7 Ways to Live Longer and Be Happier
Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, a young lady sat in genetics class doodling aimlessly when she accidentally overheard the professor’s lecture. The words he spoke at that moment forever changed her life. He said, “Just because you were born with particular genes doesn’t mean you’re doomed to develop those traits.”
As the offspring of parents who suffered from diabetes, heart disease, cancer and obesity, naturally, he captured me.
What he, so long ago, referred to is now known as the epigenome. Beautiful word, isn’t it? It’s the idea that genes are triggered according to external factors, i.e. what we eat, our level of physical fitness, stress, and our environment. But, let’s all agree that this isn’t genetics class and there’s A LOT more to genes that just turning them on and off so easily. OK?
In the end, it’s our genes that will determine the length and health of our lives, but a mighty power still lies in our own hands. Maybe we can’t control our genetical material. And we likely can’t control our environment. But what we can control is our behavior. It’s the only thing 100% in our hands and it just happens to be a major factor in determining longevity, health, and happiness.
Post disclaimer (you knew this was coming): What I give you here are 7 ways to help you live a longer and happier life, in spite of your genes. And science backs each method with numbers, but, let’s all agree that this is not a forum for genetic arguments, nor are these statements intended to be an end all, be all cure for disease. Rather they are a hope, a ray of light, if you will, that you hold the cards and aces are high.
So let’s jump right into these 7 ways you can start living your longest, happiest life TODAY, shall we?
1. Plant-based Diet
We are the products of what we eat. Our children will be the products of what we eat. And according to the University of Utah, nutrition plays a key role in the expression of our genes from early in life and affect us throughout. This information, in conjunction with the Blue Zone studies (studies of people that live in certain areas of the world who consistently have residents who live to be 100 or more), plant-based diets with portions of fish, nuts, oils and legumes have been proven to be the way to go to stave off disease and add happy years to your life.
Actionable: One Thing at a Time
Make it your mission to trade out one processed food for one whole food at a time until you’ve weeded out the poisons that food labs produce.
People that live into their 100’s within the Blue Zones of the world have documented forms of movement built into their daily routines. Not exercise mind you, rather their normal part of live is to be active. While our ancestors had to hunt for food, we have to hunt for fitness.
Actionable: Just Start with 15 Minutes
Your mission today is to find movements that you love and do them every day for a minimum of 15 minutes – whether you feel like it or not (hint: even if you don’t want to start, once you do, it’ll be hard to stop).
3. Stress Management
Stress can be a killer. Literally. There is even evidence that we can pass on the damage that we do to ourselves through stress to our children. In the Blue Zones, people experience stress, but it’s their management of it that helps them live longer and healthier.
Actionable: Be Mindful
Practice being mindful of the triggers that cause you stress. Set up an if this, then that trigger-response scenario. When you feel stress causing a physical reaction in you, stop and ask yourself if the threat is real or imagined. Slow down, breathe, and focus your breath until you feel the physical relaxation and the stress alleviate. Become mindful of this and make it a lasting habit.
4. Sleep Regulation
Without enough sleep each night, your body and mind run on their reserves. There’s little power for self-control or mindfulness. Without these faculties in order, stress, overeating, dehydration are magnified, and so is the damage they cause.
Actionable: Throw the TV Out the Window
Go. To. Bed. Sleep for 7+ hours. Everyone’s sleep needs are different but research shows that most people run on an optimal 7-8 hours per night. Turn the TV off early or get rid of it completely, practice mindful breathing or meditation for 5 minutes, and close your eyes. Doesn’t get much easier (or more pleasant) than this one. Need more? 9 Steps To a Successful Night’s Sleep.
We’ve heard it time and time again. Get out and socialize. Go meet people. Go find a hobby. This is more than just good advice for a happier life, it makes for a longer and healthier one, too.
Actionable: Don’t listen to your Inner Hermit
If you like being alone, rest assured that just because it’s comfortable doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Get out today and make it a point to talk to the people you see. The more you force yourself to talk to strangers, the easier it will become. Go beyond your comfort zone.
6. Brain Fitness
Neuroplasticity proves that no matter your age, you can learn and increase your memory (and that you can actually change its shape) while improving its function. Keeping your mind active, keeps it younger and healthier. Mindless hours of TV watching (even if it’s the National Geographic channel) won’t benefit you nearly as much as learning a new language, doing things outside of your routine (i.e. going through your morning routine backwards), or playing brain games. Your brain is a tissue that needs flexing daily, just like your muscles!
7. Point of View
No matter what we try to change, if we don’t shift our beliefs, those changes will not become permanent. Knowing that Mountain Dew is not healthy elicits a different mental and physical response than perceiving it to be harmful. Once you perceive the aforementioned 6 points as building blocks for longer, healthier lives, then focusing your laser on your target becomes easier, more pleasurable, and ultimately permanent.
Actionable: Identify what’s holding you back
Identify the beliefs that hold you back from living healthy, reframe them in a way that reinforces your new ideals and seek out evidence to back them up. Do this daily, and mindfully, to replace the old beliefs with the new.
We live in a fast-paced, stressful, processed food world, changing the way we do things takes time, but with these 7 strategies, you can start making those changes TODAY.
What can you do to improve the length and the quality of your life right now?