Here’s a reason not to hit the snooze button anymore: Sleeping too much can reduce life expectancy, according to a February 2002 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry. The study found that people who sleep more than eight hours per night had a significantly higher death rate than normal. But late-night-party-goers shouldn’t rejoice: researches say that sleeping less than four hours also increases death rates. People who sleep between six and seven hours per night were shown to live the longest.
2. Be optimistic
Researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. found that optimistic people had a 50% decreased risk of early death compared with those who leaned more toward pessimism. The results, published in the August 2002 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings, make sense: Those with a positive outlook on life are probably less stressed, better equipped to deal with adversity and, consequently, healthier. Optimists also tend to have lower blood pressure than pessimists, which, again, is most likely related to how positive thinkers respond to stress.
3. Have more sex
No complaints here. There’s decent evidence that sex helps keep us healthy, and thus increases longevity. Butaccording to researchers, it’s not necessarily an actual biological response generated by sex that makes us live longer. What’s more likely is that having intimate sex means you are less stressed, happier and better rested–all factors that can lower blood pressure and protect against stroke and heart disease. A study published in the April 2004 Journal of the American Medical Association found that “high ejaculation frequency was related to decreased risk of total prostate cancer.”
4. Get a pet
People who own pets, especially dogs, have been shown to be less stressed and require fewer visits to their physicians than non-owners. Survival rates for heart attack victims who had a pet have been shown to be 12% longer than for those who did not have one, according to one of the first studies dealing with the impact pets can have on our health, led by researcher Erica Friedmann. Pet owners have also been shown to have lower blood pressure. The reasons for these findings are most likely related to an array of psychological factors, such as the facts that owning a pet decreases loneliness and depression, encourages laughter and nurturing, and stimulates exercise.
5. Get a VAP
It’s estimated that about half of the people with heart disease–the No. 1 killer in the U.S.–have normal cholesterol levels, which raises serious doubt as to the ability of traditional cholesterol tests to detect risk. But more advanced cholesterol tests, like the VAP test, made by the Birmingham, Ala.-based lab Atherotech, may remedy that. The VAP test measures important metrics, which traditional cholesterol tests miss completely. Unlike a regular test, which only detects half of the people with heart disease, the VAP has been shown to detect 90% of heart disease patients. That’s important because lipid abnormalities can most often be rectified with medication and dietary changes. And since the danger of the abnormalities is cumulative, the sooner you start making changes, the better. This simple blood test can be done in most doctors’ offices.
6. Be rich
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 24% of Americans whose family income is less than $20,000 are “limited” by chronic disease, whereas only 6% of people with an income of $75,000 or more have this problem. In general, population groups that suffer the worst health status are those that have the highest poverty rates and the least education. One possible explanation for this is that higher incomes permit access to better food and housing, safer neighborhoods and increased medical care. Higher incomes also increase the opportunity to engage in health-promoting behaviors. That’s not to say that being very wealthy is always better for longevity–after all, being a chief executive certainly exposes you to a high level of stress that can decrease life expectancy. But according to the data, striving to be financially comfortable is a good goal for aspiring centenarians
7. Stop smoking
To say that smoking is bad for your health is, of course, not revelatory. But it still cannot be denied that quitting can significantly improve your prospects of living a long life. Middle-aged men who are long-term, heavy smokers face twice the risk of developing more aggressive forms of prostate cancer than men who have never smoked, according to findings from a study that appeared in the July 2003 issue of Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention. According to a recent study in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, cigarette smoking has been clearly linked to the most common causes of death in the elderly. “Smoking is–for all but some exceptional subjects–incompatible with successful aging and compromises life expectancy even in extreme longevity,” the study states.
8. Chill out
A study led by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2002 found that men who were classified as having the highest level of anger in response to stress were over three times more likely to develop premature heart disease when compared to men who reported lower anger responses. Furthermore, they were over six times more likely to have a heart attack by the age of 55. One possible explanation for these dramatic findings is the correlation between anger and high blood pressure, a condition that commonly develops in highly stressed individuals. The lesson here is simple: Try as much as you can to let the unavoidable, everyday stresses roll off your shoulders.
9. Eat your antioxidants
Antioxidants, special substances that are found in foods ranging from cinnamon and cloves to blueberries and artichokes, have the ability to scavenge free radicals, compounds whose unstable chemical nature accelerates the effect of aging on our cells. Until these excess free radicals are quenched by antioxidant molecules, cellular damage accumulates. This contributes to an array of degenerative diseases, including atherosclerosis, Alzheimer’s and cancer. Research shows that certain types of beans are among the best sources of antioxidants, while blueberries and other berries follow close behind.
10. Marry well
While the phrase “marry well” is typically used to describe people who marry someone rich, we are talking about something entirely different: genetics. Apparently, longevity genes can be inherited. According to a February 2005 study in Mechanisms of Aging and Development, exceptional longevity and healthy aging is an inherited phenotype across three generations. So, for the bachelors out there deciding between a few women, pick the one whose grandparents are still alive. Of course, this won’t make you live longer, but it might help your children.