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You may have inherited your mom’s curly hair and your dad’s dry wit, but there’s one thing that’s not determined by your genes: your life expectancy. According to a study in the Journal of Internal Medicine, how long you live has more to do with your lifestyle choices than your DNA. So while your mom may be the reason you own a flat iron, living a long and fit life is all in your hands. By simply choosing to stay active, eating a clean diet and making the following “tweaks” to your fit habits, you can boost your health and tack on a few years to your life.
1. Enjoy the great outdoors.
Spending time outside helps you stay active and can boost mood and relieve stress, which in turn may ward off diseases that can cut your life short, reports a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Try rock climbing in a new spot or hit the trails for a hike.
2. Cut back on TV time.
One study found that each hour spent sitting in front of the tube raised the risk of dying from all causes by 11 percent. So skip “The Biggest Loser” and hit the gym instead.
3. Diversify your diet.
“Every type of fruit and vegetable contains different compounds that work synergistically in your body to help fight disease,” says Keith Roach, MD, associate professor of clinical medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and chief medical officer at realage.com, a website that calculates your biological age based on your lifestyle habits. Reach for a variety of items to ensure that you’re getting as many disease-fighting compounds as possible. For example, mustard greens have compounds that will help lower cholesterol, while the phytochemicals and antioxidants found in strawberries will help reduce inflammation in your body.
4. Just breathe.
Spending a few minutes each day focusing on your breath can help lower your risk for heart disease, the number-one killer of women in the US, says Suzanne Steinbaum, DO, a cardiologist and director of Women and Heart Disease at the Heart and Vascular Institute of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. To do it, inhale through your nose for a count of six, then exhale through your mouth for a count of four.
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5. Eat like a Greek.
Following a Mediterranean-style clean diet — packed with fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and fish — is linked to a significantly reduced risk of death and disease, reports a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. One reason? The diet is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, which reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.
6. Fill up on fiber.
In a study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, women who consumed the most dietary fiber were up to 59 percent less likely to die over a nine-year period than those who ate the least. Eat more grains like rice, barley and oats, which the study found have the strongest protective effect. Aim for 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily.
7. Go nuts.
Eat an ounce of nuts per day, recommends Roach, and mix it up since each kind delivers different benefits. For instance, a recent study from the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania found that walnuts contain almost twice as many antioxidants as other nuts, while another study suggests that pecans can lower levels of oxidized LDL (“bad”) cholesterol.
8. Quit cigs.
It may sound shocking, but smoking is responsible for about one in five deaths in the U.S., and about 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths in women.
9. Fortify your frame.
Build healthy bones to ward off osteoporosis and fractures due to falls down the road, which can lead to an early death. Aim to get at least 600 IU of vitamin D per day and 1,000 milligrams of calcium.
10. Reduce your red meat intake.
In a recent study published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, women who ate the most red meat were 50 percent more likely to die due to heart disease over a 10-year period than those who ate the least. Researchers recommend limiting red meat (such as beef, pork and lamb) to less than 18 ounces per week. Choose lean cuts of meat, such as those that specify “sirloin” on the label.
11. Stand up.
In a 14-year-long study, women who sat for six or more hours daily were 37 percent more likely to die than those who spent less than three hours a day planted in their chairs, the American Journal of Epidemiology reports. This was true even for those who worked out regularly. Take a quick walk around the office, do squats at your desk, or lunge your way to the water cooler. (Full disclosure: this might garner you strange looks from co-workers, but keep in mind that they’re sitting while you’re on the move!)
12. Choose produce packed with alpha-carotene.
People with the highest levels of this antioxidant in their blood were 39 percent less likely to kick the bucket from any cause than those with the lowest blood concentrations, reports a 14-year study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Peruse the farmer’s market for fresh picks rich in alpha-carotene, such as carrots, red peppers, Swiss chard and green beans. Freeze them for later use.
13. Ditch diet soda.
In a nine-year study of more than 2,500 people conducted by the University of Miami, subjects who downed one or more diet sodas daily were 61 percent more likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than those who completely avoided diet drinks. For a better caffeine fix, reach for a cup of coffee instead: a new study found that drinking more than a cup of java per day reduces women’s risk of stroke by 22 to 25 percent.
14. Sleep more.
Aim for seven to eight hours of shut-eye nightly. People who score fewer hours are 48 percent more likely to die from coronary heart disease and 15 percent more likely to have a stroke, reports a new study.
15. Stay lean.
Maintaining a healthy weight helps prevent chronic diseases that can shorten your lifespan, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some forms of cancer.
16. Give your endurance a big boost.
Metabolic equivalent (MET) is your resting metabolic rate compared to your metabolic rate in an active state. “For the maximum reduction in heart disease risk, aim to use up 22 METs per week,” says Roach. Walking briskly uses almost four METs per hour, riding a bike uses seven, while running uses up 10 METs per hour.
17. Look on the bright side.
Postmenopausal women who are optimistic are 14 percent less likely to die from any cause and 30 percent less likely to die from coronary heart disease than their pessimistic counterparts, according to a new study. Ask yourself in any given situation, “What’s the best possible outcome?” Whether you’re heading out for a first date or to run your first 10K, imagining a successful result will boost your positivity.
18. Get a grip.
In a study of adults aged 18 to older than 80, those who had the strongest grip lived longer than their weaker counterparts, according to the British Medical Journal. Improve your grip in the gym: add pull-ups to your routine, or hang from a pull-up bar with arms and body completely straight. Increase your hang time each session, and when you’re able to hang for one minute, make it harder by using just one hand for a few seconds, then switch hands and alternate back and forth.
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19. Laugh more.
“Laughter decreases levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline that cause inflammation throughout the body, which is associated with an increased risk of disease,” Steinbaum says. The next time you goof during a move in your step class, have a laugh at your two left feet instead of getting flustered.
20. Know your numbers.
Starting at age 20, depending on your risk factors, get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked annually, and stay up to date on all screenings such as Pap smears (annually) and mammograms (annually starting at age 40). “Regular screenings can help detect diseases early when they’re most treatable,” says Steinbaum.
21. Spend more time with your pals.
People with the closest social circles are more likely to live longer than those with weaker ones, found researchers at Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina. Seek out opportunities to be social — such as inviting a girlfriend to yoga class — and schedule regular dates with them at least once a week.