8 simple habits that will help you live longer

It seems a little suspicious that the observance of some habits can significantly extend life. However, biologist Andrew Steele, the author of the list, is a true professional in matters of immortality. He studied hundreds of scientific studies to understand why people age and how to stop this process.

The result of the work was his first book – “The Immortals. Why hydras and jellyfish live forever, and how people can learn their secret. With the permission of the Bombora publishing house, Lifehacker publishes an excerpt from the tenth chapter.


1. Don’t smoke

Smoking is terribly harmful. If you want to live a long life in good health but smoke, the first thing you should do is to give up this addiction.

For those who smoke throughout their lives, its duration is reduced by about 10 years. Smokers ca n’t even claim to live fast and die young . At the end of their lives, they have about the same number of years of illness as non-smokers, meaning they spend a large fraction of their shorter lives in poorer health.

Smoking is responsible for 90% of lung cancer cases and nearly half of lung disease deaths. And although the lungs take the brunt of cigarettes, there are reasonable grounds to believe that smoking mainly speeds up the aging process. It increases the risk of developing many other types of cancer, as well as other diseases of old age, such as heart disease, stroke and dementia.

Smokers even look older: cigarettes cause thinning of the skin, wrinkles, gray hair and baldness.

Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of toxic chemicals that cause mutations in the genome. In DNA, they leave a specific “mutational signature” for cancers in the lining of the lungs of smokers. For example, C can transform into A. This and other mutational signatures are found in tissues throughout a smoker’s body because the chemicals are absorbed into the bloodstream, so they affect more than just the lungs.

These additional changes give the cancer a much better chance, causing the sequence of clonal expansions to proceed faster and increasing the risk of developing the disease.

Smoking causes chronic inflammation, which is thought to be behind the associated rise in cardiovascular disease. Remember that atherosclerotic plaques are mostly made up of dying immune cells – stimulating the immune system speeds up their formation.

Smoking also causes cell aging, shortens telomeres, and even stimulates the formation of AGEs (glycation end products that form when sugars react with proteins) in tissues, due in part to highly reactive chemicals in tobacco smoke […].

2. Don’t overeat

Not surprisingly, what you eat can have a significant impact on life expectancy. A balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts is very important and can significantly increase overall life expectancy and the healthy part of it. Which combination of products is optimal is extremely difficult to establish, so there is a lot of controversy.

An ideal experiment that randomized thousands of people into groups based on the amount of different foods they ate over several decades would be impractical, extremely expensive, and probably unethical. So scientists can only speculate based on observational studies. And, since people’s eating habits are related to their wealth, social status, general interest in health and genetics, which also affect life expectancy, it is very difficult to distinguish between cause and effect.

As a result, the best advice is probably this: eat a wide variety of healthy foods without favoring one over the other, don’t indulge in very sugary, fatty, or processed foods, and don’t drink too much alcohol. Eating the latest superfoods will almost certainly not change your health, but a balanced diet can certainly do […].

3. Go in for sports

Exercise is good for your health, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Research shows that every extra minute of exercise or less time spent inactive per day reduces the risk of death.

It is also known that exercise reduces the risk of dozens of diseases, including the most serious age-related pathologies that you can no doubt already get rid of – it even protects against cognitive decline and dementia.

It seems likely that the first small steps are most significant, and as the time or intensity of training increases, the return decreases. Starting small, trying to match a five or ten minute walk every day, you reap health dividends and help you do something that seems less and less intimidating over time.

If you have a completely sedentary lifestyle, even half an hour of light physical activity a day can reduce your risk of death by 14 percent. Ten to fifteen minutes of moderate exercise a day is even more beneficial, roughly halving the risk of death from any cause. A 30-minute daily workout helps a little more.

Benefits outside this range are unclear . Most studies have found something like a plateau and perhaps even a small increase in risk. But it’s impossible to be sure, because so few people are really active in sports, so it’s hard to draw statistically reliable conclusions.

In any case, there is no such amount of exercise that would be more harmful than complete inactivity. So it’s not an excuse for a sedentary lifestyle, but if you’re already running for an hour every day, you’re unlikely to see any benefit from increasing your workout time to 90 minutes […].

4. Sleep 7 to 8 hours every night

Seven or eight hours of sound sleep per night is probably the optimal amount for health, but it’s hard to be completely sure because sleep is very difficult to study. Large systematic reviews show that less sleep is associated with an increased risk of death. And – less widely believed – more than 8 hours increase the risk of death more than lack of sleep.

The challenge is to see if this suggests a relatively reliable discovery of a causal relationship. Do people sleep 11 hours a night by choice or, more likely, do they have an underlying health issue that needs extra sleep? Is the short life expectancy of people who sleep 4 hours a night due to lack of rest or because they live stressful lives that affect their health and also accidentally reduce the amount of time they should spend in sleep?

Science has been forcing people to get a certain amount of sleep for decades. But a better answer to this question would be to identify the biological mechanisms that could link sleep and longevity. Scientists are getting more and more evidence in favor of an interesting hypothesis: while we sleep, the brain takes advantage of the opportunity to clear itself, including from the toxic amyloid associated with Alzheimer’s disease . It’s a good incentive to try to turn off the show one episode early and sleep a little longer […].

5. Get vaccinated and wash your hands

Vaccination is one of the most important ways to reduce human mortality throughout our lives, and it protects not only you, but those around you. Vaccines will likely make you live longer because you won’t die from any of the infectious diseases they prevent. They also reduce chronic inflammation, which can also slow down aging.

And if you already had all the necessary vaccinations as a child, the most common vaccine that adults need is against seasonal flu . Many countries have an annual influenza season, usually lasting a couple of months in the winter, although its duration and severity can vary quite significantly from year to year as different strains come and go […].

It’s also worth following the standard tips to avoid infections: wash your hands well and regularly, cook food thoroughly, and take time off from work if you’re unwell. This will not only protect the health of your colleagues, but it can have a much wider impact if it stops the transmission of the disease from them to others and so on. Of course, there can be no better example of the importance of basic hygiene and nipping chains of infection in the bud than the coronavirus pandemic […].

6. Take care of your teeth

Your doctor has probably told you a hundred times: brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, clean the gaps between your teeth with dental floss or interdental brushes, and avoid sugary snacks and soft drinks. What you may not know is that dental advice affects more than just your smile and future bills – it can affect life expectancy and even your risk of dementia […].

The proposed biological link here is chronic inflammation. The constant fight against bacteria in the mouth that cause chronic gum disease, cavities and so on, even if it’s not very pronounced, leads to a constant exposure to inflammatory molecules. This, as we have said many times, basically speeds up the aging process. There have even been reports of a link between gum problems and Alzheimer’s disease, when bacteria from the oral cavity were found in amyloid plaques. Although these hypotheses have not yet been proven, this is another good reason to keep your teeth clean […].

7. Use sunscreen

Skin aging is very closely related to sun exposure. Because of it, the skin becomes more wrinkled, exposed to the risk of age spots and discoloration, which we associate with aging. And, more seriously, the risk of developing skin cancer is significantly increased. Getting sunburned only once every two years is associated with an increased risk of cancer.

All these phenomena are responsible for the ultraviolet present in sunlight. UV radiation has enough energy to break the chemical bonds that hold molecules together, including proteins and DNA. DNA damage, if not repaired correctly, can turn into a mutation and risk putting the cell on the path to cancer. Damage to proteins such as collagen and elastin that give skin its firmness can make it stiffer with age.

As a result, preventing ultraviolet radiation from reaching the skin can stop aging from exposure to sunlight. You can do this without going outside when the sun is at its zenith, by covering exposed areas with clothing, or by applying sunscreen that absorbs ultraviolet light. Among the cornucopia of skin creams that claim to be “anti-aging”, it is sunscreen that has by far the best scientific basis.

8. Monitor heart rate and blood pressure

There are a growing number of apps and devices to quantify every aspect of life, but perhaps the most valuable is the humble automatic blood pressure cuff. By measuring your heart rate and blood pressure, you can gain a significant insight into your cardiovascular health. It, given that heart disease, stroke and vascular dementia are common causes of death and disability, makes up a significant part of overall health.

Each heartbeat ejects a rush of blood into the aorta, the central artery. The circulatory system is arranged like a tree: the aorta is the trunk, and smaller and smaller vessels are branches and twigs that deliver blood to every part of the body. The blood pressure monitor shows two numbers, such as 120 over 80 (both are measured somewhat archaically in millimeters of mercury).

The first, larger number is called systolic pressure, and it measures the wave of pressure that spreads throughout the body from the heart as it beats. The second, smaller number is diastolic pressure, which is the minimum pressure in the blood vessels between heartbeats.

Arteries with soft, elastic walls can absorb the force of the heart’s pressure wave, causing progressively smaller vessels farther away from the heart to experience less stress. Glycation and loss of collagen and elastin, atherosclerotic plaques, TTR-amyloid formation and other processes make blood vessels narrower and stiffer – and these inflexible arteries transmit the full force of the shock wave.

These same processes make the vessels more fragile, and the tiniest vessels extremely fragile. Putting too much pressure on them again and again, 60 or 100 times a minute, continuously, every day, can eventually cause them to rupture.

The most serious and sudden side effects of a ruptured blood vessel occur when it is a medium-sized vessel in the brain: a cerebral hemorrhage, or hemorrhagic stroke, occurs. This causes blood to pool rather than flow through that part of the brain, and within minutes, nearby cells begin to die from lack of oxygen.

High blood pressure is the main cause of heart attacks and strokes. Measure blood pressure and be sure to take medication in case of diagnosed hypertension.

It is also possible that small vessels burst, which may not be immediately noticeable, but many small episodes contribute to the development of vascular dementia over time. High blood pressure damages the delicate structures in the kidneys that filter the blood, causes blood vessels in the back of the eye to dilate or rupture, and has more unexpected effects, such as reduced bone strength.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a silent killer. Worldwide, about 40% of people over 25 suffer from it, but you can’t feel it and it doesn’t have any immediate symptoms. That’s why you need a blood pressure cuff: sit down, relax, take a few deep breaths, take your blood pressure and write it down so you can follow trends over the long term.

Blood pressure is considered normal if it is below 120/80. Starting at about 115/75, every additional 20/10 roughly doubles the risk of death from heart disease or stroke . Thus, 135/85 – the risk is doubled, 155/95 – four times, and so on.

If your blood pressure regularly goes over 120/80, it’s probably worth trying to improve your diet or exercise a little more. These simple methods are a great way to lower your blood pressure.

If you’re consistently getting results of 140/90 or more and your doctor isn’t aware of it yet, it’s worth making an appointment to discuss it with them and consider starting medication. Home-measured blood pressure readings are invaluable because many people’s numbers are significantly higher when their blood pressure is taken by a doctor—a phenomenon adorably known as white coat hypertension.

Also, keep an eye on your heart rate. Most automatic cuffs give heart rate readings at the same time as measuring blood pressure. Your resting heart rate should be somewhere between 60 and 100 beats per minute, although if you’re in very good physical shape it can be a little lower.

A resting heart rate of 100 beats per minute instead of 60 roughly doubles the risk of death. Interestingly, the risk of dying from any cause is doubled , not just from heart disease. A high resting heart rate is also correlated with an increased risk of cancer. The recommendation is the same as for the treatment of high blood pressure: weight loss and increased physical activity can lower the heart rate.

If you’re intrigued by the prospect of immortality, Steele’s book is well worth reading. The researcher not only talks about new scientific achievements that can stop aging, but also analyzes in detail how some turtles and salamanders achieve almost eternal life.

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