Living to the ripe ol’ age of 100 won’t seem so unusual for babies born today. In fact, more than half of all babies born in industrialized countries since 2000 can expect to live into the triple digits.
For the rest of us? The CDC puts the average American’s current life expectancy at 78.8 years.
Thanks to science – which has helped increase the average person’s life span by nearly 30 years over the last century – we know more and more about how to make it past our 80th birthday.
Last week, for instance, a new study revealed that eating spicy foods might help us live longer lives.
What else has science taught us in recent years about how to live well into the golden years?
Eat spicy foods
So, about those peppers.
From 2004 to 2008, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences studied the spicy food consumption of nearly half a million people ages 30 to 70 across 10 regions in China.
The scientists found that eating hot food – mainly fresh and dried chili peppers – once or twice a week resulted in a 10 percent reduced overall risk of death, according to the study published in BMJ, formerly the British Medical Journal.
Eating spicy food six to seven times a week lowered that risk by 14 percent.
Researchers did not draw cause-and-effect conclusions but did note that the main ingredient in chili peppers, capsaicin, has been proven to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.
Put out the flames
Researchers studying centenarians in England and Japan found that suppressing inflammation (swelling) in your body could be the key to living a longer, healthier life.
In fact, chronic inflammation might actually be the most important factor in determining how quickly or slowly you age, some scientists believe.
“Research has demonstrated that chronic systemic inflammation is a key factor in the development of many common chronic diseases, including ... heart attacks, peripheral vascular disease and most strokes,” geriatric specialist Cheri Gostic told The Huffington Post.
“Old age does not cause death; disease does. If one can minimize inflammation in the body and reduce the risk or progression of disease, then it makes sense that individuals have a better chance to live longer.”
A number of blood tests can be used to detect inflammation, including one for the C-reactive protein, a sign of inflammation. Doctors can also measure homocysteine levels to evaluate chronic inflammation.
Inflammation can be controlled and reversed with a few lifestyle tweaks:
▪ Lose weight. Overweight people tend to have more inflammation in their bodies.
▪ Eat anti-inflammatory foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, tuna, walnuts, soybeans, grapes, blueberries, garlic, olive oil and flax seeds.
▪ Cut back on inflammatory foods such as red meat, eggs and foods with trans fats – margarine, deep-fried foods and most processed foods.
▪ Reduce your blood sugar by limiting or avoiding simple carbohydrates such as white flour, white rice and refined sugar.
Turn off the TV
Maybe binge-watching TV isn’t such a good idea after all.
A 2010 study of 8,800 adults with no history of heart disease showed that those who watched four or more hours of TV a day were 46 percent more likely to die from any cause than people who watched less than two hours a day.
The more TV, the higher the toll. Each additional hour in front of the TV increased the risk of dying from heart disease by 18 percent and the overall risk of death by 11 percent, according to the study, published by Circulation, an American Heart Association journal.
TV isn’t the killer, researchers said. It’s the fact that you’re sitting and being inactive for so long.
Feeling young can make you young, according to a JAMA Internal Medicine study from the University College London last year.
Two researchers asked 6,500 men and women this question: “How old you feel you are?” Then, eight years later, they discovered that people who had felt three or more years younger than their chronological age had a lower death rate than people who felt their own age or more than a year older.
Researchers speculated that feeling younger might lead to better health habits.
“Feeling younger or older itself seems to have an effect on our health,” said Ronald D. Siegel, assistant professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School.
His tips for feeling young include:
▪ Learn new things, new ideas, new skills.
▪ Live in the moment. Stop getting lost in regrets about the past or imagining future troubles. Try formal mindfulness meditation.
▪ Find a hobby you love – theater, dancing, reading, whatever. “When our focus is just on our own immediate pleasure or pain, we’re much more likely to have difficulty with the aging process,” Siegel said.
A healthy sex life can help you live longer.
“You can’t conclude anything else but that it’s healthy to have sexual activity,” said Irwin Goldstein, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego.
A Wilkes University study found that people who have sex two times a week tend to have significantly higher amounts of the antibody immunoglobulin A, which helps ward off colds and flu.
In 2010, the New England Research Institutes found that regular sex might lower the risk of heart disease.
Other studies have found that sex can relieve stress, improve your sense of smell, help you sleep better, boost your self-esteem and, arguably, reduce the risk of breast cancer.
Stop and smell the roses is apparently more than just a nice sentiment. Research shows that flowers can be powerful mood elevators.
In three studies, Rutgers University researchers discovered that the simple act of receiving flowers can have immediate and long-term positive effects on your mood.
They had one of three gifts delivered to study participants – a decorative candle, a fruit basket and a floral bouquet. The flowers elicited responses that the other two items did not – heartfelt, “true smiles.”
Three days later, the flower recipients were still feeling happier than the others who didn’t receive flowers, prompting researchers to conclude that there was something uniquely moving about the gift of flowers.
Go to college
A recent Harvard Medical School study found that people with more than 12 years of formal education live 18 months longer than people with less education.
Even just one year of college seemed to make a difference.
Researchers have made a connection between schooling and smoking – the more education you have, the less likely you are to smoke.
Hug your honey
A 2004 study by researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill found that couples who cuddle might have lower stress, thus reducing their risk of heart and other diseases.
In the study, one group of couples sat together, touched each other, watched five minutes from a romantic movie and then hugged each other for 20 seconds. Couples in another group rested quietly for 10 minutes, thought about what they would do if they had an entire day to themselves and did not hug.
Afterward, all the couples were asked to talk about a personal experience that had made them angry or stressful in the past. Blood pressure and heart rate levels rose higher in the folks who hadn’t hugged each other.
Okinawa, Japan, is said to be home to the world’s largest group of centenarians. They are known not only for their long lives, but for being active and relatively ailment-free in their old age.
One secret: Dan Buettner, who studies longevity around the world, found that the oldest Japanese people stop eating when they are feeling only about 80 percent full.
In other words, Okinawans don’t gorge.
A 2008 study by St. Louis University researchers confirmed that cutting just 300 to 500 calories a day from your diet could slow the signs of aging and help you live longer.
Cutting back on calories is thought to decrease the production of T3, a thyroid hormone, which then slows down metabolism and tissue aging.
Strengthen those legs
Having weak thigh muscles is the number one predictor of frailty in old age, Robert Butler, president of the International Longevity Center — USA in New York City, told Prevention magazine earlier this year.
The stronger your lower body is, the better your balance, flexibility and endurance, all of which are very important as you age. Strong legs can help reduce your risk of falls and injuries, particularly hip fractures. Up to one-fifth of hip fracture patients die within one year from complications.
Time and again, science has shown that having people around us is key to living a long, happy life. Loneliness can kill, especially older people.
People without a strong network of family and friends are at greater risk of developing and dying from heart disease. Some research even suggests that being lonely is comparable to the health risks posed by high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking.
“Good interpersonal relationships act as a buffer against stress,” Micah Sadigh, associate professor of psychology at Cedar Crest College, told Prevention magazine.
Chronic stress that weakens the immune system can cut your life short by four to eight years, according to one study.
“You need friends you can talk to without being judged or criticized,” Sadigh said.