Extend Your Life
"Stop drinking coffee and alcohol." "Take an aspirin daily." How many times have you heard that advice for adding years to your life? Turns out, lots of long-held wisdom just isn't true.
Read on to see which suggestions you should ignore and what actually ups longevity. Photo by Getty Images.
1. Lay off the java.
You've probably read that multiple cups of coffee a day can be bad for you (jitter city), but research published in the New England Journal of Medicine may prove the opposite. Male and female participants who had two or three cups a day and didn't smoke were 10% and 13% less likely, respectively, to have died during the 14-year-long study than those who never or rarely drank coffee.
Men and women who drank a single daily cup were 6% and 5% less likely, respectively, to pass away. According to the researchers, more cups mean a lower risk of stroke, diabetes and heart and respiratory disease. But watch the cream and sugar-extra fat and calories could negate any longevity benefits.
2. Get eight hours of sleep every night.
While research suggests snoozing fewer than six or more than nine hours a night raises your mortality risk, "everyone has different sleep needs," says Shelby Harris, PsyD, director of the behavioral sleep medicine program at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, NY. So if you wake naturally after only, say, six-and-a-half hours a night, forcing yourself to reach eight hours won't lengthen your life. To learn how much sleep you need, try awakening without an alarm for a week, if you can swing it. If you feel good and have enough energy most of the day, you've found your ideal amount of rest.
3. Lower your body mass index (BMI).
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, weighing a little more can lengthen your life span. Adults with a BMI that qualified them as overweight but not obese (that's between 25 and 29.9) were 6% less likely than all others in their age groups to die. While BMI isn't always an accurate measurement of a person's health risks, registered dietitian Jen Brewer, author of Stop Dieting and Start Losing Weight, says if the extra weight comes from muscle mass, you're more likely to have lower cholesterol levels and a better ratio of HDL (good cholesterol) to LDL (bad cholesterol). It may also lower your risk for life-threatening heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And that's good for staying alive.
4. Don't worry, be happy.
Actually, being a glass-half-empty kind of person may keep you kicking longer. In a study published in Psychology and Aging, 65- to 96-year-olds who thought life would get worse outlived those who anticipated better days ahead. "Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade," says lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. "Pessimism about the future may encourage people to take health and safety precautions."
5. Take a daily aspirin.
Popping that pill can help you live longer by preventing heart attacks, strokes and even cancer-right? "If you're a healthy, 45-year-old female, it may not make a difference," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at New York University's Langone Medical Center in New York City. In fact, taking a daily aspirin can lead to bleeding, allergies and upset stomach. Ask your doctor if you can skip the pill, suggests Dr. Goldberg.
6. Drink 8 glasses of water a day.
Once believed to be the amount everyone needs for proper hydration, a longevity essential, a 2002 study from Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, NH, debunked the 8X8 rule. As Dr. Goldberg explains, "there's no magic number of glasses," emphasizing it's more about getting fluids, not necessarily from straight-up H20. Herbal tea and juices are hydration helpers (though soda isn't), but fruits and vegetables (like celery and leafy greens) are an even healthier way to get your liquids.
7. Milk does the body good.
You're taught that drinking it by the glassful keeps bones healthy and prevents fatal injuries. Yet a 12-year-long Harvard study found that women who drink milk three times a day break more bones than women who drink less than one glass of milk per week. While lowfat dairy may agree with you, calcium is what's key for strong bones. You can get it from leafy greens, beans, vitamin D (sunshine!) and even lifting weights.
8. Cut out booze.
A daily glass of wine not only can help your heart but also add years to your life. University of Texas at Austin researchers found that moderate drinking, such as a small glass of wine (about four ounces) a day, reduces mortality among older and middle-aged adults. Dr. Goldberg says it's because heart disease is the leading killer of women, and wine is chockfull of antioxidants, which prevent serious sickness. So fill 'er up-without overflowing that glass.
9. Take a multivitamin.
Even though half of all adults pop one, the 2011 Iowa Women's Health Study found that women taking multivitamins don't live longer than those who get their nutrients from food alone. Only calcium supplements are linked to a lower death risk, with 37% of users dying compared to 43% of nonusers in the study. Researchers' conclusion: Get the vitamins and minerals from fruit and vegetables, not capsules.