Live longer

Lifestyle choices that might add years to life expectancy

Lifestyle choices that might add years to life expectancy

September 25, 2006|by JULIE E. GREENE

Want to increase your odds of seeing your grandchildren grow up or of seeing Major League Baseball's Baltimore Orioles, Pittsburgh Pirates or Washington Nationals actually win a World Series?

There's the obvious: Stop smoking, exercise regularly and eat right.

Those three things can't be underestimated, but there are other things that you can do or avoid doing that could help improve your life expectancy, doctors say.

Stay connected

"Married men live longer than single men. Maybe that's because someone takes care of them," says Dr. David Fein, medical director at Princeton Longevity Center in New Jersey.

Someone is there to make sure they eat better and say, "Hey, I think you're having a stroke."

While a wife reminds her husband to take his medication, not eat or drink too much and tag along with her to do this or that so he's not sedentary, it's just as important to have someone to care for as it is to be cared for, says Dr. Greg Lyon-Loftus with Mont Alto (Pa.) Family Practice.


If someone depends on you, you fight to get better or stay healthy, he says. That someone could be a spouse or pet.

"It's not that the dog takes care of you. It's that the dog requires you to take care of them," he says.

"People with pets do better because it's companionship. That helps handle stress," Fein says.

Avoid chairs

"I tend to think the two biggest killers out there are chairs and stress," Fein says.

There are plenty of studies that show sitting for eight, 10 hours a day isn't good in the long run, Fein says. People need to be active rather than sedentary.

If you can't get rid of the chair, put the recliner in a room other than the one with the television, Lyon-Loftus says. And throw away your remote so you have to get up every time you want to change the channel.

Step into the sunlight

While prolonged exposure to the sun without proper protection can lead to skin cancer, some sun exposure is good for the body, Fein says.

Ultraviolet light activates the vitamin D consumed from food. Vitamin D is essential in controlling calcium levels in blood and bones and plays a role in keeping down inflammation, which is important in protection against cardiovascular problems and cancer, Fein says.

People need vitamin D activated so calcium will strengthen bones, Fein says. "Osteoporosis is the leading cause of admissions to nursing homes in the U.S.," he says.


Have a chuckle. Laugh out loud.

Laughter relieves stress, which improves blood flow, Fein says.

"Even hospital studies show that people who watch comedies on television have better outcomes than people who don't. Clearly having a good sense of humor and spending some time laughing is good for health," Fein says.

Calm down

Not only does having a hostile personality make people unattractive, it also is a good predictor of a heart attack.

"People who are more generally hot tempered, angry, hostile are much more likely to get coronary artery disease," Fein says.

"Calm down," he says. "Do not let things bother you so much."

Developing an attitude of letting things slide off your back can help prevent stress. Stress causes hormonal changes. Blood pressure and the levels of cortisol and adrenaline go up, slowing blood flow in the body among having other effects, Fein says.

Prevent defense is good offense

As you get older, it's not too late to think about preventative care.

Regularly explore your health with your primary care doctor, whether the two of you decide that's needed every three months or every two years, Lyon-Loftus says.

The older you get, the more important it is to monitor the things that could kill you, he says. Having a stomach problem or high blood pressure is more likely to have a serious effect on your health when you're older - say 60 or older - than when you're younger.

Try tai chi

Tai chi is a series of postures and exercises good for meditation as well as self-defense.

Aerobic exercise such as tai chi is good for a person's ventilatory oxygen capacity - how much fresh air a person can move in and out of the lungs in a given time - which improves long-term health, Lyon-Loftus says.

Tai chi also helps stretch muscles and improves balance, helping to decrease the chances of falling, Lyon-Loftus says. Falls can take a serious toll on elderly people, such as breaking a hip and requiring care in a nursing home.

Cook your own meals

"If you get into cooking your own meals, you'll be healthier than if you don't," Lyon-Loftus says.

Single people tend to eat more at restaurants or eat prepared junk food, which tend to contain too much salt and fat, Lyon-Loftus says. Those servings also are too big.

The Herald-Mail Articles