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Monday, Jan. 26, 2015

LIVING LONGER

Secrets to staying healthy and active

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In the endless quest to stay youthful and vibrant, some may reach for miracle creams to hide the signs of aging while others search for doctor-endorsed medicinal aid. While life expectancy in the United States continues to increase, so does the research surrounding the answers to why. It is not only the length of life that matters but the quality and health of that life as well. While there are many factors that can be attributed to living a longer life, some might be more well-known than others.

The British Medical Journal released findings that those who spent time doing light intensity physical activity every day were more likely to decrease the chances of developing disability, thus contributing to a longer, healthier life.

Though the research leaves some questions unanswered, there is a definitive link between lower levels of physical activity capabilities and lower survival rates in older populations. One suggestion made by BMJ to this connection was that poor levels of physical capabilities may be a result from undetected diseases and aging processes. The measures used in the study were grip strength, chair rise speed and standing balance time. One of the conclusions made was that any significant changes made to physical activity levels in low-performing groups would prove beneficial in the long run.

Not surprisingly, diet is a major factor in the quality and longevity of a healthy life. According to the National Council on Aging, being overweight increases the risk for developing or worsening cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis-related disabilities and some cancers and making smarter lifestyle and diet choices leads to a longer life – primarily by preventing or delaying diseases. In their study, a diet that included grains, olive oil, vegetables, fruit and fish but also low in dairy and meat products, was found to be favorable to health.

The NCOA reports that a proper diet decreases the chances of developing lifeshortening conditions such as heart disease, stroke and some cancers. This healthconscious diet was proven effective in combination with moderate exercise as well as other lifestyle choices, including being tobacco-free.

While the results from making healthy lifestyle choices can have a positive impact on the physical body and life, it also has benefits to mental health. According to the NCOA, choosing healthier behaviors can support cognitive functioning and mental well-being. The study links physical activity to preventing or delaying the onset of mental illness, as well as reducing the symptoms of depression. Equally as significant are the findings that healthy lifestyle choices also have a positive effect on preventing or delaying Alzheimer’s disease, which is estimated to affect up to 16 million Americans by 2050. Mental well-being is a key factor in adding quality to a long life.

There are a few elements in what may lead to living a longer life that aren’t as surprising as diet or exercising. One of those qualities is personality. In a study done by Stanford researchers Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin called The Longevity Project, those with the personality trait of conscientiousness were found to have longer life expectancy. Being diligent, persistent and well-organized led to healthier life decisions.

The study went on to look at job-stress and those who considered themselves hard workers. The Longevity Project found that even in older adults, productive and hardworking people were found to be more socially connected, happier and healthier than those who were less productive. Staying socially connected was a factor that was common all across the board.

In a research study from Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, there was data that determined those with poor social activity had a 50 percent higher odds of death than their more social counterparts. As most would know, because women tend to be more social than men, this plays a role in the fact that women, on average, live longer lives. Staying socially connected affects mental health, which in turn provides a quality to life. Having a social circle and relationship ties offers a support network and can add to a meaningful existence.

In addition to eating right and getting adequate physical exercise as well as making healthy lifestyle choices like avoiding smoking or risky behaviors, there are other avenues in which to be conscious of in order to have a longer, more purposeful life. One of the most critical elements in obtaining a longer, healthier life is to be mindful and aware of the decisions being made and the effect they have on the mind and body.

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