How to Live Longer

How to Live Longer

The average human life expectancy is currently 67.59 years. Monaco has the highest life expectancy of any country with an average of 89.68 years (the United States ranks 51st, with an average life expectancy of 78.49 years). What can you do to live longer? Research has found that genes determine 20% to 30% of an individual’s longevity, while the remaining 70% to 80% is determined by environmental factors and an individual’s behaviors. (Hjelmborg & Iachine 2006).

 

genes

Genes only determine 20% to 30% of an individual’s lifespan. Interestingly, the largest genetic impact occurs after the age of 60 (Hjelmborg & Iachine 2006). New research is beginning to show that the effect of genes on longevity could be much larger after the age of 85 (Sebastiani & Solovieff 2010).

  • Sex: Women consistently live longer than men (Austad 2006). In the United States, women live an average of 81.05 years, while men live an average of 76.05 years.
  • Other genetic factors: Genes impact longevity mainly through their influence on disease. Some diseases are 100% genetically determined such as sickle-cell anemia. Most conditions, however, develop from a combination of genetic and environmental factors. On the bright side, a number of longevity enhancing genes have recently been discovered (Sebastiani & Solovieff 2012).
  • Personality: Personality is also largely genetically determined. Of the Big 5 personality traits (neuroticism, extraversion, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness) only conscientiousness is positively related to longevity (Friedman & Tucker 1995). Conscientious individuals are characterized as being well-organized, prudent, and persistent. Inconsistent results have been found in the relationship between other personality traits and longevity.

 

environmental factors

Environmental factors are not as easily changed as behaviors, but fortunately they play a smaller role than behaviors.

  • Geography: Those who live in locations with good sanitation, good housing, running water, low crime rates and modern medicine have longer life expectancies. Exposure to toxins such as radon, asbestos, carbon monoxide, lead, mercury, and radiation can reduce life expectancy (Mokdad & Marks 2004). Overall, a decrease of 10 μg per cubic meter in concentration of fine particle matter (pollution) is associated with an increase in life expectancy of .61 years (Pope & Ezzati 2009).
  • Noise pollution: Chronic daytime noise exposure of greater than 60 dB was associated with a 4% increase in all-cause mortality (Halonen & Hansell 2015).
  • Culture: Culture can have a large impact on behavior. For example, Seventh Day Adventists (who don’t smoke, don’t drink, eat well, and engage in a number of other healthy behaviors) have been found to have the longest life expectancy of any group in the U.S. (Fraser 1999).
  • Parental divorce: Children of divorced parents died an average of 5 years earlier than children whose parents remained together. Surprisingly, the death of a parent has no effect on life expectancy (Schwartz & Friedman 1995).  
  • Education: There is a strong relationship between education and mortality, with more education leading to a longer life (Lleras-Muney 2005). Starting school at an early age has a negative effect on longevity, while skipping a grade appears to have no effect (Kern & Friedman 2009).
  • Income: Individuals with higher levels of income  live significantly longer; this is especially true for men (Lin & Rogot 2003).
  • Employment: The life expectancy of unemployed individuals is significantly lower (Lin & Rogot 2003). However, working too much is also associated with a shorter lifespan. Compared to working between a 35 and 40 hour work week, those who worked 55 hours a week or more and a 33% greater risk of stroke and a 13% greater risk of coronary heart disease (Kivimaki & Jokela 2015).
  • Career success: Individuals who experienced success in their careers live much longer than those who don’t (Kern, Friedman & Martin 2009).
  • Marriage: Married people live longer the longest. People who stay single have a longer life expectancy than those who divorce. Those who divorce and do not remarry have the lowest life expectancy. Marriage and divorce have a much larger effect on the life expectancy of men than women (Tucker & Friedman 1996).
  • Religion: Religious people tend to live longer (McCullough & Hoyt 2000). The positive effect of religion is much more pronounced in women. (McCullough & Friedman 2009).
  • Weight: A Body Mass Index (BMI) of between 22.5 and 25 kg/m2 is associated with the lowest mortality risk for both men and women (Whitlock and Lewington 2009). Moderate obesity (30.0-35.0 kg/m2) reduces life expectancy by an average of 3 years, while morbid obesity (40.0-50.0 kg/m2) reduces life expectancy by an average of 10 years (Peto & Whitlock 2010). BMI isn’t an ideal measure (because a person with a lot of muscle would have a high BMI), but these studies shows that obesity shortens your lifespan.
  • Overall happiness Happy people live longer (Diener & Chan 2010). A study of 180 Catholic nuns found that those who had the most positive emotional content in their early life biographies lived the longest (Danner & Snowdon 2001).

 

behaviors

A number of studies have shown that adopting or eliminating certain behaviors can greatly affect longevity.

  • Stop Smoking: Men who never smoked have a life expectancy 10.5 years longer than men who smoke until death. Women who never smoked have a life expectancy 8.9 years longer than women who smoke until death. The sooner one quits the greater their life expectancy increases, with most benefits gained if one quits by age 35. Even quitting at age 65 can have a dramatic effect. Men who quit at age 65 gain an average of 1.4 to 2.0 years of life expectancy, while women gain 2.7 to 3.7 years of life expectancy (Taylor & Sasselblad 2002).
  • Drink Less: Drinking 1 to 2 alcoholic drink has been associated with an increase in life expectancy, while drinking more than two drinks a day decreases  your lifespan, with mortality risk increasing the more you drink (Marmot & Brunner 1991).
  • Don’t do drugs: Doing illicit drugs reduces ones’ life expectancy. The type of drug and the quantity and frequency of use determines the adverse effect (Nutt & King 2010).
  • Eat well: A Mediterranean diet (Perez-Lopez & Chedraui 2009) has consistently been shown to increase longevity. Overall, limit/ avoid red meat, processed meat, trans fats, saturated fat, added sugar and salt. Eat more legumes, nuts, fish, monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Restriction of caloric intake by 20%-30% has also been associated with longevity (Roth & Polotsky 2012).
  • Cook more: A study found that elderly participants who cooked up to 5x a week were 47% more likely to be alive 10 years later (Chen & Lee 2012).
  • Physical activity: Those high in physical activity live 2.1 years longer than those exercise infrequently even after adjusting for age, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index (Pekkanen & Nissinen 1987). Vigorous physical activities have been shown to increase longevity more than moderate or light exercise (Lee & Paffenbarger 2000). The benefits of additional vigorous exercise tends to plateau over time or even decline at very high levels (O’Keefe & Lavie 2013).
  • Get up: Women who reported more than six hours per day of sitting were 37% more likely to die over a given period of time than those who sat fewer than three hours a day. Men who sat more than six hours a day were 18% more likely to die than those who sat fewer than three hours per day. Time spent sitting was associated with mortality even among men and women with the highest levels of physical activity (Patel & Bernstein 2010). Similarly, one study found that people who watch television for an average of 6 hours a day can expect to live 4.8 years less than someone who watches no television (Veerman & Healy 2012).
  • Walk fast: It also helps to pick up the pace when you’re walking. A study found that for every additional minute/mile of walking speed, all-cause mortality increased by 1.8% (Williams & Thompson 2013).
  • Social relationships: Individuals with adequate social relationships have a 50% greater likelihood of survival compared to those with poor or insufficient social relationships. (Holt-Lunstad & Smith 2010). A meta analysis also found that mortality risk increased 26% for reported loneliness, 29% for social isolation and 32% for living alone (Hold-Lunstad & Smith 2010). Pets are not a good substitute though. Playing with pets has no affect on life expectancy (Tucker & Friedman 2005).
  • Sleep: People who sleep between 6.5 and 7.4 hours a night have been found to live the longest (Cappuccio & D’Elia 2013).
  • Use a sauna: Surprisingly, a study found that all-cause mortality was 24% lower for people who used a sauna 2-3 times per week and 40% lower for people who used a sauna 4-7 times per week (Laukkanen & Khan 2015).
  • Maintain a sense of control: A classic study found that giving nursing home residents more choice and responsibility over their lives had a 50% reduced mortality rate over the following 18 months (Rodin & Langer 1977).

 

Conclusion

It is possible that you could live a healthy lifestyle and still die early. It’s also possible that someone who smokes lives a long time. However, these are outliers. Habitually engaging in healthy behaviors will improve your odds of living a long and happy life.

 

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