A long and healthy life is the goal of many Americans, but according to a study published in September 2022 in BMJ, the average life expectancy in the United States fell from 78.8 years in 2019 to 76.1 in 2021, marking the largest two-year decline in a century. Research shows that the risk of many chronic diseases – including heart disease, diabetes, dementia and osteoporosis – also increases with age.

The news is not all gloomy, however. There are things anyone can do to reduce their risk of many age-related diseases, add years to their lifespan, and make the dream of a long, healthy life a reality. . The key is to start developing these healthy habits now. Longevity experts share eight things you can do every day to make your golden years shine.

1. Be sure to get some physical activity

why it matters Regular physical activity has been shown to counteract normal muscle aging and help preserve lean muscle mass, according to research.

How to do To get the most health benefits from physical activity, adults need at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as brisk walking or brisk dancing) each week, as well as muscle-strengthening activities, such as lifting weights or doing push-ups. -ups, at least two days a week, according to guidelines issued by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness. That’s about half an hour a day during the work week, and the activity doesn’t have to come from a single gym session. Even short bursts of activity add up, and many experts (and guidelines) argue that it’s best to spread them out, says Laura Carstensen, PhD, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California.

“Find something you enjoy doing that is sustainable over time,” she recommends. “When it’s something you can do relatively easily, it becomes a habit.” You might enjoy swimming or taking spinning classes, but if going to the pool or the gym takes too much effort, you’ll probably skip your workouts. You might be better off keeping some exercise equipment at home, where the barrier to using it is lower.

2. Stay on top of health checkups

why it matters According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, routine screenings can reduce your risk of premature death because they help prevent illnesses or catch them earlier when they are more treatable.

How to do Rachel Marquez, MD, a board-certified family physician with Kaiser Permanente in Virginia, recommends talking to your doctor to make sure you’re up to date on your screenings. She says that depending on your age, sex and other risk factors, you may need to be screened for colorectal cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer uterus, high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high glucose levels, osteoporosis or mental illness. health conditions. It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the screenings that are recommended by the US Preventive Services Task Force.

3. Reduce red meat and processed meat

why it matters A lot of research has linked plant-based diets to a longer lifespan. That doesn’t mean you have to give up meat altogether, though. “The evidence on meat is mixed,” says Dr. Carstensen. “Diets high in red meat are not recommended, but chicken and other meats are often recommended as good sources of protein.”

Diets such as the Mediterranean Diet and the Blue Zones Diet, which emphasize seafood and poultry and minimize red and processed meats, have been shown to reduce the risk of a host of conditions. that can shorten your lifespan, such as heart disease, metabolic disorders, and certain types of cancer, according to a study published in Nutrients in 2021.

How to do If it’s more sustainable for you to switch to mainly poultry and fish rather than going entirely vegetarian, that’s a step in a potentially healthier direction. Start by cutting back on beef and processed meats such as bacon, lunch meats and sausages. Replace them with lean protein sources like fish, chicken, and turkey, as well as vegetarian sources like legumes and quinoa. It can be helpful to experiment with healthy foods to find the ones you like, says Carstensen. If you need more help or have emotional eating issues, finding a nutritionist can be beneficial.

4. Build and maintain balance and core strength

why it matters According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), falls are the leading cause of injury-related death among people aged 65 and older, and the death rate from falls is worsening, especially among people aged 85 and over.

“Core strength is essential for balance,” says Carstensen. “Being slightly out of balance is very common, but most of the time people don’t even detect it because we automatically correct it using our abdominal muscles. If your core is weak, you can’t fix yourself that way and you’re more likely to fall.

How to do Exercise to strengthen your core. For an easy habit that can help, when getting up from a chair, use only the strength of your core and legs, not your arms. “Using your arms reduces the strain on your abdominal muscles,” says Carstensen. To strengthen your balance, try standing on one foot each time you brush your teeth. And talk to your doctor if you need more help: Working with a physical therapist could be beneficial, as most are trained to help develop a fall prevention routine.

5. Stand up!

why it matters Spending a lot of time sitting increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes, even if you exercise, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 2019.

How to do If you work from home, you may need to go the extra mile to add movement to your day. You may not have those natural breaks where you enter and exit the building, talk to colleagues in person, or move around a meeting room. So, you might want to walk around the block, take breaks from chores like making your bed, or spend a few minutes doing yoga poses. A meta-analysis published in March 2022 in Lancet Public Health found that in terms of reducing mortality risk, the ideal number of steps per day is between 6,000 and 8,000 for older people and between 8,000 and 10,000 for young adults. Even if you’re not one to wear a fitness tracker, it’s important to develop the habit of walking more during the day, says Carstensen, even if it’s only a minute every hour.

6. Practice good sleep hygiene

why it matters “Good sleep predicts life expectancy,” says Carstensen. And that doesn’t just mean sleeping longer; it means getting the right amount of quality restorative sleep for your needs. One study found that sleeping less than seven hours or more than eight hours per night increased the risk of death by 24% and 17%, respectively. Official recommendations vary, and it’s not just the quantity but also the quality of sleep that matters. The CDC recommends that adults ages 18 to 60 aim for seven or more hours a night, those ages 61 to 64 get seven to nine hours a night, and anyone 65 or older gets seven to eight. hours.

How to do According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School and the WGBH Educational Foundation, some elements of good sleep hygiene include a regular sleep schedule, limiting caffeine and alcohol, especially before bedtime, and avoiding the use of electronic devices before bedtime. If you practice good sleep hygiene but still experience daytime sleepiness, it’s a good idea to follow up with your doctor to rule out things like sleep apnea.

7. Take time to be grateful

why it matters Although the evidence examining the health effects of gratitude practices is limited, being grateful could help you be more likely to participate in healthy activities such as exercise and also more likely to seek help when you have a health problem, according to The Wiley Encyclopedia of Health Psychology.

How to do Carstensen practices gratitude by taking the time to “sit down, reflect, and be grateful,” she says. “Breathe and think about what is good in the world and what you appreciate. It calms you down. There is a kind of reset that is very useful for mental health. It really changes your perspective.

8. Schedule time for your friends

why it matters Having fewer friends is linked to negative health outcomes as well as loneliness, depression, stress and anxiety. Having just two to four close friends may reduce your risk, according to a study published online in Aging and society in July 2022.

How to do Reach out to your friends, whether by text or phone, and plan to spend time together. “Make sure they know you care. If you let them know you care, they’re much more likely to let you know they care too, so it’s very important to set aside time for these exchanges,” says Carstensen.