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How to Live Longer: 15 Things You Can Do Now

Mar 31 2021
8 min read
Red-haired woman leading a group of three men and two women on a hike up a mountain during sunset.

Sadly, we can’t drink from a fabled fountain of youth, or take a pill to extend our lifespan.

But there are many things that you can do right now to live a longer, healthier, and happier life. Experts say only 25 percent of age-associated disease is genetically determined. That means your lifestyle choices are powerful. Consider the potential of exercise to up your longevity: Researchers at Brigham Young University recently studied the DNA of nearly 6,000 adults and found that the telomeres, the end caps on chromosomes that shorten with age, were longer in people who were active compared to those who were sedentary. This correlated to a 9-year difference in cell aging between those who were active versus those who were inactive. Another study compared the heart, lungs, and muscles of active 70 year olds, inactive 70 year olds and active 40 year olds. They found that the active older men and women had comparable heart and lung capacity, as well as muscle strength with those who were 30 years younger. Clearly, to live longer, you need to get moving. There are other simple steps you can incorporate into your life as well.

Here are the top 15 ways to live longer:


As mentioned, people who exercise regularly live longer and healthier lives than those who do not. Weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, strengthens your bones. Aerobic exercise strengthens your heart. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity on most days. Another benefit? Exercise may make you happier. According to a study with the National Institutes of Health, people who exercise regularly experience less anxiety, depression, and negative moods, while feeling a higher sense of self-esteem than those who do not exercise regularly. So, find an exercise routine, and /or buddy and get moving toward your best life!

Watch Your Weight

Obesity, which is linked to heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and other health conditions, reduces life expectancy—but the greater risk of dying early isn’t limited to only those who are technically obese (defined by a body mass index, or BMI, of 30 or greater). People with a BMI greater than 25 also have a higher death rate than people whose weight is in a healthy range. (Experts hypothesize that they may also engage in unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking and drinking, more often.) Talk to your doctor about what’s best for you—healthy weight ranges vary depending on gender and height.

Don't Smoke

People who smoke for their entire adult lives, exposing themselves to hundreds of toxic chemicals, die about 10 years earlier than they would if they had never smoked. The good news is that quitting smoking can add most of those years back.

Get Enough Sleep...

Getting a good night’s sleep can help reduce stress, keep your weight in a healthy range, and give you energy for the day ahead. Plus, your body repairs and regenerates its tissues and strengthens your immune system when asleep.

Aim for at least seven hours per night, and seek treatment for medical sleep disorders if needed.

…and Take Naps

Napping for 30 minutes per day could cut your risk of heart disease by up to 30 percent, according to research from Harvard School of Public Health. Scientists suspect a daily nap reduces stress hormones in the body. (Just don’t regularly rely on these to make up for not clocking enough hours at night.)

Limit Alcohol

While some studies have shown that moderate consumption of alcohol (one drink per day or less for women, two drinks per day or less for men) may contribute to longevity in some people — beer, wine, and spirits certainly have their downsides. Beyond the health risks associated with excessive consumption of alcohol, it ranks among the top five sources of calories for adults, contributing to weight gain. If you are someone who enjoys a good glass of vino, simply make sure you’re doing so in moderation.

Eat Well

Enjoying a healthy diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, and seafood is linked with longevity. These foods deliver vitamins, minerals, and heart-healthy fats that boost health and help prevent disease.

Manage Stress

Chronic stress sets the stage for many health conditions. Stress probably exerts its adverse effects through triggering an inflammatory reaction of our immune system. Meditation, massage, and gentle forms of exercise like yoga, for example, can help reduce stress.

Get Vitamin D

People who have higher vitamin D levels may live up to five years longer. A study with King’s College in London discovered that the part of our chromosomes that shorten with age, do not reduce as rapidly with higher levels of the sunshine vitamin. The best source of vitamin D is 15 minutes of daily exposure to sunshine, however, other sources include: shiitake mushrooms, fortified cereals, and oily fish like salmon and tuna. Talk to your doctor about a vitamin D supplement if you think you’re low.

Make Intimacy a Priority

Numerous studies show that an active sex life is closely tied to longevity. Specifically, it seems like sex may lower the risk for heart attacks, strokes, and other heart diseases. For example, researchers at the University of the West of Scotland at Paisley found that couples that committed to having more sex for two weeks logged lower blood pressure levels during stressful situations, such as public speaking, compared to couples who abstained from sex or touched but didn’t have intercourse. Low blood pressure levels mean your heart isn’t working as hard to pump blood throughout the body, which helps prevent heart disease. There are other benefits too. Studies have shown that an active sex life can ease headaches, and reduce physical pain, How? During sex, the hormone oxytocin is released in your body. Oxytocin reduces pain. In a study published in the Bulletin of Experimental Biology and Medicine, volunteers who inhaled oxytocin vapor and then had their fingers pricked felt only half as much pain as others who did not inhale any oxytocin.

Hold Hands, Cuddle and Hug

Cuddling counts, too. In one study, researchers at Brigham Young University in Salt Lake City trained 18 couples in improving their awareness to their partner’s mood by touching his or her neck, shoulders, and hands in caring, but non-sexual, ways. Another group of 18 couples weren’t given any guidance. Within one week, the couples coached in warm touch had higher levels of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone; in addition, the men in those pairs logged lower levels of amylase, a stress indicator. Lowering your stress levels can help reduce your risk for a variety of health conditions.

Wear a Seatbelt

Seat belts save lives: More than 12,000 people survived car crashes in 2010 alone because they were wearing seat belts.

Floss Your Teeth

Flossing each night can remove the bacteria that might otherwise cause inflammation in your gums. That inflammation activates your body’s inflammatory response, raising your blood pressure (among other things) and increasing your risk for heart disease and stroke. This can also potentially damage brain tissue, increasing your risk of developing diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Stay Connected

People with strong social networks and relationships (family, friends, clubs, and groups) live longer lives than those who are not connected to others. Researchers hypothesize that the unhealthy impact of the stress hormone cortisol is lessened when people have friends and family to lean on.

Don't Skip Check-Ups

Getting regular physician check-ups can help identify potential problems early. The earlier a condition like diabetes or high blood pressure is diagnosed and treated, the healthier you’ll be.