New research outlines the many things you can do right now to increase your longevity. At no time in recent history is this information more important because in May, the CDC reported the pandemic has shortened the lifespans of Americans.
In the first half of 2020, the average U.S. life expectancy dropped by a year.
"Think about the effect that you know that stress and mental health problems can have on your physical health, " said sociologist Kyla Thomas, Phd with the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research.
What the CDC found parallels what USC researchers discovered when they documented the pandemic's toll on American lives.
"We saw a real spike in rates of food insecurity, which is the rate of people who worried about finding food or didn't eat for a day because they didn't have the money to buy food. I could definitely imagine a lasting impact on our mortality," she said.
During lockdown, people skipped health screenings and were more likely to eat poorly, drink more alcohol and use drugs. And a substantial number of those who got COVID-19 suffered long-term health problems. Yet, a new Johns Hopkins study of 6,200 men and women found adopting four specific behaviors could help offset the deficits.
1. Don't smoke | Although your best plan to live longer is to adopt all four lifestyle factors, if you had to choose one, the researchers say, this is it. Smoking affects coronary arteries and lungs, and smokers also have increased rates of cancer and risk of stroke.
2. Maintain a healthy weight | The healthiest people in the study maintained a body mass index (BMI)-a ratio of height to weight that measures body mass-of less than 25. To find out your BMI, try using a free BMI calculator. To reach (and maintain) a healthy BMI, get busy on lifestyle changes 3 and 4.
3. Get up and move | Aim for about 30 minutes of activity a day most days of the week. Try breaking it into three 10-minute bouts of activity per day-a 10-minute walk in the morning, another at lunch and a stroll after dinner.
4. Make healthy food choices | The study found that the healthiest people followed a Mediterranean-style diet. That means a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, tree nuts with healthy oils, fish (and less red meats), whole-grain carbs and olive oil for cooking.
For more on the study, visit www.hopkinsmedicine.org.
Here are some tips to meet these goals:
Try to work in three 20-minute strength training sessions per week. The National Institute on Aging found women who are too round in the middle are 20% more likely to die sooner. Weight training can preserve lean muscle mass.
A Mediterranean-style diet can also reduce inflammation and belly fat.
"Something that is well-balanced, where there's plenty of natural foods, plenty of vegetables," said Internal Medicine specialist, Dr. Joe Santana.
In particular, purple vegetables and fruits with anthocyanins have been found to reduce cancer risk and memory problems.
"An anthocyanin is an antioxidant that gives the food the purple color. That purple color is what's so healthy, " said Mary Mcalary, a certified Holistic Health Coach.
Adding 10 grams of fiber can reduce your risk of dying from heart disease by 17%. Also, doing your own house chores for an hour can burn 285 calories, lowering your risk of death by 30%.
Besides eating less red meat, here's another key to living a longer life: Boston and Harvard University researchers found individuals with great optimism were more likely to live to the age of 85 and older. Optimistic people had an 11 to 15% longer lifespan.