If you could add five healthy years to your life would you?
How about ten healthy years?
Imagine what you could do in that time.
You could travel the world, see more of your kids and grandkids, pursue hobbies, spend more time in your job or do anything you like, really.
I believe it’s possible.
Obviously, there are a lot of factors at play and there is one we have little control over.
That being lady luck.
We have no control over the cards we are dealt. An accident can cut short a young and healthy life in seconds. So too can being born with a genetic defect.
Though luck works both ways and being born with some genes can help you live longer too.
If you’re of Ashkenazi Jewish decent you are more likely to live to your hundreds thanks to your genetic makeup.
For everything else, however, you’re in control but it requires implementing good habits and taking action.
The definition of good health isn’t six-pack abs and 8 percent body fat to look good on the beach.
Living a healthy life for as long as possible (longevity) is more about maintaining wellness.
This is the difference between wellness and:
- Bodybuilding: which is about what you look like on the outside.
- Sports: which is about how you make your body perform in a competitive environment.
If bodybuilding and sports were key to a long and healthy life then all bodybuilders and sports stars would live the longest, but they don’t.
In fact, a lot of them don’t live long at all because they have pushed their bodies so hard over the years.
Good health is about preserving the natural functions of the body and mind for as long as possible. Everything else is either vanity or performance.
And the kicker is, as you get older you have to work harder to preserve what you have. And the older we get the more difficult it becomes.
Hey ho, that’s life.
But with Lady Luck on your side, put these habits in place and you will add more healthy years to your life.
It starts with your mindset
Your mindset is the operating system to your life.
The key is to control your thoughts, beliefs and how you interpret the world, other people and yourself.
Your mind is a powerful tool and it’s down to you to hone and sharpen it so it works for you not against you.
This means embracing certain fundamental truths about life. Namely, you’re going to die and everyone you’ve ever known is going to die also.
If that’s painful to read then you’re mindset requires work.
If it isn’t, then you’ve probably figured out what the most important things in life are and don’t take the rest of it, the noise, too seriously.
Your mindset is developed by a combination of your upbringing, relationships, experiences, acquired knowledge and wisdom, personality type, your faith (religious, spiritual or otherwise) and your own personal philosophy.
This is why mindset is so powerful. It impacts every area of life including how we respond to its challenges.
Thoughts have energy and in a world where mental health issues are on the rise and people are more stressed than ever perhaps we need to focus more on our mindset and brain health.
The wonderful thing about the human brain is that, as the body declines as we get older, the brain can continue to create new cells and grow well into old age.
First and foremost, get your mindset right and the rest will follow.
Focus on the good stress
There are two types of stress: acute and chronic.
Acute stress is how you feel before giving an important speech or doing an activity which takes you out of your comfort zone.
It’s when you lift weights, tear your muscle and it grows back stronger. Or when you run flat out on a treadmill for 30 minutes.
Acute stress is a healthy stress that helps you grow. It’s the type of stress we need to remind our body we’re alive.
Then there’s chronic stress. This is when you’re constantly stressed out. When trivial annoyances send your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels shooting up.
Chronic stress increases your blood pressure, sugar levels and heart rate, while at the same time it reduces your body’s immune response to diseases. Chronic speeds up the ageing process.
When it comes to stress, the dose makes the poison.
Get out of your comfort zone every now and again to learn a new skill or face a fear to create an acute stress response.
If something or someone is chronically stressing you out then either you have to change your mindset about the situation or remove yourself entirely from it.
For further information, read this article on why stress and recovery are essential for a long life.
Keep active every day
When your body is in constant motion, it’s easier to burn energy, manage your weight and stay cognitively sound.
We live in a sit-down culture and work is increasingly becoming desk-based.
Most people drive to and from work. When they come home they sit and watch TV. It’s a recipe for disaster and explains the current obesity crisis.
You have to be active every day. Find a hobby that keeps you moving or make it part of your daily routine.
For me, I love to walk but if walking’s not your thing, maybe buy a bike and cycle to work or find a job that keeps you on your feet all day.
Your body was meant to be in constant motion and it’s surprising how much energy it burns when it is. As well as the physical benefits, staying active helps cognitively too by improving mood and focus.
Occasionally max your heart rate
Your heart is a muscle and therefore, like all muscles, it grows when exerted.
Occasional rigorous exercise can contribute to longevity. That is, pushing your body hard for an extended period of time until you can’t go on.
Or what I would call, “beasting myself.”
I beast myself by running flat out intermittently on a treadmill for half an hour.
Over the course of that 30 minutes, I sprint as fast as I can for one minute, rest for two minutes and repeat until the time’s up.
When I’m finished I can barely breathe, my lungs ache, I’m dripping with sweat and my heart rate will be elevated for the rest of the day.
This is high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and has a lot of health benefits to it including;
- It burns a ton of calories
- Keeps you in fat burning mode for a long time after
- Improves your body’s oxygen consumption
- Reduces heart rate and blood pressure
- Improves your body’s insulin resistance (i.e. wards off type II diabetes)
Basically, HIIT slows down the ageing process.
HIIT is not something you can do every day because of how physically demanding it is. My sweet spot is around once a week.
You don’t have to do it on a treadmill either. A bike or rowing machine will work too or take up a sport like boxing or muay thai where it’s part of the training.
Lift heavy things
Resistance training like lifting weights is usually done out of vanity over any other reason.
People lift weights mainly to look ripped, stacked or jacked on the street or beach, rather than for any meaningful health benefit of which there are many.
Resistance training helps delay the onset of sarcopenia, which is the decaying of muscle mass as we age. From the age of 30, men lose three to eight percent of muscle every decade.
If you lift weights regularly you can prevent sarcopenia from happening early. It will catch up with you eventually but the longer you can delay it the better.
A regular weight lifting program also helps maintain bone density which, again, begins to decrease as we get older. It also improves strength, regulates hormone levels, lowers risk of disease, reduces anxiety, improves posture and increases confidence.
Oh, and it will likely make you look hotter too.
I’m not a big fan of lifting weights as I feel better doing cardiovascular exercises but I’m prepared to do it for the benefits it brings.
Eat plant-based highly nutritious foods
I shouldn’t need to state here that you should eat organic foods that are grown from the ground over highly processed ‘foods’ full of trans fats that come in plastic containers from the supermarket.
If you aren’t aware of which is healthier, you have a lot of catching up to do.
The current research shows that nutrient-dense foods such as green and coloured vegetables, fruits (mainly berries) seeds and legumes are the best kinds of foods to eat for good health.
Basically, an optimized vegan diet is the healthiest to eat
Meat eaters may disagree and as someone who is – and continues to be – a carnivore the evidence against me is damning.
One of the best books I’ve read on this topic is The End of Dieting: How to Live for Life by Dr Joel Fuhrman, who advocates for eating longevity-forming and anticancer foods, what he calls “GBOMBS” which stand for Greens, Beans, Onions, Mushrooms, Berries and Seeds.
This is what he calls a Nutritarian diet and it’s one I’ve done in the past with some success.
Eating food is a pleasure and it’s almost impossible to change people’s eating habits if the food you’re telling them not to eat is what they enjoy or associate with social gatherings.
Following the 80/20 rule of eating 80 percent healthy food and 20 percent unhealthy is more achievable and doesn’t deprive you of treats.
Fat loss, hormone regulation, reduced inflammation, reduced blood pressure, increased stress resistance and improved brain function are just some of the benefits you can get from intermittent fasting.
Fasting is easy to do. Once you get your body trained, it feels natural and there are no hunger pangs.
In fact, our ancestors likely fasted more often than they had daily meals. Eating three or four square meals a day is a product of the agricultural and industrial revolutions which are a small blip on the overall timeline of humans.
Intermittent fasting is a part of my life and I do it without thinking about it. It’s an ingrained habit which works for me and my body amazingly.
Try it if you haven’t already but give it time for your body to adjust. The first week is difficult but once you get going you’ll wonder what you did before it.
Get adequate rest
I use the term ‘rest’ quite broadly here. What I mean is ensure that you take time out to rest regardless of what you’re doing.
- Your body should feel rested each morning after a good night’s sleep
- You should feel recovered from a draining workout until you do another one
- Ensure you get adequate downtime from your work via leisure pursuits and hobbies
I’m guilty of not following all of the above all the time.
I sometimes stay up late and wake up early, feeling groggy through the day. I overtrain in the gym a lot which in turn makes me feel tired, down and I don’t receive any of the health benefits. I’ve also been called a workaholic more than once.
Rest is just as important as exercising. If you don’t you’ll burn out either in the gym, at work or in life itself.
Solid relationships and friendships
Having meaningful relationships can help with better emotional, mental and physical health. This is one of the most important factors for living a long and healthy life.
Humans are social creatures and we thrive on relationships and human connection.
Not everyone requires the same amount, however. A quarter of the population are introverts who usually require less interaction and socialisation than extroverts.
I have both introverted and extroverted tendencies.
I can happily spend all day by myself having not spoken to anyone. Yet, I love being the centre of attention and enjoy speaking to large crowds of people and the adrenaline rush that come with it.
One of the top five regrets of the dying is “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
It’s all too easy in today’s society which encourages us to do more, be more and achieve more to allow our friendships fall by the wayside.
Good relationships help with living a long and healthy life. If you have them, nurture and foster them. If you don’t, work on it to develop them.
In the end, it’s really all that counts.
When was the last time you prioritised fun over doing something productive?
If it was a long time ago try switching your focus.
When was the last time you had a huge belly laugh, where you can barely breathe and the tears are flowing down your face?
Someone who enjoys laughing usually doesn’t take themselves or life too seriously.
And perhaps we shouldn’t. As Joe Rogan said, “We’re talking monkeys on an organic spaceship flying around a ball of fire.”
Laughing is an underrated form of therapy. It increases your endorphin (the feel-good hormone) levels and decreases your cortisol (stress) levels.
But prioritising fun doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be a barrel of laughs.
You make your own definition of fun. It could mean being tucked up in bed reading a book or going for a long walk in the countryside or jetting off to Ibiza for a long weekend and absolutely caining it. It’s your call.
We all have that one funny friend who, even when thinking about them, brings a laugh to the surface.
Surround yourself with those types of people and prioritise laughing in your life.
Memento mori is the Latin phrase which basically means you are going to die.
It’s a reminder that life is finite and therefore taking care of the most important things (including your health) is only what truly matters.
It’s about letting go of past regrets, appreciating the present day and making decisions on the future not out of fear. It’s about appreciating those finite number of sunsets we’ll get to see.
As Steve Jobs remarked in his famous Stanford speech, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
“Because almost everything; all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure just fall away in the face of death.
“Remember that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap that you have something to lose. You are already naked.”
We often have less control of events and circumstances in life than we believe we have. As I said at the beginning of this article controlling one’s health and thus destiny is down to luck and taking action.
The former is out of your hands but the latter is there to be had.
Go out and do it and maybe add ten healthy years to your life.