While we all have different needs, wants, and dreams at different points in our lives, pretty much anyone will tell you — whatever their age — that they want to be living a life that is as healthy, happy, and fulfilling. However, for many of us it can feel as if that is easier said than done, and that there are too many external stressors in our lives that we have little to no control over. While it’s important to recognize what things we can or cannot change and how they are affecting us, scientific research shows that living longer and increased feelings of wellbeing are overwhelming in our control. Genetics only account for 25 percent of human longevity (https://immunityageing.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12979-016-0066-z), so that means the vast majority of the things that impact us are a result of the choices that we make. Fortunately, the data shows that there are real, simple, and sometimes quite easy choices that lead to both better health and feelings of improved wellbeing.
1. Get enough sleep
According to the European Heart Journal, when you regularly sleep less than six hours a night, your risk of heart attack and stroke nearly doubles. Another study, conducted over a period of 25 years, found that consistently sleep-deprived people were 12 percent more likely to die than those who got six to eight hours of sleep a night. A few ways to help you get a good night’s rest can include:
2. Drink More Water
Keeping your hydration levels stable is a simple way to keep your body functioning properly while also helping with your energy levels. Staying adequately hydrated — measured by urine that’s light yellow — reduces the risk of bladder and colon cancer, reduces renal disease, and can boost your mood and energy. One of the most common side effects of dehydration is tiredness, so rather than go for an energy drink, try drinking a glass or two of water first. Furthermore, the human body cannot tell the difference between being thirsty or being hungry, so drinking water can also help you lose weight because you won’t be eating unnecessarily.
3. Eating a Healthier Diet
A 2016 JAMA Internal Medicine study of over 70,000 adults found that vegetarians were 12 percent less likely than their meat-eating counterparts to have died from any cause over the course of the six-year study. One of the best diets to follow is “The Mediterranean diet,” which is heavily based on fruits, vegetables, healthier fats like olive oils and nuts, and fish as a primary animal-based protein. A Mediterranean diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables leads to lower levels of cholesterol, blood pressure, and cancer risk. Also reduce your salt intake, as sodium will increase blood pressure and dehydrate you.
4. Drink Less Alcohol
Drinking more than suggested amounts of alcohol — which is one drink per day for women and two per day for men — leads to a shorter life span. Alcohol is a carcinogen and drinking more than suggested amounts leads to a slew of health problems ranging from heart disease to poor sleep.
5. Quit Smoking
It isn’t new news that smoking tobacco is bad for your health. If you are a smoker, quitting smoking is one of the single greatest things that you can do for your health (and your bank account). Smoking remains the single greatest cause of preventable death in the United States, followed by obesity.
6. Get a Regular Checkup
Seeing a doctor with regularity for an annual appointment, rather than seeing one when you have a problem you want to address, can help the doctor find problems early or even before they start.The frequency of your appointments will depend on your age, lifestyle, family history, and existing conditions, so the first thing to do is simply get started. Ask your doctor how often you should go in for checkups and screening tests as you age. You should always see a doctor if you experience symptoms that are unusual or concerning for you.
7. Cut back on unessential pain pills
The regular use of over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin, commonly known as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), have been found to raise peoples’ risk of heart disease by 10 percent, according to a 2014 U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel review. When you get a prescription strength version from your doctor, that can increase risk by as much as 20 to 50 percent. Rather than habitually using these drugs for relief of common pain or soreness, try to use them only for severe pain and use the lowest possible dose for the shortest amount of time.
8. Read More
If you’ve made it this far in the article, you’re already doing your wellbeing a favor: scientific research supports the longevity benefits of reading. While articles, newspapers, and magazines are good, novels and books are the best. “As little as a half-hour a day of book reading had a significant survival advantage over those who did not read,” according to a study done on the topic, by Becca R. Levy, who is a professor of epidemiology at Yale.
9. Reduce Chronic Stress
It’s easy to get caught up in the everyday annoyances of life, but the consistent and long-running forms of stress, such as an ongoing family conflict or continuing to fight with a friend or romantic partner, put your longevity at risk. Chronic stress hastens the cellular deterioration that leads to premature aging and a vast array of serious diseases, according to long-running research from the University of California, San Francisco. This sort of cell death “turns out to be one of the strongest predictors of early diseases of aging and in many studies of early mortality,” says lead researcher Elissa Epel. What’s the solution? Come to peace with the people in your life. Forgive your family, forgive yourself, and learn healthy boundaries to protect yourself in future relationships and conflicts.
The greatest antidepressant for our minds and bodies doesn’t require a prescription: it’s exercise. Doctors really do prescribe it along with a healthier diet before medication. Working-out benefits your brain, heart, skin, mood, and metabolism. The goal should be 30 minutes of activity that raises your heart rate, but try to get in more if you can. The Department of Health & Human Services recommends two-and-a-half to five hours per week of moderate-intensity exercise, one-and-a-quarter to two-and-a-half hours per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise, or a combination of the two. If you don’t have the time for a full hour of exercise at the gym or running on the trails, try going for more walks throughout the day and doing some at home exercises when you have breaks between your schedule.
11. Keep Your Mind on Your Mental Health
No matter what you eat or how well you sleep, if you constantly ruminate over past problems or are worrying about the future, your quality of life will suffer and as mentioned above there are physical downsides to this increased stress.
To help keep your mood elevated and prevent yourself from thinking negative thoughts:
12. Focus on Gratitude
Research shows a healthy positive attitude helps build a healthier immune system and boosts overall health. When you feel like you’re experiencing loss or that things aren’t going your way, it is important to think about the things that you do have going well in your life. Research shows this improves peoples’ perspective on the problems they are facing and they feel more equipped to handle the challenge. A trick can be to make a list of things that you wish or want for your future self, but half of the things on that list should be things that you already have.
13. Stay Engaged with Friends and Community
The healthiest people are those who have relationships with other healthy people. If you are spending time with toxic people who don’t make you feel good, or perhaps your social group involves problematic behaviors like excessive drinking, then it may be time to start developing new relationships. Check out this study from Harvard that may well be the longest ever study on human happiness: (https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness).
14. Helping Other People
When we help others, we help ourselves. Humans are socially bonding mammals, and while our close friends and family are unique, it also helps our wellbeing and attitude when we perform acts of service for others. Try volunteering in a local charity, helping out at your church or local soup kitchen, or even getting involved with certain Meetup groups that perform good deeds for the community (like a trash collection hike).
15. Find New Hobbies
Finding new and meaningful hobbies can help you stay active, engaged, and even give you a sense of purpose. It is also a way to learn new skills (which boosts self-esteem) and can be a way to meet new people. Evidence shows that people who engage in hobbies and leisure and social activities are happier, experience less depression, and live longer.