5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Add Years to Your Life

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Add Years to Your Life
and Life to Your Years


“And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years.”

There are quite a few things we can do to add quality years to our lives, unfortunately there is a lot of clutter that we have to wade through to find out just what we need to do to live longer. Some are extreme, some are completely mundane, and some involve plain luck (like the guy who lives to 105 while smoking and drinking daily). It’s not enough to just follow someone else's lead. We need to take the best science we can find and figure out how to apply it best to our lives. And then we need a little luck.

Cut The Sugar

Not only is obesity a major culprit in many of the diseases Americans are suffering from today, but it also accelerates the aging process itself, even more than smoking, according to the largest ever study of the telomeres (our “chromosomal timeclock”) in human cells.

When lifestyle factors were taken into account, however, dramatic differences emerged. The difference between being obese and being lean corresponds to 8.8 years of extra ageing. From New Scientist.

The consumption of sugar is the single-most contributor to weight-gain and eventual obesity in humans. Not only will cutting your sugar intake help with attaining and maintaining a healthy weight and body composition, but your skin will benefit as well.


Our skin is composed of collagen and elastin, which make our skin supple and soft. Sugar causes cross-linking of collagen, resulting in stiffening and a loss of elasticity of our skin, speeding up the natural age related loss of elasticity, thickness, and immune system function. Having healthy, full-functioning skin is a key factor in how we age as we get into our later years, and it also helps us look younger in the short run.


Digging Deeper: From PubMed - Nutrition and aging skin: sugar and glycation and The role of collagen crosslinks in ageing and diabetes.

Bottom line - Cut the sugar and add fiber, then move on to the refined and processed stuff.

Get Moving

The single-most telling indicator of advanced aging is a person’s walking speed. It is plainly obvious that when we look at someone in the 70’s, 80’s, or 90’s we can see a definite loss of movement speed or even movement in general. This seems normal and acceptable, but in reality, it’s neither. While we may not be able to do the things in our 80’s that we could in our 20’s, “old age” is not inevitable or an act of fate, it’s what we allow to happen to ourselves and it’s not normal nor acceptable.


It is the result of a slow progression towards invalidity fueled by a sedentary lifestyle. A reduction in our activity levels and lack of movement in our middle years is the start of a downward spiral towards frailty that we will find harder and harder to break free from as we get older.


Start by walking, with the intention of increasing it to a jog, and then a run. We don’t need to run marathons, we just need to get to where we are committing the act of running (actually getting both feet off the ground during our stride). Running is not walking fast and it should never be confused as such. Running, even at the same pace as walking, consumes 40% more energy/effort as walking during the same time and distance. Running slow is better for you than walking fast (even at the same pace).


Walking 40% longer will not give you the same benefit either. Our cardiorespiratory system responds and  improves dramatically when we achieve a heart rate of 50% to 70% of our max rate (only minimal gains at best can be achieved below 50% max hr). And if we can do this for 20 to 40 minutes (or more) we will find ourselves making huge improvements in our overall health.


We need to run, but we need to walk even more. It all starts with a walk. If we do nothing else but walk, we are adding years to our lives, quality years. We need to walk every day, even if we already run a few days a week. Daily movement is the most important form of movement we can do.


Digging Deeper: From Harvard Health - Exercise and aging: Can you walk away from Father Time


Lift Some Weights

The precursor to the reduction of a person’s walking speed is the steady loss of balance. It is this loss of balance that leads to a widening of a person’s stance, which widens their gate, which slows down the pace. It is this self-perpetuating downward spiral that will eventually lead to complete or nearly complete immobility at some point. Strengthening not just your core but your trunk (upper legs, hips, lower back and abdominals) will allow for better balance and control during standing, walking, or even running (or even trail running).


Strength training is not just for the maintenance of one’s balance, it is extremely important for many other physiological reasons as well. Strength training will drastically reduce the “natural” loss of muscle mass and bone density that comes with advanced aging. Strength training will also boost levels of testosterone and growth hormone as a repair response to the temporary degradation of the worked muscle tissue. 


Individuals receiving growth hormone treatments will tell you that they have found the fountain of youth, but there are significant consequences to these treatments which is why there are major restrictions to getting this treatment. But, through strength training, you can get the same results, over time, without the dangerous side-effects.


These are two very good reasons to drop to the floor and start doing some push ups, and there are many more to be sure. But if you need one more reason to begin your strength training regimen, this one may be the most important, it’s the fall. The fall can happen to us at any time, but the most critical time is when it happens later in life when a level of frailty has set in. The fall signifies a turning point. It is the catastrophic moment in a person’s life when they go from active or mobile to much less so. It is this immobility that is the ultimate downward spiral that ends with a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair, and then just the bed.


It doesn’t have to be like this, not even close. Developing an overall strength training program that places a heavy emphasis on the core and the trunk, a person can reduce the chances that the fall will happen, reduce the impact that a fall will have if it does happen, and improve the recovery from that fall.


Seek Your Purpose

We all need a reason to live. Living a life without meaning can lead to psychological pathologies that will compound as we get older. There is no “meaning of life” that applies to everyone. Each of us has our own reason to live which gives our lives meaning, and it is up to us to find out what it is. Discovering what would bring meaning to our lives is not a simple task, for most of us anyway, but a starting point might be finding out what excites us. What would make us happy?


While we are on our quest to find, or create meaning in our lives, it is worthwhile to mention - don’t retire. There is a contradiction when it comes to retirement and longevity. It seems that those who retire early live longer, but at the same time, once someone retires they die within three years.


Maybe those that retire early, do so because they have something important they want to pursue, and those that retire at 65, do so because it’s what they are “supposed” to do. Many people find purpose in getting up and going to work every day. Others can find meaning outside of work. What if we can find a vocation that brings us fulfillment, then maybe we can keep “working” for the rest of our lives, and love every minute of it.


We don’t need to figure out the “meaning of life”, but if we can figure out just what would bring fulfillment to our lives, this would give us something to work towards (hopefully for a long time). By itself, having a reason to live will add years to our lives, but indirectly it also gives us a reason to do all the other things we need to do to extend our lives.


Read more - Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl


Play

There are dozens, maybe hundreds of things we can do in our daily lives to add years, many years, to our lives, but none of them will mean anything if we are still “old” inside. In fact, if we cannot get over the feeling of being old, we will have zero motivation to do the things to help us live longer. The idea is not just to live longer, it’s to avoid becoming old. When/if we become old and frail, we should rest, we should take it easy, and we should slow down. It’s what old people should do. So, the goal is not to become old.


There are a lot of things old people don’t do, but the most glaring thing that old people don’t do is play. Sure, they might play board games, maybe even do some lawn bowling, or even golf, but how many old people do you see jumping off rocks, or cliffs even? How many old people play like they did when they were children? Zero. And you know why - because they’re old.


But, it’s not that they stopped playing because they got old necessarily, they got old because they stopped playing! One day as they aged out of adolescence and into adulthood, they uttered the words, “I’m too old for that.” That was the first day that they started down the path towards old age. As they got a little older, that phrase became easier and easier to use. It may have started with doing a cannonball off the high dive, but it steadily progressed to the point where they were too old to jump in the waves, or slide down a waterslide, or even do some mountain biking. Eventually, “I’m too old for that,” gets applied to going on a roller coaster or even doing a little hike. Finally, we’re no longer going outside at all.


One day we will all reach the day that we are too old to do certain things, the goal is to push that day back as far as we can. By forcing our bodies to tell us when we are too old versus our minds, we will know that we have done all we can to remain young and vibrant. When the day comes that we are about to utter those words, we need to pause and ask ourselves, “Am I really unable to do this, or am I just choosing not to?” If we are not sure, maybe we should just do it, just in case.


Playing is finding things to do that are fun and have no purpose other than the enjoyment that you get from it. And the more physically demanding the better.


Conclusion

The above five things are all at the core of what cultures from around the world that live to be over 100 seem to do throughout their long, fulfilling lives. But these are just a few of the many ways to extend the number of years we have on this planet. The key is to discover the ones that suit you best and then get doing them.