How to Live Longer and Healthier – Tips, Science – Men's Health

Here’s exactly how much each healthy move counts.
LIVING LONGER—and staying

strong, agile, wise, and on top of things while you’re at it—isn’t about luck or good genes. It’s about developing some strategies. Sure, you probably know about many of these already.
But there are reasons we don’t always do them. Often what’s standing between understanding what to do and actually doing it is wondering how much each move really matters or what to do first.
So here we bring you the numbers. Seeing exactly how much each longevity step “counts” toward a younger body and a longer life makes it clear that in a world where it’s hard to find an extra five minutes, a few little changes could end up buying you an extra five years. And that’s five years of very healthy living, because these moves work by turning back your body’s age.
“People have more control over aging than they think,” says Keith Roach, M.D. He’s an associate attending physician at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center, and he’s spent years poring over studies that show the extent to which your lifestyle can affect your body’s age. Along with Michael F. Roizen, M.D., chief wellness officer at Cleveland Clinic, Dr. Roach pioneered a way to take all this different research into account and quantify just how much each healthy thing you do can increase your longevity. Here’s what kind of benefit a typical 45-year-old guy can expect to get from each move. If you’re less healthy than the average guy, good news: Making these changes actually brings you greater longevity benefits.
For many reasons—no judgment—the average American diet is full of red meat and processed foods, with very few fruits and vegetables. Many of us are getting as much as 57 percent of a day’s calories from ultra-processed foods, which include packaged cookies and cakes, soft drinks, cold cuts, hot dogs, instant soups, and “reconstituted meat products” like chicken nuggets. Processing generally increases the shelf life of foods, but not of people.
Changing your diet to increase longevity is pretty straightforward. It doesn’t require huge leaps, even if you love the convenience of processed foods. Adding just one serving a week of both nuts and fatty fish, plus one serving each day of both fruits and vegetables, can turn back your body age by 2.5 years. (These moves reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.)
Of course, “you need to consider what not to eat when choosing what to eat” so you don’t gain weight, says Dr. Roach. One place to start: right-sizing your meat portions. If you eat a lot of red meat, committing to only one 3-ounce serving or less of red meat a day makes you up to 1.1 years younger. No deprivation needed—try packing your taco with more beans and guac and less carne asada, then stuffing it with taco-friendly produce like bell peppers, sauteed mushrooms, onions, and crunchy cabbage.
Smoking insults nearly every organ and system in your body. It’s the leading cause of preventable death in the U. S. So when you quit and relieve your body of the particles you inhale with every drag—along with the nicotine and the 7,000 other chemicals cigarettes deliver to you—the life-lengthening benefits kick in quickly. Really quickly. In fact, your risk of a heart attack goes down within just 12 to 24 hours.
If you’ve smoked a pack a day for the past ten years, you’re 5.6 years older than your chronological age, but quitting could net three years of that time back within 12 months. After ten years of not smoking, you could end up 1.3 years younger than your chronological age. The cumulative benefit of quitting can total 6.9 years.
Never smoked? You’re already ahead of the game. Your body is about 3.3 years younger than that of the average American, says Dr. Roach.
Exactly how much more life does exercise get you? That’s a little hard to measure, because being active does so many things for so much of your body. If you start off sedentary, even a moderate amount of exercise gets you 1.4 years. But when you add in the downstream benefits—how it lowers blood pressure, decreases diabetes risk, reduces stress, and helps some people lose extra weight—you get more than double that number.
Even modest amounts of exercise can extend your life span. If you sit at your desk, get around by car, and use all the conveniences that let you take fewer than 4,000 steps a day, walking—just walking—for 20 minutes per day can add a year to your life. Throw in ten minutes of weightlifting per week, plus 30 minutes of stretching per week to increase your flexibility, and you get an additional 0.4 years.
Stretching? Yup. Basic stretches, especially for the legs, can scrub age from your arteries by making them less stiff, which could reduce your risk of a heart attack. Try doing five minutes of stretching six days per week. Include posterior-chain stretches like toe touches and child’s pose, then add upward dogs and calf stretches. Hold each stretch up to 15 seconds. Release and stretch again.
“If your blood pressure is even a little high, getting it down is the biggest thing you can do to turn back your body’s age,” says Dr. Roach. Too much pressure against your blood-vessel walls—think fire-hose volume through a garden hose—is hell on your arteries. Consider all the organs that this pressure moves through and you can see why it also significantly drives up your risk of heart attacks, kidney failure, and strokes. Going from borderline high blood pressure (140/90) to average (135/85) can make your body 3.3 years younger. Take it from average to optimal (110/70) and you’ll gain an additional 0.9 years. (Discover why even young men need to worry about their blood pressure now.)
How to do that: “If you’re healthy and don’t smoke, the best ways to lower blood pressure without drugs are to manage stress and decrease sodium,” Dr. Roach says. Of the two, sodium’s probably the easier place to start. Not everyone’s blood pressure is salt sensitive. But if you cut back (Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams a day; the CDC suggests having less than 2,300) and if it turns out you are salt sensitive, you could see a drop in as little as a week. The top source of sodium for Americans: bread and rolls, followed by pizza, cold cuts, and soup.
Here are some easy swaps:
When it comes to drinking to your health, cheers. But be aware that the amount you’re downing makes a difference, says Dr. Roach. Having a little bit of alcohol—up to a drink a day, ideally with friends and family—is fine.
Before you crack open that tallboy, though, keep in mind that health experts define a “drink” as a stingy 12 ounces of regular beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits. Libations in those sizes may bring you cardiovascular benefits that reduce your body’s age slightly (by about 0.1 year); the benefits may come partly from being in a social situation while you drink. (See Step 6.)
But as for keeping your body younger than your chronological age, there’s no advantage to having a second pour. (Or a third.) In fact, downing more than a drink per day has been associated with a higher risk of death from all causes.
Game-day and two-fer-Tuesday drinkers, beware: For men, binge drinking just one to three times per month—that’s having five or more drinks in a sitting—can add 3.5 years to your chronological age.
If you stop the overdrinking, you can turn that tally around. And it often happens pretty fast, since one of the reasons bingeing shortens your life so much is that it makes you more prone to dying in an accident. If you’re going to live 3.5 years longer, why not savor rather than binge your way through it?
Going from a low social network (seldom seeing friends, refraining from group activities, avoiding regular social gatherings) to an ideal one (enjoying frequent and meaningful social contact, having friends and family whom you rely on and who rely on you) can earn you 1.7 more years because of the stress-reducing benefits to your heart health.
What a good social network looks like: It goes beyond a long contact list in your phone or a text every now and then to the people from trivia night. To get the full longevity benefit from other humans, you need to have deep relationships—people you can talk with about important personal things.
You probably have more of them in your life than you think. “Make a list of people you already know whom you really trust,” recommends Yancy Wright, founder and CEO of the corporate-training company Alternavida Leadership. “Then when you’re talking with them and they ask how you are, say, ‘Do you really want to know?’ If they say yes, then elaborate, even if you’ve had a bad day. If that’s uncomfortable because you’re just not a talker, do more activities with other people.” Get outdoors, if you can, to take a hike or go for a bike ride. Try out a bouldering or rock-climbing excursion. “Being faced with challenges, especially in nature, opens us up,” Wright says. “It’s a natural tenderizer.”
Marty Munson, currently the health director of Men’s Health, has been a health editor at properties including Marie Claire, Prevention, Shape and RealAge. She’s also certified as a swim and triathlon coach.

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