Back in the 13th century, English philosopher and scientist Roger Bacon proposed that aging was caused by the waning of vital spirit, or "innate moisture." To increase one’s longevity, he advised, old men should spend time in the company of young women to take in their sweet, moist breath. Well alrighty then! To our contemporary sentiments, this comes off as completely creepy, but it goes to show that when it comes to the quest for immortality, we’ve been grasping at straws for a long time.
And who doesn’t want to live forever? Yet while scientists, futurists and ponderers have been occupied with the idea for ages, short of cryogenics or a vampire bite, we will all eventually give up the ghost.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps we can take to keep that ghost working a few extra shifts. Modern science hasn’t been immune to the lure of longevity, and researchers have worked tirelessly, reaching a number of conclusions about how not to die so quickly. Here are a whole bunch of them, any of which you can start now.
1. Sing: Researchers in Sweden found that singing improved heart health. More research is being conducted at the University of California San Francisco to determine if singing can lead to a longer, healthier life.
2. For men, stay married: According to The Longevity Project, men who got and stayed married were likely to live beyond age 70, but less than one-third of divorced men made it to that age. Men who never married outlived those who divorced, but not those who stayed married. Marital status made little difference for women.
3. Work hard and be conscientious: Also discovered by The Longevity Project, people with conscientious, hard-working personality traits had a longer life by an average of two to three years — that’s equivalent to a 20% to 30% decreased risk of early death.
4. Eat berries: Berries don’t get the “miracle superfood” label slapped on them for nothing; the benefits of eating berries are practically too numerous to mention. Just about any of them will do, but here’s the skinny on 11 berries to improve your health.
5. Stay connected: People who have a social network — as in real-life friends, family or other community — have a tendency to live longer. One study found that widows, for example, live longer that widowers and still-married women because of the social bonds they form with other women.
6. Put on your sneakers: And then run. But you don’t have to be a marathoner to enjoy the life-extending benefits of running. Researchers found that runners lived an average of three years longer than their non-running peers and that running a minimum of 30 minutes to 59 minutes each week at a pace of less than 6 miles per hour offered the same health benefits as running for longer or faster periods.
7. Don't forego the joe: A 13-year study found that among men and women who drank coffee, death rates decreased with the number of cups per day, up to six. The trend was seen for deaths from an array of causes, including heart disease, respiratory disease, stroke and diabetes. Another survey of more than 1,600 people who were 90 years old and older found that those who drank moderate amounts of coffee (or alcohol) lived longer than those who abstained. For more on just how alcohol can be beneficial, read number 33 below.
8. Be like Jean Calment: The world record for the longest confirmed human lifespan belongs to French supercentenarian, Jean Calment, who lived for 122 years and 164 days. What was her magic? She ascribed it to a diet rich in olive oil, port wine and two pounds of chocolate every week! Plus, a set of calm nerves, said she, "That's why they call me Calment."
9. Get off your tush: Stop sitting around so much! One study found that sitting could be responsible for some 173,000 cases of cancer each year. When looking at the American population as a whole, another study concluded that if people sat for less than three hours daily, on average, life expectancy would be increased by two years. A team of doctors and researchers also discovered that swapping out 30 minutes of sitting for light-intensity movement can decrease a person's risk of early death by 17%. Bump the intensity up to moderate or rigorous exercise for 30 minutes and the risk decreases by 35%.
10. Help out, for the right reasons: People who volunteer for selfless reasons live longer than those who do no charity or volunteer work. (However, those who volunteer for self-centered reasons do not reap the same life-extending benefits!)
11. Don’t worry, be happy: A study from Boston University linked optimism with long life. Researchers followed 71,173 women and men and found that the most optimistic people demonstrated, on average, an 11% to 15% longer lifespan, and had 50% to 70% greater odds of reaching 85 years old compared to the least optimistic groups. Another study from the University of Texas found that those with a positive attitude were significantly less likely to become frail compared to negative Nellies. The scientists suggested that a positive outlook might affect health by altering the body's chemical balance. But then again … see No. 12.
12. Embrace your inner Grinch: This one goes against expectations, but here goes. Based on data from a large, 10-year survey, older Germans who were more pessimistic tended to live longer, healthier lives than their counterparts with a more positive outlook.
13. Get involved in the arts. Visit a museum. Watch a play. Listen to a concert. In a study published in The BMJ, researchers in the U.K. analyzed data from 6,710 adults over age 50 and measured their engagement in the "receptive arts," such as going to museums, concerts, art galleries, operas or exhibitions. They found that those who went on a regular basis had a 31% lower risk of dying. Those who went just a few times a year still had a 14% lower risk.
14. Eat like a Sicilian: When researchers began looking into a significantly large group of centenarians on the island of Sicily, they found a few things in common, most notably that they all consumed a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in red meat, refined carbohydrates and sweets.
15. Go Mediterranean in general: According to another study, about 30% of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease can be prevented in people at high risk if they switch to a Mediterranean diet. Think: nuts, olive oil, and wine, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes and fish; commercially made cookies, cakes and pastries should be avoided, and dairy products and processed meats should be limited.
16. Add a dash of turmeric: Given all of its vibrancy, it comes as little surprise that this bright orange spice is packed with disease-fighting antioxidants. Turmeric is proving to be a powerful anti-inflammatory as well.
17. Take a walk: The benefits of a daily walk are many and include significantly reducing the risk for developing Type-2 diabetes, stroke and dementia. But walk briskly.
18. And be a fast walker: How fast you walk could indicate your longevity. One study found that a 70-year-old man who walks 2.5 miles an hour compared to the same age man who walks only 1 mile an hour is expected to live eight years longer than the slower man. If you’re a woman, the difference is a whopping 10 years! A 2019 study found that people who walk faster are more likely to live longer, no matter how much they weigh.
19. Eat less: We know you probably don’t want to hear this, but if humans react anything like the rhesus monkeys in one study, then cutting calories by 30% (while maintaining all of the ingredients needed for optimal health) will result in less diabetes, cancer, heart and brain disease.
20. Watch the vodka: This may come as a surprise to exactly no one: A comprehensive study in Russia found that men who drank three or more half-liter bottles of vodka a week were much more likely to die before reaching the age of 55 than those who reported drinking less than one bottle a week. One quarter of Russian men die before age 55 — many of those deaths are attributed to drinking.
21. Quit smoking: We know you know that, but we have to say it anyway. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, accounting for one of every five deaths each year.
22. Eat your greens: Greens are one of the best foods to eat regularly; they are rich in fiber and offer numerous vitamins, minerals, and plant-based compounds that are thought to help protect the body from heart disease, diabetes and possibly even cancer. Here are 15 of them to add to your diet.
23. Cuddle: Research shows that cozying up with a loved one releases oxytocin, a stress-releasing hormone that helps to reduce blood pressure. Lower blood pressure means better heart health.
24. Laugh as often as possible: Laughing dilates blood vessels by 22%, increasing blood flow and reducing blood pressure.
25. Eat broccoli: Loaded with vitamin C, folic acid and carotenoids, broccoli is packed with nutrients that protect your cells from the damage of free radicals, enhance immune system function and improve reproductive health.
26. Get a pet: Research has found that people with pets tend to have lower blood pressure and are less likely to have hypertension than those who don't own a pet.
27. Sleep tight: A poor night’s sleep can potentially lead to higher blood pressure, depression, weight gain and cancer.
28. But then, wake up! If you’re sleeping more than nine hours a night, that is. Studies show that sleeping more than nine hours a night is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, thinking problems and premature death.
29. Eat your vegetables: And skip the meat. The American Dietetic Association notes that those who follow an appropriately planned vegetarian diet are at lower risk for developing heart disease; colorectal, ovarian and breast cancers; diabetes; obesity; and hypertension.
30. Plant things: An increasing number of studies have found the surprising mental and physical health benefits of gardening.
31. Drink hot chocolate: Yes, you heard that right. Rejoice! From helping you think better to boosting heart health, the antioxidants in hot cocoa are more concentrated than in many other sources, resulting in a multitude of health benefits.
32. Savor sauerkraut: From its probiotic nature to its high vitamin content to its potential for fighting cancer, sauerkraut has a surprising array of health benefits.
33. Add ginger: Studies have shown that along with easing muscle pain and helping with painful menstruation and migraines, ginger can eliminate inflammation and may even slow or kill ovarian and colon cancer cells.
34. Go easy on the sports fanaticism: When the New York Giants beat the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl, the number of circulatory heart-related deaths in Massachusetts shot up 20% during the next eight days, highlighting the fact that heart-related deaths can rise or fall in a region depending on how the local teams fare. And believe it or not, heart attacks are just one of the health risks of being a serious sports fan.
35. Have a drink: While it’s not for everyone, a study from the University of Texas at Austin found that mortality rates were highest for those who never drank, lower for heavy drinkers, and lowest for moderate drinkers who enjoyed one to three drinks per day.
36. Be happy: Looking at data for 68,000 adults over the course of 10 years, one study found that the greater the level of depression or anxiety the participants experienced, the greater the odds of death during the period.
37. Skip the soda: Studies show that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages increases the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer; one study found that drinking sugary drinks is linked to 180,000 deaths a year worldwide.
38. Dodge the smog: Long-term exposure to air pollution is linked to increase risks of premature death. In fact, studies have linked 1 in 8 deaths worldwide to dirty air.
39. Eat dark chocolate: Many studies concur that the blood-pressure lowering effects of dark chocolate consumption are beneficial in the prevention of cardiovascular problems.
40. Spend time in the forest: When you spend a few hours in the woods you breathe in phytoncides, active substances released by plants that appear to lower blood pressure and stress and boost your immune system.
41. Kick sugar to the curb: Many experts lay the blame on the sweet white stuff for obesity, diabetes, heart disease and many other illnesses that plague modern society.
42. Add honey: Swapping out refined sugar for wholesome honey may proffer a number of health benefits where formerly there were few.
43. Pick up a recreational sport: Roller skating, bowling, fencing, volleyball? Just a few of the fun activities that provide an array of health benefits. Even ping pong has been found to enhance motor functions and long-term memory functions.
44. Keep calm and carry on. And don’t get mad. Research from Harvard found that in the two hours following an angry outburst, a person's risk for a heart attack shot up nearly five times and the risk of stroke was increased more than three times.
45. Drink tea: From cancer-fighting properties to lowering the risk of coronary artery disease to reducing the risk of blood clots and strokes, tea is a veritable workhorse in the health department.
46. Eat wild salmon: Wild salmon is one of the richest sources of omega-3 fats, which can help lower triglycerides, raise levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol, and help reduce inflammation in the body.
47. Pass on burned food: Evidence continues to mount that the chemical acrylamide — found in burned food —may lead to cancer.
48. Beware the deadly apple: And other poisonous foods we commonly eat.
49. Kill your TV: A large Australian study found that even though participants averaged 30 to 45 minutes of daily exercise, their risk of death from cardiovascular disease increased by 18% for each hour a day they watched TV.
50. Eat oatmeal for breakfast: For so many reasons — and here are 12 ways to do it.
51. Dance! Physical activity is thought to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's’s by as much as 50%. And one study found that frequent dancing reduced the risk of developing dementia by a staggering 76%, more so than any other physical or cognitive activity.
52. Get it on: From the “oh, baby” department: sex is good for boosting immunity and heart health.
53. Kick the instant noodle habit? Maybe. One study found that eating instant noodles two or more times a week was associated with cardiometabolic syndrome, which raises a person's likelihood of developing heart disease and other conditions, such as diabetes and stroke.
54. Don’t shy away from the garlic: Studies indicate the active ingredient in garlic can prevent atherosclerosis and coronary blockage, lower cholesterol, reduce blood clot formation, regulate blood sugar and prevent cancer.
55. Take a walk after eating: According to one study, walking and light resistance training one hour after eating a high-fat meal reduces the boost in triglycerides (fats in the blood that can increase the risk of heart disease) normally seen after consuming this type of food.
56. Snack on nuts: Nuts of all types have many heart-healthy fats and protein, two components that keep blood sugar stable by slowing down how quickly your body absorbs carbohydrates. Nuts also contain monounsaturated fat and, in some cases, omega-3s, both of which improve cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
57. Take an aspirin: If you’ve previously had a heart attack or stroke — or have diabetes — taking aspirin every day may extend your life.
58. Eat pumpkin seeds: Do not let those good seeds go to waste; they are little nutrient powerhouses.
59. Take care of your teeth: Periodontal disease might be directly related to systemic inflammation and cardiovascular risk. According to the American Academy of Periodontology, people with gum disease are twice as likely to have heart disease.
60. Exercise: You knew we’d have to say it, and here’s just one example why: Time reports that a massive study found that even just 15 minutes of moderate exercise a day was associated with a three-year increase in life expectancy compared to those who didn’t exercise. And people who exercised for 30 minutes a day added four extra years to their life expectancy. There's your fountain of youth, right there!
Editor's note: This article has been updated since it was originally published in December 2014.