsense that you could live longer by just hanging around on a beach. Nothing is more devastating to mental and physical health than idle boredom and inactivity. However, what might kill you prematurely is permanent stress or constant 14-hour work days. The US is one of those countries with protestant work ethics where people believe they would be more productive if they spend long hours in the office and have just 1 week annual vacation. This is nothing but stupid self-exploitation, which is the hallmark of America's "stone-age capitalism"! It's much better to work just 8 hours highly concentrated, than 12 hours almost falling asleep due to exhaustion. Many European countries have much shorter daily working hours and much, much longer vacations - yet these countries have the same or even higher labor productivity and a higher quality of life (and, by the way, often higher life expectancy).

Believe in something (god, your family, science, helping others, creating art, making money). People who have a purpose in life live longer.

Avoid high-risk hobbies. If you are an adrenaline junky chances are high that you will get yourself badly hurt or killed earlier in life. In 2006, unintentional injuries (car accidents, etc.) have been the third leading cause of death among males in the USA and the sixth leading cause of death among females.

Learn how to drive defensively and smartly. You can shorten your life significantly by reckless driving. I am not talking about car racing! Just the everyday commute can be more or less dangerous depending on how you drive your car. Insurance companies are acutely aware of those clients who are in car accidents again and again while others are driving on a daily basis for forty or more years and never have a single accident. Always wear a seat belt! Driving without a seatbelt is not cool but stupid.

Chose your parents and your sex - just kidding! There can be no doubt that longevity is at least partly genetically determined. If both of your parents have died before age 50 you should probably increase the frequency of check-ups with your physician. There is also no question that (in the developed world) women on average (still) live significantly longer than men.

Have fun. Your body needs to recharge. Frequent laughing ventilates your lungs and produces all kinds of beneficial hormones. There is research that links optimism and positive thinking to longevity. A recent longitudinal study in England apparently found evidence that positive feelings increase life expectancy.

Longitudinal study on relationship between mood and survival in older people (pdf)

Have friends. One of the most surprising findings in recent years is that time spent with friends has a huge impact on ageing well. Apparently, the immune systems of people with lots of friends simply works better. Social interaction also keeps your brain alert.

Social relationships and longevity (pdf)

No one can escape the process of ageing. But there are huge differences among older people. Some remain alert, optimistic, friendly, active and happy till the day of their death. Others descent into depression, chronic disease, or aggressive grouchiness. While some of these differences may be result of processes we cannot change, others are clearly the result of life-style choices. We can do a lot ourselves to age healthier and happier.

Useful websites

National Institute of Aging: Can we prevent aging? (pdf)

Wikipedia: Life Extension

Can we prevent aging?

National Institute of Health (NIH): Aging Research

CDC: Healthy living tips

WHO (2010): Global health risks

Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing, Birmingham, UK

Research papers

Schütze, M. / Boeing, H. / Pischon, T. et al. (2011): Alcohol attributable burden of incidence of cancer in eight European countries based on results from prospective cohort study. In: BMJ 2011;342,d1584

Ronald A. DePinho et al. (2011): Partical reversal of aging achieved in mice. Harvard Gazette

Longitudinal study on relationship between mood and survival in older people (pdf)

Social relationships and longevity (pdf)

Statistical data

CDC: Leading causes of death in females in 2010, United States

CDC: Leading causes of death in males in 2010, United States


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Copyright © 2014, 2015 by Gerhard K. Heilig. All rights reserved.

Updated: 3 February 2015