When writing about longevity, one of the most popular questions I get is "What can I do to enjoy a long life?" and I've decided to answer it here. The ideas and habits below are what I do (or at least try to do) to live healthy and feel good. These are longevity ideas that I have come upon in my 2 + years of reading and writing about longevity. Of course, there are a lot more things out there that you can do for longevity, but these are the ones that I have, personally, worked into my life.
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Breakfast salads are pure genius. I know, it sounds weird to eat a salad for breakfast, but hear me out. Here's what you get if you start each day with a salad: 3 servings of vegetables. What you lose is a lot of calories (salads like this don't have a lot of calories). You also avoid a mid-morning slump from your breads and cereals.
One warning about breakfast salads - they last no more than 3 hours. I need to make sure I have a good, mid-morning snack like a Power Bar or some yogurt so I can make it until lunch. Try out these breakfast salad recipes - simple, fast and delicious.
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I'm a big fan of some sort of daily meditation - something to center yourself each day, get some perspective on life and just relax. I like to think of meditation as a way of hitting the "pause" button on life. It does a great deal to relax me and I find I can deal with problems much better. I'll admit that there are days (that often stretch into weeks) where I let this habit slip -- but I do know that I am much better on the days I can muster for some mediation or quite prayer.
I'm lucky enough to work from my home office on most days. In my office I have two things that help me exercise, relieve stress and have energy throughout the day. One is a set of straps that hang from a door frame. These straps let me do serious strength training exercises without any equipment or need to change clothes (although sweat may be a problem). You basically stand by the door and use your body weight to give your upper body a workout. The other thing I have in my office is a mat on the floor for some basic stretching and ab work. I try to take at least one twenty-minute break each day, alternating upper body work with the straps and core work on the mat. Afterward, I get an energy boost and am ready to get back to work.
Every one needs a good aerobic workout, something that gets you sweating and the heart pumping. I was doing biking for a while, but it was touch and go. Now I run. Not only that, I run barefoot (well, not really but with shoes that simulate barefoot running). Why? Some say that it prevents injury because you maintain the correct stride and strength your feet. Others point to championship runners (like the Kenyans) who don't wear high-tech shoes (or any shoes). Mostly, I do it because it feels good. Instead of plodding along in cushioned shoes, I feel the road and my body moving -- it feels good. I run because I like it, I like how my body works when I don't have running shoes on. It is free, fun and makes running a joy instead of a chose.
In his book, In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan gives these simple rules for what we should eat: "Eat Food. Not Too Much. Mostly Plants." Those three instructions are the best guide for healthy eating that I have come across.
- Eat Food -- real food, not thing processed or filled with chemicals. Stick to the produce section and you'll do great.
- Not Too Much -- Let's face it, we all eat too much. Eat less and you will avoid many health problems and may even extend your life (see calorie restriction).
- Mostly Plants -- Vegetables, fruits and nuts are healthy, way healthy. One of the largest nutritional studies ever, the China Study, found that vegetarians have lower rates of everything from cancer to heart disease.
This is probably my least favorite part of these longevity habits - going for a well check. It's not even that bad, though they do make you wear the paper gown and take your blood. The good thing is that my health insurance company not only pays for all the testing, they even reimburse me for the co-pay. In other words, my annual well check is completely free. Good chances are the your annual well check is too (give your insurance company a call to find out). This is a good way to measure things like cholesterol and to make sure you catch any problems (like high blood pressure) early. Not fun (though I always bring a magazine, so it's at least a bit fun), but an essential longevity habit.
Sleep. I love sleep and I will do a lot to make sure that I am getting enough good sleep. When sleep seems to be getting hard to come by, I try to take action and troubleshoot the problem by following simple sleep hygiene guidelines. For example, after two nights of bad sleep in a row, I'll take some time to assess my sleep habits and go into a strong sleep routine (no reading in bed, no afternoon coffee, etc.). This helps me make sure that I don't develop bad habits around sleep.