Humans are living longer and longer. Currently, the oldest living person in the world is American-born Spanish supercentenarian Maria Branyas Morera. At 116 years old, she is the 22nd-oldest verified living person ever. As time passes and medical breakthroughs keep pushing life expectancy forward, scientists say the longest possible lifespan for a human being is decades longer than the oldest people on the planet today. But how can you increase your healthspan as you age?
Research published in Nature Communications in May 2021 found that 120 to 150 years is the “absolute limit of human lifespan.” Using mathematical modeling to analyze (anonymous) medical data from more than 500,000 people in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Russia, researchers found that this age range is when the body fully loses resilience, or, its ability to recover from illness and injury.
The key to living a long and enjoyable life is learning how to increase your healthspan, the number of years a person lives free of debilitating disease or illness. To help you live a healthier and longer life, we’re looking to some of the most qualified longevity experts for their best advice on aging well.
8 longevity tips for increasing your healthspan
1. Follow the “five-a-day” nutrition formula
Staying on top of nutrition requirements can be tricky, so researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health sought to make it easier with a science-backed five-a-day formula. All you need to consume is two servings of fruit and three servings of vegetables daily in order for it to have a positive impact on your healthspan.
“This amount likely offers the most benefit in terms of prevention of major chronic disease and is a relatively achievable intake for the general public,” says lead study author Dong D. Wang, MD, ScD, an epidemiologist, nutritionist, and faculty member at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, according to CNBC.
2. Spend time sitting on the floor
In Japan, which is home to many of the world’s oldest people, it’s common practice to sit on the floor. “I spent two days with a 103-year-old woman and saw her get up and down from the floor 30 or 40 times, so that’s like 30 or 40 squats done daily,” says Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner.
Being able to get up and down from a cross-leg seated position is a practice that’s tested through as the sitting-rising test. According to research published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, those who were least able to complete this movement were five or six times more likely to die than those who were best able to complete the task.
So, take a seat—it could very well increase your healthspan.
3. Get regular exercise
We all know that getting regular exercise can help you live a longer life. And a November 2020 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who engage in moderate or vigorous exercise 150 minutes per week had lower all-cause mortality, or death from any cause. This 150-minute marker aligns with the exercise recommendations from the American Heart Association.
Try this 25-minute HIIT workout:
4. Get optimistic about aging
If you’re anticipating that you’ll have an awful time in old age and doing nothing to prevent that from happening, chances are, you probably will. If you’re optimistic about aging, you’re more likely to take the steps now that can help you live a happier and longer life, shows a December 2020 study published in The International Journal of Aging and Human Development.
“What people read, see, and hear about later life affects their perceptions of old age, even when they’re young. And if they have negative stereotypes, they carry those with them throughout life, and eventually internalize the negativity,” says Shelbie Turner, MPH, co-author of the study and a PhD candidate at Oregon State University. “Then we set ourselves up for a self-fulfillment prophecy where we expect only loss and decline in old age, so are not motivated to engage in health behaviors that can prevent or delay negative aging consequences.”
5. Manage your stress
Stress management is about much more than winding down. When you manage your stress, you’re able to impact the activity of your genes. “We have about 22,500 genes, but only 1,500 of them are on at any one time,” says Michael Roizen, MD, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic. He explains that stress management can turn off genes that lead to inflammation, which can lead to issues like arthritis and heart disease. “Which genes are on or off are under your control,” says Dr. Roizen. “Which means how long you live and how well you live up to the current era is under your control.”
Try this yoga flow for stress-relief:
6. Live in the present
When Daniel Kennedy, director and producer of the docu-series Healthy Long Life, spoke to centenarians in Mexico about their lives and practices, he found that they lived in the moment. “[Many of the people I met] don’t focus on yesterday or tomorrow, they focus on today,” he says.
7. Practice compassion
Caring for others can help you live a longer and happier life. The Dalai Lama, who is just shy of his 87th birthday, says compassion is key for happiness. “Compassion…opens our heart. Fear, anger, hatred narrow your mind,” he said during a 2016 talk that celebrated his 80th birthday, according to HuffPost.
A study published in June 2020 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that volunteering is a common hobby among those who live long lives. “Our results show that volunteerism among older adults doesn’t just strengthen communities, but enriches our own lives by strengthening our bonds to others, helping us feel a sense of purpose and well-being, and protecting us from feelings of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness,” Eric S. Kim, PhD, research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a press release about the study.
8. Follow the Mediterranean Diet
You’ll hear experts recommend the Mediterranean Diet time and time again, and that’s because it’s so good. It’s centered around nutrient-dense fats, nuts, seeds, legumes, fruits, veggies, whole grains, and seafood—all of which can play an integral role in learning how to increase one’s healthspan.
“The Mediterranean Diet isn’t a specific set of rules and restrictions, making it way easier to adopt than other trendy diets,” says registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, MS, RD, in an episode of You Versus Food on Well+Good’s YouTube channel. “It’s got some serious scientific backing and it doesn’t have to be super expensive.” Research published in the medical journal Gut in June 2020 found that following the Mediterranean Diet may help the aging process by lowering inflammation markers and increasing both brain function and gut health.
Watch the video below to learn more about the Mediterranean diet: