The average American will live for 78.5 years, an increase of around 8 years since the 1960s. In addition, there are nearly twice as many centenarians as there were 40 years ago, and that number is rising year after year.
We’re heading in the right direction, but we’re still a few years behind other developed nations. In Canada, for instance, the average life expectancy is over 82 years, and in Japan it’s over 84 years.
Modern Americans have access to better nutrition and healthcare and overall, we know more about the body and the aging process. As a result, we have a general idea of the things you can do to extend your lifespan, and these are the things we’ll look at here.
It’s never too late to start improving your health and longevity, and with these tips for longer living, you could add years to your life:
Smoking is thought to lower your life expectancy by 10 years and the older you are, the greater your risk of early death.
Smokers are considered high risk for a host of cancers, including lung cancer and throat cancer. They also run the risk of developing a variety of serious lung and heart problems. It’s one of the worst things you can do for your health, but the body is very adept at healing itself and, if you stop, it will recover.
The longer you abstain, the lower your risk becomes until you’re eventually back to a base rate. In other words, it’s never too late to stop smoking and just because you’ve survived cancer-free for many decades, doesn’t mean you’re immune.
Some of the oldest people in the world have smoked, but only because almost everyone who lived in the early 20th century smoked at some point. If they hadn’t, we’d likely have a lot more centenarians alive right now.
Don’t Eat to Excess
A calorie-controlled diet could significantly increase your lifespan. Studies on populations, like those on Okinawa, Japan as well as animal studies and human trials, indicate that a calorie-restricted diet can slow the aging process. It may also be one of the reasons Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world, despite a recent history in which nearly all of the population smoked.
That doesn’t mean you need to starve yourself, but you should avoid eating to excess.
It’s a trap that many Americans have fallen into. Food is cheap and abundant, and it’s tempting to overindulge every now and then and slip into a cycle of binge diets and extreme weight loss to offset the damage.
Simply keeping your calories to good levels or less could add years to your life. It will also prevent weight gain and reduce your risk of diabetes.
Eat Healthy Fats
Swap the butter, cream, and low-quality vegetable oils for extra virgin olive oil, and add avocados, oily fish, and nuts to your diet. These fats could improve heart health and increase longevity.
It’s no coincidence that people in the Mediterranean live longer than most. On the one hand, countries like Greece have some of the highest numbers of smokers in the world and are struggling with increasing poverty levels. At the same time, they eat a diet rich in olive oil, fish, and fresh produce.
At the time of writing, Greece has more smokers than any other country in Europe and beats all other developed nations, with over 42% of its population addicted to these cancer sticks.
In the past, those rates have been higher, and you had as much chance of finding a non-smoking Greek as you did a vegan Viking. Based on this and on everything that we know about cigarettes, Greece should have the lowest life expectancy in the developed world. In fact, though, it’s in the top 20, with Greeks living nearly 4 years longer than Americans on average.
It’s all down to their diet, a large part of which is the healthy fats that they consume in abundance.
Eat Fruits and Vegetables
Along with lots of healthy fats, Greeks, Italians, and Spaniards eat a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables. All of these help to keep these countries amongst the top 20 in the world as far as life expectancy is concerned.
In fact, Spain and Italy are the top two countries in Europe and rank higher than any other western nation, beaten only by Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore when ranked globally.
These southern European countries rely on the produce of the land and eat a mostly pescatarian diet. They eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, lots of olive oil, beans, and legumes, plenty of fish and seafood, and small amounts of poultry and red meat. In addition, they consume much less dairy than we do in the United States.
While we tend to feast on cheese, butter, milk, cream, and yogurt, the Mediterranean diet consists of small amounts of low-fat yogurt and cheese. If you want to live a long and healthy life, you should take inspiration from the food-obsessed Italians, Spaniards, and Greeks.
See a Doctor Regularly
All the things mentioned above could have a significant effect on your longevity, and improvements in these areas are one of the reasons humans are living longer.
However, the biggest difference is that we now have access to better healthcare. This is also why the life expectancy in the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and other developed nations, is much higher than in Sub-Saharan Africa, where the average is less than 60.
Diseases like diabetes, colon cancer, and heart disease, along with the rising cost of healthcare, is part of the reason why the US has a lower life expectancy than other developed nations. That’s despite having access to some of the world’s best healthcare.
If you want to stay healthy for longer, you need to see a doctor as soon as a symptom develops. Make sure you’re insured, have regular screenings and tests, and always consult your doctor whenever there is an issue.
We can detect most diseases before they spread, and if detected early enough nearly everything is treatable. As scary as it is to visit a doctor and prepare for bad news, it could be what saves your life.
Don’t Drink to Excess
There’s nothing wrong with a little alcohol every now and then but drinking to excess is never good for you. It’s often said that people who consume moderate amounts are healthier than those who don’t consume any. This might be true, but the research backing this statement is far from concrete.
Firstly, you have to consider the reasons an individual abstains from alcohol. Some do it for religious reasons while others because they don’t like the taste or feeling, but many abstain because they used to be addicted or have suffered from serious drug addictions in the past. They may also abstain because they are medicated or have mental health problems.
In all cases, individuals in these groups are more likely to die prematurely than an otherwise healthy person who drinks moderately.
You also have to consider that someone who drinks moderately may have more control over their impulses and has found better ways of managing stress and controlling their vices. On the other hand, someone who abstains may resort to more dangerous habits or allow that stress to build.
In other words, while it’s true that a little alcohol every now and then won’t hurt you, it probably won’t help you either. It’s all about maintaining moderation in all areas of your life and avoiding excess.
Keep a Healthy Social Life
In our youth, we attend parties, spend a lot of time with friends, and generally maintain an active social life. As we reach middle age, one of the greatest joys in life is canceling plans and enjoying a quiet night in front of the TV.
It’s a pattern that many people follow, and it means that, by the time we reach 60, we’ve distanced ourselves from old friends and avoided making new ones. Family becomes the priority, friends take a back seat, and when that family leaves and does their own thing we’re alone.
This loneliness can be crippling, especially for people who were reliant on their spouses and have since outlived them.
One of the best things you can do for your health is to keep your social circle strong throughout your life. Always make time for old friends and new friends, and keep those connections strong as you enter your later years.
If, for some reason, you don’t have friends and can’t connect with anyone new, get yourself a dog or cat! The bond that humans share with animals is often just as strong.
In any case, avoiding loneliness will improve your mental and physical health, and studies suggest that it could add years to your life.