Time is arguably the most precious human commodity. You can’t get back the time you spend. However, with the right lifestyle choices, you can maximize the amount you get.
There’s no shortage of opinions, ideas, and suggestions for how to live the “right lifestyle” for longevity. This short list of longevity dos and don’ts will help you cut through the noise and refine your focus on living a longer, healthier life.
According to scientific research, there are five major lifestyle factors that, taken together, can add more than 10 years to your life expectancy. These factors are: never smoking, maintaining a healthy body weight, getting regular physical activity, eating a healthy diet, and limiting alcohol consumption. Given that these factors are well known, you’re hopefully already working towards integrating them into your own lifestyle. For those who want to go above and beyond, here are three additional factors you can integrate to further improve your health and extend your life.
1. Prioritize Circadian Rhythm Alignment
“Circadian rhythm” describes the physical, mental, and behavioral patterns that follow a 24-hour cycle. When your circadian rhythm is aligned, you sleep better and feel more energetic. When it’s misaligned — as it is for night shift workers or college students pulling all-nighters, for instance — your risk of metabolic dysfunction, age-related chronic disease, and shortened lifespan increases.
To get your circadian rhythm aligned, you’ll want to attend to three primary signals: light, movement, and food.
Given that circadian rhythms are governed by sunlight, it makes sense that light is the foremost circadian rhythm regulator. When your eyes are exposed to light, especially bright daylight, cellular clocks throughout your body are synchronized. This helps your metabolism and other biological patterns function better. To leverage the power of light, seek exposure to low-angle sunlight in the morning and at dusk, and try to get outside for bright midday sun whenever possible. After sunset, do your best to limit light exposure, especially blue light from screens.
Being active during daylight hours helps your body regulate its metabolism, which in turn helps align your circadian rhythm. Unfortunately, most occupations today fill daylight hours with sitting. Do your best to move as much as you can throughout the day with scheduled walks, dedicated exercise, and unstructured activities like shopping or playing fetch with your dog. Every bit of movement counts!
Along with light exposure and movement, what you eat and when you eat it also impact your circadian rhythm. For instance, your body is naturally more receptive to specific nutrients like carbohydrates earlier in the day, and you naturally become more insulin resistant in the evening as your body prepares for sleep. It should come as no surprise, then, that erratic eating schedules and late-night snacking can disrupt your circadian rhythm and contribute to chronic disease risk. To keep your circadian rhythm aligned, do your best to eat during daylight hours, consume carbs early, and fast when the sun goes down.
2. Build and Maintain Strength
While there’s much you can do to stay in good health, age-related physical decline is inevitable. Research suggests that once you reach your 50s, your physical capacity declines 1–2% per year. Strength decline comes even earlier: Between ages 20 and 80, your overall strength can decrease by as much as 40%. This means that no matter how old you are, you need to work towards building — and maintaining — strength. The good news is that if you are getting a late start or are behind on your physical fitness or strength goals, you’re never too old to improve. Even if you haven’t exercised in decades, resistance training will help you add strength all the way into your 8th or 9th decade of life.
3. Start Working Towards Longevity Now
Just like it’s necessary to set aside funds for retirement in your younger years, peak longevity requires that you invest in your health and fitness long before old age. When it comes to health habits, the earlier you can lock them in, the better you’ll forestall natural, age-related declines. For example, research consistently finds that people with exceptional longevity delay the onset of chronic disease by 20–30 years. This is only possible by living a lifestyle full of healthy habits! Individuals who live longer tend to be metabolically healthy and maintain a healthy body weight, both of which help to prevent chronic diseases. If you want to live a healthier, longer life, start forming habits around the Four Pillars of Health today.
As you continue to refine your longevity habits, there are a few things to watch for. These three don’ts will hinder, rather than support, your health and longevity pursuit.
1. Don’t Overindulge in Immediate Gratification
Sometimes, building longevity-boosting behaviors into your daily life feels tough because the payoff is never immediate. In this respect, you’re working against biology; the human brain is hardwired to prefer immediate gratification activities like eating sugary snacks or binge-watching your favorite TV shows into the wee hours of the morning. According to our brain, these things feel good! But too many sweets or late-night Netflix marathons will derail your longevity efforts. This doesn’t mean you need to cut out sugar and TV entirely; instead, try to balance low-effort, immediate-gratification pleasures with high-effort, delayed-gratification habits like cooking a healthy meal or going on a daily morning walk. Immediate gratification isn’t “bad”; in fact, when timed right and taken in moderation, these treats can be restorative. A TV episode might be just the restoration you need after an active day of walking and cooking!
2. Don’t Be Fooled by “Quick Fixes”
Unfortunately, the longevity landscape is a veritable minefield full of so-called health habits that rarely live up to the hype. You may even have tried some of these rigid health habits, only to find they’re not enjoyable and certainly not sustainable. Abrupt “healthy” lifestyle shifts like diets that create rapid weight loss produce very little lasting benefit, and many actually lead to rebound, causing greater harm.
To keep from buying into the hype, screen any potential health habits you’re considering through a long-term, longevity-focused filter. Anything that guarantees rapid results, has extremely restrictive rules, or seems too good to be true warrants skepticism. And anything that won’t fit within your unique lifestyle should also be carefully considered. True health habits are sustainable because they align with your personal preferences, serve your future aspirations, and can easily slot into your current healthy habit framework.
3. Don’t Sell Yourself Short
Science is increasingly showing that human longevity potential is far from set in stone. In other words, your genes are not your destiny! You can be a proactive stakeholder in your own health journey to achieve longevity success.
Recent research indicates that while genes matter, your health and lifespan are also directly linked to your habits. This means that the way you eat, move, sleep, and restore your body and mind have real, measurable impacts on how long you live. Don’t underestimate your own ability to improve your healthspan and lifespan; instead, craft a longevity-promoting lifestyle you enjoy by slowly, steadily integrating habits that promote metabolic health and fitness.
Longevity is quite literally the “long game”: What you do now will influence the life you live later. Falling for quick fixes, overindulging in rapid rewards, and surrendering to fate will not serve your future self. Instead, to improve and extend your health later in life, use light, movement, and food to align your circadian rhythm; build and maintain your strength through movement; and, perhaps most importantly, start doing these things now.