Are you hoping for a long life which stretches into three figures? Watch out for these signs to see if you’re in with a fighting chance.
Elizabeth II, The Queen of the UK, has recently turned 96, raising the tantalising prospect that she may soon make it to the big 100 – at which point she presumably has to send herself a telegram. After all, her mother reached the grand old age of 101, and for royalty and commoners alike, reaching 100 has always been an important symbolic milestone, something that allows you to say ‘I’ve had a really good run’. However, getting there is about more than luck – it depends on your genes, diet and lifestyle. So, what signs suggest you might have what it takes to live a long life as a centenarian?
Staying slim for long life
It will come as no surprise to anyone to hear that those who manage to keep the weight off have a better chance of living a long and healthy life, but your chances are even better if you can keep weight away from your middle. A study by Plos One found that those with pear shaped bodies who have slimmer waists tend to live longer than those with apple shapes. A 2014 study found that people with larger waist circumferences were more at risk from conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and cancer.
According to the study, men with waists of 43 inches or more had a 50% greater risk of dying during the study period than those with waists of 35 inches. For someone at the age of 40, this could amount to a three-year difference in life expectancy.
The link between a larger belly and increased risk of death remained for people who had a BMI within the healthy range, which suggests it’s not just how much fat you have, but where you have it.
Don’t worry, be happy
Can you think yourself into a longer life? A 2019 study found that positive thinking could extend lifespan by 11-15% and improve your chances of living to 85 or longer. This effect was found to continue even after other factors such as age, gender and health were taking into account.
So, if you have a tendency to look on the bad side of life be warned – you could be moaning yourself into an early grave. It also means that – with the right approach – a longer life could be a much happier and more joyful one.
Other research showed that people who had a more positive approach to the aging process were more likely to experience it for longer. Those who embrace the challenges of later life, therefore, have a tendency to live longer than those who start considering themselves older much earlier.
Getting enough sleep
We all know that sleep is the time the body regenerates, so it should come as no surprise that those who get enough of it have a lower risk of certain conditions and tend to live longer. In 2010, a study found that people who habitually slept for less than six hours a night were 12% more likely to experience premature death. At the same time, though, it suggested those who regularly sleep for over nine hours also have an increased mortality rate. The secret, therefore, is to find the Goldilocks zone in terms of sleep – not too much and not too little.
Are you active enough?
Exercise can be key to keeping you young. A study in the BMJ found that people who engage in sufficient aerobic activity are 29% less likely to die from any cause. Anyone who can manage between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate to intense exercise, it found, would experience the lowest risk of mortality. Furthermore, another study released in the good old BMJ found that the health and lifespan gains you can get from exercise apply regardless of previous habits. So, even if you’ve been a couch potato for most of your life, it’s never too late to turn things around.
Most importantly, if you’re aiming for three figures it’s important to stay active as you age. A study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that elderly people who exercised regularly could expect to live for an additional five years.
A life with meaning is a long life
Aside from physical factors, there are also a good number of psychological indicators. One of them is feeling you have a purpose in life. A study in Psychological Science found that people who feel they have a sense of purpose in life are less likely to die over a 14-year period. That purpose can be anything – from a new hobby, to new friends or even starting a new business. We’ve all heard of people who kept going for longer than expected because they felt they had something to live for – such as an elderly relative keen to see the birth of a new baby in the family. This suggests there may be some science behind the theory.
How old do you feel?
Are you heading into your fifties but feel like you’re still in your 30s? The good news is it could be a sign of long life. A study from the University College of London found that those who say they feel just three years younger than their chronological age were more likely to live longer. After adjusting for other variables such as lifestyle and health, researchers found a 41% increased risk of mortality among those who said they feel old.
What’s behind this phenomenon is open for debate. Researchers suggested that people who feel young might be more optimistic and resilient than those who feel old. Alternatively, it could be internal signs from your body that everything is in working order. In any case, it adds to the suggestion that longer life is not just about the state of your body but also your state of mind.