Thanks to today’s advanced research and new innovations, it’s more than possible for us to live longer, stronger and healthier lives. While life expectancy in the U.S. dropped one full year during the first half of 2020, according to a CDC report, much of that was attributed to the pandemic. Prior to Covid, however, life expectancy in the U.S. was 78.8 years in 2019, up a tenth of a year over 2018.
As a longevity researcher, I’ve spent the bulk of my career gathering insights from world-leading health experts, doctors, scientists and nutritionists from all over the world. Here’s what I tell people when they ask about the non-negotiable rules I live by for a longer life:
Early diagnosis is critical for the prevention of disease and age-related decline, so it’s important to get yourself checked regularly, and as comprehensively as possible.
At the very least, I make it a point to have a complete annual physical exam that includes blood count and metabolic blood chemistry panels, a thyroid panel and testing to reveal potential deficiencies in vitamin D, vitamin B, iron and magnesium (all nutrients that our body needs to perform a variety of essential functions).
Poor diet is the top driver of noncommunicable diseases worldwide, killing at least 11 million people every year.
Here are some of my diet rules for a longer life:
- Eat more plants: To reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, try to have every meal include at least one plant-based dish. I typically have broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus or zucchini as a side for lunch and dinner. When I snack, I opt for berries, nuts or fresh veggies.
- Avoid processed foods: Many products you find in grocery stores today are loaded with salt, sugar, saturated fats and chemical preservatives. A 2019 study of 20,000 men and women aged 21 to 90 found that a diet high in processed foods resulted in an 18% increased risk of death by all causes.
- Drink more water: Most of us drink far too little water for our optimal health. I keep a bottle of water with lemon slices at hand wherever I spent most of my day.
- Include healthy fats: Not all fats are bad. High-density lipids (HDL), including monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, are considered “good fats,” and are essential to a healthy heart, blood flow and blood pressure.
Just 15 to 25 minutes of moderate exercise a day can prolong your life by up to three years if you are obese, and seven years if you are in good shape, one study found.
I try not to focus on the specific type of exercise you do. Anything that gets you up out of the chair, moving and breathing more intensely on a regular basis is going to help.
That’s why the method I practice and recommend the most is extremely simple: Walking. Brisk walking can improve cardiovascular health and reduce risk of obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure. It can even ease symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Clinical data shows that intermittent fasting — an eating pattern where you cycle between periods of eating and fasting — can improve insulin stability, cholesterol levels, blood pressure, mental alertness and energy.
To ease into the “eat early, and less often” diet, I started with a 16:8-hour intermittent fasting regimen. This is where you eat all of your meals within one eight-hour period — for instance, between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., or between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.
But keep in mind that a fasting or caloric-restricted diet isn’t for everyone; always talk to your doctor before making any drastic changes to your diet and eating routine.
One of the biggest toxic habits is excessive use of alcohol. Studies show that high and regular use can contribute to damages your liver and pancreas, high blood pressure and the immune system.
Large amounts of sugar consumption is another bad habit. Sure, in the right doses, sugars from fruits, vegetables and even grains play an important role in a healthy diet. I eat fruits and treat myself to some ice cream once in a while. But make no mistake: Excess sugar in all its forms is poison. To lessen my intake, I avoid processed foods and sugary drinks.
Lastly, I don’t smoke — but for anyone who does, I recommend quitting as soon as possible. According to the CDC, cigarette smoking is behind 480,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
A handful of studies of millions of sleepers show that less sleep can lead to a shorter life. Newer studies are strengthening known and suspected relationships between inadequate sleep and a wide range of disorders, including hypertension, obesity and diabetes and impaired immune functioning.
I aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night. For me, an essential ingredient for getting quality sleep is darkness; I make sure there’s no light and no electronic devices in my room before bedtime.
Sergey Young is a longevity researcher, investor and the founder of Longevity Vision Fund. He is also the author of “The Science and Technology of Growing Young: An Insider’s Guide to the Breakthroughs That Will Dramatically Extend Our Lifespan.” Sergey is on the Board of Directors of the American Federation of Aging Research and the Development Sponsor of Age Reversal XPRIZE global competition, designed to cure aging. Follow him on Twitter @SergeyYoung200.