Keys to living a healthier life

Eating right, exercising, sleeping more can lengthen your life


Think of it as the healthy aging equivalent of "Let's Make a Deal."

What exactly would you do to get those extra couple years of living hidden behind door No. 2?

Would you be willing to sleep in more to add another two years? Maybe floss more often in exchange for another year of living? How about having sex more often to extend your life expectancy? Is that something you might be interested in?

As the Baby Boom generation ages and our society in general gets older, there has been a greater focus on not only living longer lives, but also living healthier lives longer. As CNN health chief Sanjay Gupta says in his book "Chasing Life," nobody wants to die tomorrow, but nobody wants to live forever either.

While improving your health may seem like a lot of work, especially if those New Year's resolutions already seem like distant memories, there are some simple ways to extend your life and make it a better one in the process.

Quit Smoking: +4 to 8 Years

According to a Cambridge University study of more than 22,000 people, if you cut out the cigarettes, you could add four to five years to your life.
But that benefit could go up depending on your age. A study in the American Journal of Public Health found that female smokers who quit by the age 35 could extend their lifespan by 6.1 to 7.7 years.
However, even those who are 65 and older can add years to their life by quitting.
"What's unique about this study is that it gives some hope even to 65-year-olds who smoke," said Donald Taylor Jr., PhD, at Duke University in Durham, N.C. "A man would add between 1.4 and 2 years to his life. That's a tangible benefit you can get even late in life from stopping smoking."
And that doesn't count all the time you'll get back once you stop sneaking outside for those regular smoke breaks.

Cut Out Fast Food: +4 Years

Just about everything that associated with fast food -- name it: the fat, the cholesterol and the pounds -- is bad for you.
One of the keys to living a long, healthy life is cutting down your calorie intake. Just ask Leonard P. Guarente, a professor of biology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Guarente, who's spent years researching issues surrounding aging, tested out a low-calorie diet on mice, leading to conclusions that could just as easily benefit humans.
"The diet is not only making them live longer, it's mitigating diseases of aging," he said. Basically, mice on a calorie-restricted diet don't get sick.
Think about that the next time you're jonsing for a burger and fries around lunchtime.

Get Moving: +2 to 4 Years

Even a little bit of exercise is better than none. Remember that Cambridge Study that showed the benefit of quitting smoking? It also said that a moderate increase in exercise is worth three years of added life. That means about an hour a day for people with office jobs or just 30 minutes a day if your job keeps you more active.
Walking alone can add three years to your life as it cuts down on stress, can lower your cholesterol and help you reach a healthier weight.
Running is even better. Dutch and Australian researchers found that women who run for 30 minutes, five days a week can live two to four years longer and live one to three more years free of heart disease.

Shed Those Pounds: +3 to 4 Years

This one probably goes without saying, but deserves restating after recent research from the National Cancer Institute showed that being overweight can increase the risk of death by 20 to 40 percent.
Other research has linked being obese to high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. Researchers at the University of Alabama discovered that maintaining a body-mass index of 25 to 35, which is considered overweight to obese, can shorten your life by up to three years.
And Dr. Robert Butler, president of the nonprofit International Longevity Center - USA, an affiliate of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, goes even further. Butler says that obesity alone can shed up to four years off your life.

Floss Your Pearly Whites: +6 Years

It's amazing that something so simple could add so many years onto your life. It's also amazing that so few people apparently take advantage of this benefit.
According to studies done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 5 to 10 percent of Americans are regular flossers. That's important because those same studies showed common gum problems such as gingivitis and peridontitis lead to a 23 to 46 percent higher rate of death.
Gum tissues are common sites for inflammation, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Flossing regularly is vital because it removes the bacteria that cause that inflammation.
"Poor oral hygiene and particularly increased tooth loss are important indicators of your health," said Dr. Michael R. Roizen in his book "RealAge" when talking about the CDC study. "The fewer teeth you have, the greater your risk of gum infections."

Take A Break From Work: +2 Years

All work and no play makes .... well, you know how the saying goes.
It doesn't matter if your escape from work is as simple as starting up a new hobby in your spare time or as grand as taking more vacations. Either has great benefits for your health and your longevity.
Hobbies, whether it's knitting, gardening, woodworking, scrap-booking, coin collecting or photography, helps cut down on stress levels and brings a sense of accomplishment. The effect of hobbies is especially important after retiring, notes psychologist Michael Brickey, author of the anti-aging book "Defy Aging."
Vacations provide a similar benefit. According to the Framingham Heart Study, women who took vacations every six years or less were eight times more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack than those who vacationed twice a year.
Another study of men showed that those who didn't take at least one vacation were 21 percent more likely to die -- and 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.

Flex Your Brain: +2 Years

Studies have shown that 20 percent of the U.S. population over the age or 85 suffers from some form of dementia. You have a better chance of avoiding falling into this statistic by using mental exercises to keep your brain cells active and more efficient as you age.
Experts suggest that lifelong learning combined with other healthy-lifestyle habits can prolong your life by at least two years. Dr. Gary Small, author of "The Longevity Bible" and chief of UCLA's Memory and Aging Research Center, says that just one mental boost can translate to a 7 percent gain in mental sharpness. And the more you do, the higher the percentage, Small said.
The key is to pick up a book more often, take up crosswords and play brain teasers. Such actions can lower your risk for Alzheimer's by nearly a third.
You'll also find that mental exercises can also improve your brain's speed and memory today. Fun games that rely on logic, word skills, math and more provide great benefit even if you play them a few minutes each day.

Snack Smarter: +2 to 6 Years

Everybody loves a snack now and then. The right snack can help you get through your day and also provide great health benefits if chosen wisely.
According to research in the British Medical Journal, a daily handful of dark chocolate and almonds, plus fruits, vegetables, and even a glass of wine, can increase a woman's lifespan by 4.8 years and a man's by 6.6 years. The foods are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and other nutrients that can lower your heart disease risk by 76 percent.
The age gains also come from a 22-percent drop in breast-cancer risk linked to consuming less fat and fewer calories as you eat more fruit, veggies and whole grains.
When it comes to veggies, raw is the key word because cooking can deplete up to 30 percent of the antioxidants in vegetables. Italian researchers found that eating as little as 1 cup of raw vegetables daily can add two years to your life.
And when you're looking for something to wash those snacks down, remember that regular intake of caffeine, which puts more stress on your heart and body, can cut your life expectancy by six months.

Stay In Bed Longer: +2 Years

It's a paradox. We all like sleep. We all complain about not getting enough sleep. But then we never seem to get enough sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2009 "Sleep in America" poll, the number of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night jumped from 13 percent to 20 percent over the past eight years. And those who reported sleeping eight hours or more a night dropped from 38 percent to 28 percent.
The poll pegged the average nightly amount of sleep for Americans at six hours, 40 minutes on weekdays/workdays, while most people need an average of seven to eight hours.
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated because it allows the neurons in the brain to become less active and undergo repair. Without repair these nerve cells are unable to function properly with the result that people find that they have trouble with memory and concentration.
Sticking to a regular bedtime is one key to getting a good night's sleep, along with exercising regularly and avoiding foods and drinks high in caffeine for at least eight hours prior to bedtime.
The foundation's tips also recommend using your bedroom for only sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. Removing work materials, computers and televisions from the sleep environment will go a long way toward accomplishing this.

Have More Sex: +3 to 8 Years

A few extra winks under the covers isn't the only bedroom activity you can partake in to extend your life. Sex is another key to living a longer and healthier life.
The years you can add to your lifespan by spending more time in the bedroom -- or wherever else you want, we're not the kind to judge -- comes from a combination of several factors.
The British Medical Journal says that regular sexual activity, meaning two to three times a week, can cut your chance of heart disease and stroke in half. Regular sex can also provide a two- to three-year gain by lowering your blood pressure, improving your sleep and boosting your immunity. The fact that it can burn 200 calories doesn't hurt either.
And if said sex comes as part of a happy marriage, census research shows you'll get another five years added onto your tab.