Longevity Articles

Building Habits and Routines to Support Longevity

Building Habits and Routines to Support Longevity

Popularized by a recent Netflix series (Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zones), cultivating habits and routines that foster long and healthy lives is at the top of peopleā€™s minds. While you donā€™t have to do everything that the inhabitants of the so-called Blue Zonesā€”regions of the world with higher percentages of people who live to be 100 or moreā€”do, many of these healthy habits have been proven to extend both healthspan and lifespan.

Although genetics certainly play a role in overall health and longevity, research shows that only 20-40% of lifespan is attributed to our genesā€”meaning, we have quite a bit of control over how long we live. If you want to start living your best, healthiest life, try incorporating these eight habits into your everyday routine to support longevity.Ā Ā 

The Top 8 Habits That Support Longevity

1.Ā Eating Healthy: Antioxidants, Healthy Fats, and Fiber

A longevity-focused diet incorporates plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, omega-3s, fiber, and antioxidants. But itā€™s also about what you donā€™t includeā€”like sugar, added salt, preservatives, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats (like trans fats and excessive saturated fats).Ā 

Some of the best foods to eat that support longevity are:

  • Fatty fish: Oily fish like sardines, salmon, tuna, and mackerel are loaded with omega-3 fats and linked to improved health outcomes and longer telomeresā€”a cellular marker of aging. Research shows that people with higher blood levels of omega-3 fats have a 15-18% reduced risk of dying from any cause compared to those with lower levels.
  • Berries: Many fruits in the berry family contain high levels of anthocyaninsā€”flavonoid antioxidants that fight inflammation and oxidative stress. In one animal study with roundworms, blueberry extract increased lifespan by 44%, and research with older adults shows that blueberry extract improves memory and cardiovascular function.
  • Leafy greens: We all know that we should be eating our vegetablesā€”but some veggies pack more punch than others, like the leafy green family of kale, spinach, beet greens, Swiss chard, romaine, watercress, collard greens, and bok choy, among others. Specifically, arugula contains the anti-inflammatory compound erucin and dietary nitrates, which are vasodilating compounds that convert into nitric oxide in the body and are beneficial for cardiovascular health.Ā 
  • Ginger and garlic: Although only used in small amounts in recipes, ginger and garlic are loaded with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant-rich compounds.Ā  Research shows that two compounds in gingerā€”gingerenone A and 6-shoagalā€”act as senotherapeutics, which kill off senescent cells. Garlic contains allicin, an antioxidant that has been studied for its role in preserving cognitive and immune function with age. In a large study of Chinese adults, those who consumed garlic five times per week or more had an 11% reduced risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who rarely ate garlic.
  • Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cabbage, bok choy, kale, and Brussels sprouts are rich in the compound sulforaphane, which acts as a potent antioxidant. Research shows that sulforaphane helps with detoxification, supports blood glucose control, delays cellular senescence, and reduces oxidative stress.Ā 
  • Fermented foods: Sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, tempeh, kombucha, and kimchi are known to benefit the gut microbiome, which has been linked to longevity. These bacteria-rich foods also support cognitive, metabolic, and cardiovascular health and may even extend lifespan.Ā 
  • Mushrooms: Although considered a vegetable, mushrooms are their own unique class (fungi) that provide health benefits above and beyond many common veggies. They contain a heart-healthy fiber called beta-glucan, antioxidant minerals like selenium, and ergothioneineā€”a polyphenol associated with neural protection whose levels decline in the body with age. In a study of older Chinese adults, those who consumed mushrooms at least once per week had a 14% reduced risk of all-cause mortality compared to those who rarely ate them.
Many fruits in the berry family contain high levels of anthocyaninsā€”flavonoid antioxidants that fight inflammation and oxidative stress.

    2.Ā Physical Activity: Which Type Is Best?

    Regular exercise can slow down aging on the cellular level and promote better organ function, contributing to longer healthspans. Exercise improves several hallmarks of aging, including genomic stability, telomere length, and mitochondrial function. Research shows that adults with high physical activity levels have telomeres that are nine years younger than those who are sedentary. Ā 

    But which type is betterā€”aerobic, strength training, or flexibility-focused? Unsurprisingly, all forms of exercise are beneficial for various parts of the body. Aerobic or cardio-based exercises are excellent for maintaining heart, vascular, and lung health, while weight or resistance training benefits our muscles, joints, and bonesā€”common areas of decline with age.

    When it comes to neurogenesisā€”the formation of new neurons in adulthoodā€”studies have shown that aerobic exercise is more beneficial for this process than resistance or strength training exercises. In a randomized controlled trial, older adults in an aerobic walking program experienced a 2% increase in hippocampal volumeā€”the brainā€™s primary center for memory and learning. Not only did aerobic exercise thwart the typical age-related decline in hippocampal volume, it effectively reversed it by one to two years.Ā 

    Aerobic exerciseā€”especially runningā€”boosts neurogenesis by increasing the proliferation of neural stem cells, which increases the number of stem cells that can differentiate into neurons. This cardiovascular exercise also increases the maturation of the neural stem cells into functioning brain cells. Lastly, aerobic exercise increases BDNF levels (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which acts as a growth factor for neurons to develop and survive. As brain health is a vital part of longevity, cardiovascular exercise is a great way to keep your cognition strong with age.

    3.Ā Sleep Smarter

    Sleep is essential for autophagyā€”clearing out toxic brain waste and other cellular ā€œhousekeepingā€ā€” as well as processing information, forming new neural pathways, strengthening immune function, and much more. Research shows that adults who get enough sleep have longer telomeres.Ā 

    While adequate sleep is good, more sleep is not always betterā€”the risk of mortality and cardiovascular conditions increases both in those who sleep too little and too much. The sweet spot seems to be seven to nine hours of high-quality sleep each night. Studies also show that waking up often at night (known as ā€œfragmented sleepā€) could be as detrimental to health and longevity as short sleep durationā€”especially in women. If you have trouble falling or staying asleep, try supplements like Sleep Longevity, Valerian Extract with Lemon Balm, or L-Theanine CalmPlex with GABA and 5-HTP.

    4.Ā Manage StressĀ 

    Chronic stress leads to high levels of our stress hormone cortisol, which can accelerate aging and disease. Chronic stress and elevated cortisol levels significantly contribute to lowered telomerase activityā€”the enzyme that protects our telomeresā€”thus leading to shorter telomeres, reduced cellular lifespan, and premature aging.Ā 

    Stress also causes increased cellular senescenceā€”a process that causes cells to stop dividing but remain in the body, causing inflammatory reactions and damaging nearby cells. Although easier said than done, stress can be managed by meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, talk therapy, and supplements like L-theanine and 5-HTP.

    5.Ā Cultivate CommunityĀ 

    Across every Blue Zone region, one of the overlapping habits is having a strong sense of community. Maintaining strong social ties and cultivating long-lasting relationships are vital to health and longevity. Being lonely can accelerate aging by 1.65 years, and fostering a strong sense of community through family, friends, neighbors, or social groups can significantly boost both mood and health.

    6.Ā Mindfulness and MeditationĀ 

    Although meditation is becoming increasingly popular, itā€™s a millennia-old practice for calming the nervous system and maintaining a relaxed state. Research has shown that meditation has beneficial effects on maintaining telomere lengths.Ā 

    Similarly, yoga and breathwork can benefit stress reduction and aging. One study found that a 12-week yoga and meditation program significantly decreased cortisol and markers of inflammation and oxidative stress. Conversely, levels of telomerase activity, sirtuin-1, and BDNF significantly increased, indicating a reduction in cellular aging.

    meditation has beneficial effects on maintaining telomere lengths.

    7.Ā Train Your Brain

    Just like you want to exercise your muscles, mental stimulation can help exercise the vital muscles of your brain. Brain training activitiesā€”like puzzles, word games, chess, learning a new language or skill, and even some video gamesā€”can increase neuroplasticity, the ability to adapt and strengthen neural connections. Even reading can help to keep your brain active and challenged, reducing the risk of developing cognitive disorders later in life.

    8.Ā Avoid Harmful HabitsĀ 

    Living a long life is not only about what you doā€”itā€™s also about what you donā€™t do. Two of the most harmful habits include excessive alcohol consumption and smoking. Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death, as it increases genomic instability, DNA damage, epigenetic alterations, telomere attrition, and many more hallmarks of aging. If you currently smoke, today is the day to map out your quitting plan.

    And when it comes to alcohol, less is best. Alcohol consumption is known to accelerate biological aging. Research shows that drinking 29 units of alcohol per week (about ten glasses of wine) accelerates telomere shortening at a rate equivalent to up to three years of aging. While people of the Blue Zones are known to drink moderately (one drink per day for women and two for men), they only drink with friends and family in social settingsā€”therefore, the positive effects of their sense of community may play a role in negating any harmful effects of moderately drinking.Ā 

    Key Takeaways

    Dozens of diet and lifestyle factors play a role in our longevityā€”and even though genetics are involved, they are not the end-all-be-all of your future health. Itā€™s never too late to start living healthierā€”focusing on habits and routines like eating healthy, exercising your body and brain, sleeping well, managing stress, fostering communities, and limiting alcohol can help you live a happier and healthier life.Ā 

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