Add 2.2 years: Walk 30 minutes a day
This is crucial to keeping your weight steady and lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes, but fitting in a solid half-hour can be tricky. Just as good (and easier) is weaving in that 30 minutes throughout your day; wearing a pedometer can help you stay on track. Research from the Stanford University School of Medicine shows that people who wear one take an extra 2,000 steps (about 1 mile) a day. “Having that pedometer makes you honest with yourself, so you really know how much you’re moving,” adds Dr. Roizen
Add 5.6 years: Get up and move!
Just as important as getting in that 30 minutes of walking is making your overall daily life more active. Getting a full 100 minutes of movement a day is what gives you the biggest health benefits. An easy way to do that: Get up and move any time you’re usually sedentary—during TV commercials, for example. The average commercial break lasts for 2 to 3 minutes—plenty of time for you to work in a few mini moves like squats, jumping jacks or biceps curls (keep a set of free weights under your couch), or even just a few quick laps around the den.
Research shows that people who do the most sitting have an increased risk of heart disease. This is because sitting for long periods of time allows fat to continue circulating in your bloodstream longer, which in turn slows the ability of HDL (the “good” cholesterol) to clear plaque from your arteries.
Add 3 years: Go to bed 15 minutes earlier
This will help you get an extra 7.5 hours of shut-eye over the course of a month. “Sleep is profoundly important,” says David Katz, MD, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine. “It’s when every organ and system in your body repairs, restores and resets itself. Not getting enough sleep compromises how well your entire body functions.” Although everyone’s sleep needs are different, experts say that regularly getting less than 7 hours per night is what starts to have a negative impact.
Add 1.8 years: Do some strength training
Getting your heart pumping is important, but since strength training (lifting weights, exercising with resistance bands) builds muscle, it boosts your metabolism long-term, helping to protect against diabetes and heart disease. Weight-bearing activities also strengthen your bones, which lowers your osteoporosis risk. One study even found that after six months of twice-weekly, hour-long strength workouts, healthy older men and women (average age 70) were able to reverse signs of aging in their cells to levels similar to those seen in adults in their 20s and 30s. But you don’t have to do that much exercise to get the health benefits. Aim for a 20-minute session twice a week.
Add 3-5 years: Floss daily
A healthy smile can also lead to a healthy heart. Numerous studies show that periodontal and cardiovascular disease are linked. Ideally, you should floss in the morning and at night—but even doing it just once a day will improve your health.
Add 14 years: Eat healthy
“Food has a very big impact on the genes that accelerate or slow down the aging process,” says Dr. Roizen. So exactly what does eating healthy mean?
Choose “good” fats. Snacks like nuts are better than ones that contain saturated fats, like butter and full-fat cheese. One study showed that eating nuts daily (any kind) lowers total cholesterol levels by more than 5% and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by nearly 7.5%.
Eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily—and aim for variety. “When you eat many different fruits and vegetables, you get thousands of different disease-fighting nutrients,” says Dr. Katz. One study found that people who regularly eat a variety of veggies lowered their risk of lung cancer by 23%.
Eat fish twice a week. Research shows that the omega-3 fats found in fish like salmon are among the biggest health boosters, helping to fight heart disease, stroke, hypertension, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease and osteoporosis, says Diane McKay, PhD, a researcher with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University. On the flip side, research involving more than a half-million people found that those who ate the most red or processed meat had a much higher risk of cardiovascular disease and dying from cancer than those who ate the least.
Go for fiber-rich whole grains. Spooning up a high-fiber breakfast cereal instead of a more refined, sugary one cuts your risk of heart disease and diabetes by nearly 30%.
Add 8 years: Have more sex with your partner
Being in a satisfying relationship is good for your heart and soul. Women in a healthy monogamous relationship are significantly healthier compared with those who are either unhappy or sexually inactive, says Dr. Roizen.
Add 2 years: Don’t text and drive
Studies show that texting while driving increases your risk of being in a serious accident sixfold—possibly making it more dangerous than driving drunk.
Add 4 years: Manage stress
Of course you can’t control when an overloaded work schedule and family obligations might hit, but how you handle stress ultimately has the biggest impact on your health. “A highly stressed 50-year-old’s ‘real age’ could be as high as 82,” says Dr. Roizen. When you’re constantly tense, your blood pressure, heart rate and levels of the stress hormone cortisol are all raised, which increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease and more. Exercise can help a lot: Just 15 minutes of brisk walking increases your body’s production of feel-good chemicals, like endorphins. Other stress-busting tips:
Start your day with 15 minutes of belly breathing. This will help relax your mind and muscles and help you power through stress that crops up during the rest of your day, says Woodson Merrell, MD, chair of the department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center. “The morning is actually when our bodies feel the most stressed, because it’s when we’re transitioning from inactivity to activity and producing the highest levels of cortisol,” he notes. Here’s what to do: Sit tall at the edge of your bed or in a chair. Breathe in for a count of four, pause a moment, then breathe out for a count of six. Think of a peaceful image, like sitting by the sea, or repeat a simple word like calm.
Meet a friend face-to-face. “Being involved with friends or in a community is as powerful as exercise in terms of preventing heart disease and dementia,” says Henry Lodge, MD, coauthor of Younger Next Year for Women. Pencil in some friend time at least three times a week, or every day if possible.
Chew gum. A British study of more than 2,000 workers found that people who regularly chewed gum had significantly less work-related and overall stress and depression than those who didn’t get this oral fix. Chewing gum may stimulate the vagus nerve, which helps your body relax and increases levels of serotonin, a brain chemical that makes us feel calmer and happier.
Add 6-12 years: Stop smoking
It’s one of the worst habits, but your health improves almost immediately after you quit. Just 20 minutes after you stop smoking, your heart rate and blood pressure drop; two weeks to three months after quitting, your circulation and lung function improve; two years later, your heart disease and lung cancer risk are cut in half; 15 years later, your risk of heart disease is that of a nonsmoker’s. What more motivation do you need?