Add 40 years to your life

Make the right choices and you can add years to your life. Here's how.

By Nancy Ripton

Add 40 years to your life
©iStockphoto.com/iofoto
Religion adds years - Add 4 to 14 years
It doesn't matter what you believe, but you should believe in something greater than yourself if you want to live longer. "Religion is always one of the biggest indicators of longevity," says Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest (National Geographic, 2008). "It could be that religious people are less likely to engage in risky behaviours, have strong social networks and experience less stress," says Buettner. It's not enough just to believe; you need to visit a place of worship at least four times a month for the optimal benefits, he adds.

Quit smoking - Add 4 to 10 years
Smoking accounts for 25 percent of all deaths of people between age 35 and 69 in the United States, and smokers die, on average, a decade earlier than their nonsmoking peers. The good news is that quitting at any age will add years to your life, and the earlier you quit the better. According to a 2013 study by Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the Centre for Global Health Research in Toronto, smokers who quit before age 35 will gain back all 10 years of life lost. Quitting between 35 and 44 restores nine years, between 45 and 54 restores six years, and between 55 and 64, four years. "Even over age 65, there are benefits, but if you smoke, you have less chance of reaching that age," says Jha.

Lose weight - Add 3 years

Optimal weight is a body mass index (BMI) of 22.5 to 25 (calculate yours by dividing your weight, in kilograms, by your height in metres, squared). Once your BMI creeps over 25, you start to shorten your life expectancy. A study in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 found that morbid obesity (indicated by a BMI of more than 40) decreases life expectancy by 10 years (compared to those in the ideal range) because of added stress on the body and the increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. "Many of us fall somewhere in between," says Jha. People with a BMI of 30 to 35 can add three years of life by losing just 10 to 20 pounds. Calculate your BMI at diabetes.ca/bmi.

Coffee is good for you - Add 2.24 years

A study of more than 400,000 people conducted by the National Cancer Institute in the U.S. found that those who drank two to six cups of coffee daily were at less risk of dying from diabetes, heart disease, respiratory diseases and other illnesses than nondrinkers are. Researchers think chlorogenic acid, an antioxidant found in coffee, helps fight against cell injury, while another compound, cafestol, improves blood vessel function. For maximum benefits, drink Greek coffee. "Slow-boiling your coffee boosts cafestol significantly," says Buettner.

Wine is good for you too - Add 5 years
Experts aren't sure if it's the antioxidant benefits, the relaxation of the social ritual or the fact that casual drinkers spend more time with friends, but in multiple studies, enjoying up to two glasses of wine a day has been linked with reduced rates of cardiovascular disease and some cancers. A 2009 study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, for example, found that men who were light wine drinkers (half a glass a day) outlived teetotallers by five years.

Exercise more often - Add 3 years
You don't need to be a gym rat to enjoy the benefits of physical activity. According to a recent study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, doing two and a half hours a week of any aerobic activity (walking and biking count!) will add an average of three years to your life by improving your heart health and reducing fat.

Win an award - Add 2 years
It may be an honour just to be nominated, but you need to win the prize to add years to your life. A study from the University of Warwick in the U.K. looked at more than 500 Nobel Prize nominees to see the effect that accolades have on life span. It turns out, winners lived two years longer than mere nominees.

Have enjoyable sex - Add 4.28 years
Quantity or quality? Men can add years to their lives simply by having more sex, period. But women need to enjoy intercourse to get a longevity boost. A Duke University study in the U.S. found that women who reported a lifetime of enjoyable sex lived 4.28 years longer than those who had a more mixed experience. It doesn't matter if women aren't having good sex (or even having sex at all) in their later years; it's what happens for most of their lives that counts.

Floss everyday

Now there's another reason to floss daily. A recent study in the Journal of Aging Research found that not flossing increased the risk of premature death in elderly people by 30 percent.


Since you're now going to be living a lot longer, you'll have plenty of good time to do 50 good deeds for 50 days

This story was originally titled "Add 40 years to your life" in the September 2013 issue.

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