Just as in financial investing, there are no guarantees, but by now there are dozens of proven methods to improve the quality and length of the average person's life, and it seemed it might be both helpful and fun to pick among them a buffet of easy to apply ways to enhance the human experience in this most fundamental, existential manner. In short, we all must die, but maybe we can put off that moment and in a fashion that also leaves us feeling better. I highly endorse the main references for this piece. There one can find many other great strategies. What follows, in no particular order, are simply my personal choices of the best among them:
-Be a book reader. - In a recent Yale University study, several thousand people aged 50 or older were followed for twelve years. Two groups among them were defined by characteristics essentially the same except that one was composed of book readers and the other was made up of people who did not read books. The former group lived on average for two years longer than the other one. Analysis of the results showed that the book readers averaged over 3 hours of book reading weekly while the other group members might have had interesting hobbies but cared little for books. The book readers had a 20% lower mortality rate in the study period than the bookless folks.
-Have a warm blooded, four-legged pet. - Folks who have a furry friend, especially if it is a dog, tend to have longer lives, fewer heart attacks, less stress, more physical activity, and lower blood pressure than those who do not.
-Move more. - Almost any non-damaging physical activity will help. Those who exercise in a good aerobic workout four times a week and have strenuous conditioning exercise twice a week tend to do very well. On the seventh day, how about some dancing, singing, hiking in great scenery, rocking, gardening, mowing the yard, sex, or hide-n-seek and tag play with kids, grandkids, nieces, or nephews? Once extra movement is built into one's routine, a day may not feel complete without it, and the many benefits will soon speak for themselves.
-Be a little nutty. - People who eat a few nutritious nuts several times a week have shown a 23% lower risk of dying, in studies of people aged 55-69. As little a handful as 8 almonds, 5 pecan halves, or 6 cashews will do. Peanut butter, made from legumes, does not have the same effect.
-Additional servings of fruits and veggies, please. - Fruits and vegetables, particularly if organic and fresh or packed frozen, help fight cancers and heart disease, otherwise boost the immune system, can often be delicious, provide greater energy levels, slow down the aging process, and gram for gram are better for life expectancy than carnivorous fare.
-Choose whole grains. - The average consumer who increases intake of whole grains via such options as barley, oatmeal, brown rice, or slices of whole grain bread can thereby reduce his or her death rate by up to 20%.
-Rest. - Not true for everyone, but in general people who habitually sleep less than 6 hours a day double their risks of heart attack or stroke. In a 25-year study, they also tended to have a 12% greater chance of dying, everything else being equal. Of course, it might have simply been because they also were more likely than their more rested peers to fall asleep at the wheel or walk in front of a bus.
-Drink plenty of Java. - People who drink more than one cup of coffee a day (that is, a total of 16 ounces or more) have less chance of diabetes, stroke, and certain cancers. One study found that drinkers of 24-40 ounces of coffee daily were at 15% lower risk of premature death.
-Please laugh. - Those who chronically lack mirth may not die laughing, but they do often meet their Maker sooner than folks who can enjoy funny pet videos, puns, cartoons, and hearing or reading other forms of joking or who can laugh at themselves on occasion. Seriously!
-Like it hot. - Hot peppers and other spices engender the production of endorphins which in turn help us have less inflammation, reduced pain, and better contentment overall. In one study, this led to a 13% lowering of participants' risks of dying.
-Take note of what's awesome. - Experiencing things that lead to our whispering "Wow!" at times, be they Beethoven, fantastic art, spectacular photography, cosmological phenomena, or amazing natural vistas here on Earth, may not merely be pleasurable in themselves but can build up our immune systems.
-Cultivate a good social network. - People who not only need but have people in their lives, from significant others to kids to other family and certainly friends, are not only the luckiest people in the world but live significantly longer than those who are lonely and have much more limited social circles.
-Take vacations. - Being too wedded to one's work can be deadly. Employed folks who vacation substantially less often than their peers on average are at far greater risk of heart attack.
-Have a passion. - Those who have the most rewarding lives tend to be those who look forward to a new day because of something cool they will be involved in or experiencing before their next bedtimes. Being a grandparent may do it for you, or having a new entrepreneurial venture or writing the great American novel, or, as my wife does, leading fauna surveys and finding and photographing new species on a regular basis. Yet, it need not be a dramatic or colorful addition to our lives. More "ordinary" joys, from painting to cooking to cleaning out the closet, learning about investments, making a rock garden, helping out at a food pantry, meeting a friend for lunch, going to a concert, seeing a good movie, telling others about a hobby we love, visiting a sick friend, or any of a thousand other ways we can have a purpose for the time we have to fill can offer us great meaning and both enrich and lengthen our lives. In a 2014 "Lancet" study, older people who woke up looking forward to something were 30% less likely to die over the 8.5 year period they were being followed than those without this sense of positive expectation. And in general, being a member of a community that works together on projects to help others or improve civic conditions can add several fulfilling years to one's life.
Here's to all of us finding our own best ways to fulfill our existences and, if we are fortunate, living well in our moments, however long we have to enjoy them!
-A Chapter a Day: Association of Book Reading with Longevity. Avni Bavishi, Martin D. Slade, and Becca R. Levy in Social Science and Medicine, pages 44-48; September, 2016;
-50 Great Ways to Live Longer. in AARP.ORG/BULLETIN; March, 2017;
-Younger Next Year. by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge, M.D., Workman Publishing, New York; September, 2007.