1. Health

How to Get Younger

Turning Back Your Biological Clock

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Updated January 31, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Trying to live longer is a great goal, but those extra years won't mean much if you're not feeling healthy and energetic. So why not try to help your body act younger than your chronological age, by following a few basic steps towards a longevity lifestyle? See what changes you should make today, to make your body function in a more youthful and resilient way, months from now.

1. Quit Smoking

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Stopping this one habit will likely do more for your longevity — and your health in general — than any other change you make. Numerous studies have chronicled the toll tobacco takes on the overall well-being and health status of both men and women. More specifically, continuing a heavy smoking habit past the age of 40 has been shown to chop as much as a decade off your life. It can worsen many age-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Smoking also causes premature skin aging, making you look older.

 

2. Get to a Healthy Weight

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While there remains some controversy about how obesity is measured — using Body Mass Index (BMI), waist-to-hip ratio, skinfold thickness, or simply the number on the scale — most longevity researchers agree that too much fat on your body predisposes you to many serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and cancer. Obesity can also take a lethal toll on your liver, leading to fatty liver disease. What's more, too much fat on your belly is linked to metabolic syndrome, which includes symptoms like high blood sugar and elevated blood pressure, or hypertension. Finding out the right number of calories you should consume each day and tackling a moderate and sustainable weight loss plan will help you avoid illness, make it easier to remain active and mobile, and help your body's functional, or biological age, stay as low as possible in the months, and years, to come.

3. Get -- And Stay -- Active

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The benefits of being physically active are numerous: better cardiovascular health, lower risk of cancer and diabetes, improved stress management, and better longevity. A 2011 study on more than 416,000 men and women published in The Lancet showed that subjects who exercised an average of 15 minutes per day, at a moderate-intensity (e.g. brisk walking), lived an average of three years more, than those who did little or no activity. Other investigations have shown similar longevity benefits for those who keep moving. Whether walking, swimming, running, or some other activity appeals to you, stay active to ward off disease, keep your bones strong, and your life long!

 

4. Eat an Anti-Aging Diet

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Eating a well-balanced diet based on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, plenty of low-mercury fish, whole grains, and moderate amounts of healthy fats, has consistently been linked in research to better longevity. All of the longest-lived populations in the world — including the Okinawans of Japan, those living in the Hunza Valley of Pakistan, and residents of countries along the Mediterranean — all consume some variation of this plan. While supplementing your diet with vitamins and minerals might help compensate for some missing components, most nutritionists advise getting your nutrients from food. Making healthy food choices, in the proper amounts (to avoid obesity), is a hedge against disease and a smart way to keep your body acting young.

5. Manage Your Stress Intake

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Even people who are very diligent with diet and exercise may overlook the impact of stress on their health. The fact is, stress has many physiological effects, including raising your level of cortisol, a stress hormone that can contribute to cardiovascular conditions, dangerous belly fat, depression and poorer resistance to disease. In a 2010 study on 861 older adults, those with the highest urinary cortisol levels had five times the risk of dying of cardiovascular disease, even if they had no history of heart trouble. Fortunately, stress relief seems to contribute to longevity, as suggested in a number of studies linking meditation with lower mortality. Why not try mindfulness meditation, self-hypnosis, or even just smiling more, to manage your daily stress level? Your heart, and your frame of mind, will be better off for it.

 

6. Stay Social

Sharon Basaraba

Another important aspect of a longevity lifestyle is being part of a larger social network, with the support of friends and family. In fact, in their research on 1,500 Californians followed from childhood into old age, psychologists Howard Friedman and Leslie Martin found that staying connected and remaining integrated within their community were some of the most significant predictors of greater longevity. If not all members of your social circle are up the task, pick your team: a few friends and confidants can help you bear difficult times, and cope with hardship, more easily — factors that will help your immune system keep you healthy.

Chances are, you don't need to drastically change your daily habits to make improvements in these areas. Focus on progress, not perfection, and over time, your body will be healthier, and behaving like that of a younger person. The result? More years to your life, and more life to your years.

Sources:

Chi Pang Wen, et.al. "Minimum amount of physical activity for reduced mortality and extended life expectancy: a prospective cohort study." The Lancet, 16 August 2011; DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(11)60749-6.

David R Jacobs, Jr, Lene Frost Andersen and Rune Blomhoff. "Whole-grain consumption is associated with a reduced risk of noncardiovascular, noncancer death attributed to inflammatory diseases in the Iowa Women's Health Study." Am J Clin Nutr June 2007 vol. 85 no. 6 1606-1614.

Emily J. Nicklett et al. "Fruit and Vegetable Intake, Physical Activity, and Mortality in Older Community-Dwelling Women." Journal of the American Geriatrics Society. Volume 60, Issue 5, pages 862-868, May 2012.

Friedman, H.S. and Martin, L.R. "The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study." Penguin Books. March 2011.
http://www.howardsfriedman.com/longevityproject/

Michael F. Leitzmann, Yikyung Park, Aaron Blair, Rachel Ballard-Barbash, Traci Mouw, Albert R. Hollenbeck, Arthur Schatzkin, "Physical Activity Recommendations and Decreased Risk of Mortality." Arch Intern Med. Vol. 167 (NO. 22), DEC 10/24, 2007.

Matthieu Maillot et al. "The shortest way to reach nutritional goals is to adopt Mediterranean food choices: evidence from computer-generated personalized diets." Am J Clin Nutr October 2011 vol. 94 no. 4 1127-1137.

Nicole Vogelzangs, Aartjan T. F. Beekman, Yuri Milaneschi, Stefania Bandinelli, Luigi Ferrucci, and Brenda W. J. H. Penninx. “Urinary Cortisol and Six-Year Risk of All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab 95: 4959–4964, 2010.

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