5 Steps That Can Help You Live Longer

There are simple things you can to do to add five, 10 or even 15 more years to the length of your life. See more healthy aging pictures.
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The greatest generation, the silent generation or the baby boomers -- the label doesn't matter when we're counting birthdays. About one of every eight Americans is 65 or older, and that number is predicted to swell to twice that by the year 2030 [source: Administration on Aging].

Americans, typically, can expect to live until just shy of their 78th birthdays [source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention]. Most often our mortality comes in the form of heart disease, cancer or stroke, the top three killers in the U.S., but we don't have to sit still and accept it -- 77.9 years doesn't have to be your fate [source: CDC]. Our longevity is not tied to statistics, or to our genes for that matter, although genetics do play a role. How we live our lives is key.

A study that looked at men in their 70s found that those who did not smoke, maintained a normal weight, were physically active and didn't suffer from hypertension or diabetes improved their chances of having birthdays into their 90s by as much as 54 percent in comparison to their peers who weren't living as healthy of a lifestyle [source: CBS News].

Let's look at a few lifestyle changes -- including eating chocolate -- that may help boost the number of birthdays you have.

5
Be Active

Everyone needs to be physically active to become -- and stay -- healthy; no excuses. It's recommended that adults participate in two-and-a-half hours of moderately intense aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking or dancing (or one hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, such as swimming or running) every week, plus strength training exercises twice a week [source: CDC]. At minimum, aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day. A leisurely stroll doesn't count -- get your heart rate up to make it count.

Regular exercise can help reduce your chances of developing chronic conditions and age-related illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, as well as bone thinning and loss of muscle mass -- or at the very least help to reverse or reduce the symptoms. This can all add up to fewer aches and pains and increased flexibility and mobility as you age, in addition to keeping insulin levels low and your heart in good condition.

4
Cut Back on Red Meat and Processed Foods

Eating a healthy, balanced diet full of fresh foods, whole grains and lean meats helps us keep off excess weight, boosts our mood and our energy levels, and helps reduce our risk of developing chronic and age-related illnesses such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. And the foods you don't eat may also help you add years to your life, in particular when it comes to meat and processed foods. Let's look at red meat, for example.

Red meat consumption is linked to cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. A study conducted by the National Institutes of Health together with AARP found that people who consumed about 2.2 ounces (62.4 grams) of red meat every day -- about the size of a deck of cards -- have a 30 percent greater chance of dying than those who ate only a small portion of red meat per day, about .3 ounces (8.5 grams), approximately the size of a matchbook [source: Froeber].

3
Floss Daily

Here's a tip you might not have heard: Good oral hygiene means more than just reducing your risk of tooth loss; it also has a positive effect on your overall health. In particular, flossing.

Tooth brushing, while important, can't remove the bacteria that hides between your teeth. Flossing removes both plaque and bacteria, which if left behind can lead to gum disease.

Gum disease is an infection and a disease linked to inflammation in the body. It's thought to be associated with other chronic inflammatory diseases including cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. By treating gum disease and maintaining a healthy mouth, you may reduce your risk of developing, or reduce the symptoms of, other inflammatory illnesses.

For best results, floss at least once a day.

2
Be Positive

Are happy, optimistic people healthier than their pessimistic peers? The short answer: Yes.

According to a study published in "Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being," maintaining a positive attitude may help us live healthier, longer lives. Researchers found that people with generally positive moods had lower levels of stress-related hormones, which are linked to lower blood pressure, and a lower risk of developing chronic diseases, including heart disease. And in an additional study conducted at the Mayo Clinic in 2002, researchers found that happy people reduced their risk of a premature death by 50 percent compared to their more cynical counterparts.

1
Adopt a Pet
Studies have found that pet owners have lower blood pressure, better total cholesterol levels and fewer signs of depression.
Studies have found that pet owners have lower blood pressure, better total cholesterol levels and fewer signs of depression.
©iStockphoto.com/btrenkel

An estimated 63 percent of American households have pets. That's about 75 million dogs and 85 million cats, in addition to the number of homes with birds, horses, reptiles, fish and other exotic animals [source: ASPCA]. And if you're like 90 percent of other pet owners, your pets are part of your family [source: McNicholas].

Pets improve the quality of our lives. They offer companionship, and they also offer increased opportunity for exercise and social interactions with other people -- all positive benefits that translate into better health for pet owners. Studies find that pet owners have lower blood pressure, better total cholesterol levels, and fewer feelings of depression and depressive episodes than people without pets.

Thinking of opening your home to a pet? Consider adopting: There are an estimated 6 to 8 million cats and dogs placed in shelters every year [source: The Humane Society].

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