Six Keys to Living a Longer and Better Life

Each of us can live strong, healthy, vibrant, energetic lives for a long time to come. The key? Actually, there are many of them.

Key #1: Eat fewer calories, but more food

That’s no misprint. Slimming down can help prevent disease, and cutting way back on the amount you eat (a strategy called calorie restriction) may even slow the aging process. Pile your plate high with vegetables and fruits, add respectable portions of beans and whole grains, and downplay high-calorie fare like cheeseburgers, cream sauces, and fatty meats. 

The result: Fewer calories, more health-boosting antioxidants, and longer, happier, more active and independent lives.

Key #2: Use exercise as an anti-aging vaccine

Exercise can help you attain a better quality of life as you age. It’s no secret that physical activity tones up muscles, burns calories, and puts a happy bounce in your step. But recently, researchers uncovered a new, bonus benefit: Exercise acts as a powerful vaccine against the aging process itself.

The message: Need more convincing? Not exercising nearly doubles your risk of a heart attack, says Robert Nied, MD, a sports medicine specialist in California. And it’s not too late to start: “People who go from no exercise to some exercise receive the biggest benefits,” Dr. Nied notes.

How? Low-intensity exercise might be the best kind to protect your heart and arteries. You don’t need to run or jog. Just walking at a brisk pace translates into major health benefits. Aim for 30 minutes a day, either in one session or in ten-minute stints, and include both resistance training and aerobic exercise.

Key #3: Find something interesting to do

Life is perpetually busy no matter what your age. But the truth is, as careers reach their later stages, as children mature, and as home-improvement ambitions are fulfilled, time usually does become more available for adults after 60. With this time comes choices. The easy one is to merely to relax: watch more TV, eat out more often, talk on the phone as much as you want. 

The better choice? Discover something more meaningful to devote yourself to and pursue it wholeheartedly. Why? A growing body of scientific research shows that doing something that interests you offers big health benefits in your 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond. 

Close connections are a source of joy and offer a sturdy shield against the stress that can lead to health problems down the road.

Key #4: Connect with friends and family

Scientific journals prove time and again that having friends around changes the biochemistry of your brain, pumping up feelings of joy and well-being that bolster immunity. 

The message: When you’re alone for too long (and the definition of “too long” is different for each of us), levels of the stress hormone cortisol rise, ratcheting up your odds for heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, muddled thinking, and sleep problems. 

Why? Social support, in the form of friends, family, neighbors and colleagues, can prevent the age-related spike in blood pressure that raises your risk of stroke and heart attack. Tying the knot is another anti-ager: Marriage can add about seven years to a man’s life and three to a woman’s. Prefer four-legged company? Pets can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure, and may even help heart attack survivors live longer.

Key #5: Flex your mind in positive ways

By stressing your mind in productive ways, you can lower your risk of mental decline. And you don’t need fancy computer programs or complicated “brain games” to do it -- simple “brain calisthenics” (one neuroscientist calls then neurobics -- aerobics for your brain cells) that involve new ways of doing everyday things are all it takes. 

What's more exciting? People who use their brains more often -- on the job and at play -- seem to possess these brain-saving reserves. And they believe that stressing the brain in ways similar to the way we stress muscles during exercise can produce similar benefits: a stronger, fitter, more flexible brain. 

Key #6: Reach for Red

Resveratrol, an ingredient in red wine, seems to have powerful anti-aging effects. Research suggests that it offers the same life-lengthening benefits as calorie restriction — without the hunger pangs.

A caveat: The doses that have been shown to be effective are many times higher than what would be safe or smart to get in alcohol form. A pill is in development, but until it’s available, sipping a little Merlot with your dinner isn’t a bad idea.