Engineering Your Life to Live Longer

How do you live long, and well?

For some people, it seems as though it really is just in their genes. They come from a long line of people who all lived until ripe old ages, even with stories of chain smokers and daily drinkers hovering overhead, and without a doubt, providing there are no accidents, they’ll more than also live longer.  

But is it all down to genes? Dr. Thomas Perls, an aging expert and director of the New England Centenarian Study at the Boston University School of Medicine explains that “research shows that genes account for less than one-third of your chances of surviving to age 85. The vast majority of variation in how old we live to be is due to our health behaviours,” Perls says. “Our genes could get most of us close to the remarkable age of 90 if we lead a healthy lifestyle.” And even beyond, with medical science where it is right now…

Therefore, if genes play only one third of a role, then where does the rest come from? Well, it comes from the way that we live, and not only from when we are unhealthy, but from a young age where we practice behaviours that will ensure that we age gracefully.

We realise that this is not an exact science, and that life had many unexpected outcomes that can drastically affect us at any moment of any second of every day. Life can change in an instant, as I’m sure we are all aware, but you shouldn't be living every day like it could be your last – you should be living each day in the hope that tomorrow you’ll be here, and if you’re still here, then why not be here at your highest level of being possible!

There are various ways that we can affect positive change in our lives, to ensure that we “engineer” our bodies, and minds, to be at their peak. And so we investigated a few methods that could, potentially, help all of us live longer, and better.

Reduce Stress

It goes without saying that in such a fast-paced world, stress and the impacts of stress on our bodies, is taking a more central role when we aim to understand other causes of the health issues a person may experience. Stress comes in many shapes and forms, and can be a result of your social relationships, home life, work, and a number of other overwhelming instances where life can get too much.

The trick to living longer, however, is to reduce this stress. Many of us react differently to stress. Some of us are able to take stressful situations in our stride, and not let them negatively impact us in the long-term, while others simply struggle to cope. A study showed how important reducing stress was for longevity by selecting 73 residents of 8 homes for the elderly. They were randomly assigned among no treatment and 3 treatments highly similar in external structure and expectations: the Transcendental Meditation (TM) program, mindfulness training (MF) in active distinction making, or a relaxation (low mindfulness) program. A planned comparison indicated that the "restful alert" TM group improved most, followed by MF, in contrast to relaxation and no-treatment groups, on paired associate learning; 2 measures of cognitive flexibility; word fluency; mental health; systolic blood pressure; and ratings of behavioural flexibility, aging, and treatment efficacy. The MF group improved most, followed by TM, on perceived control. After 3 years, survival rate was 100% for TM and 87.5% for MF in contrast to lower rates for other groups.

Meditation and mindfulness are key ways of dealing with stress. If you understand and accept the way that you respond to stress, then you can make specific interventions in your life to prevent that stress from eating away at you, and your lifespan.  

Eat Well

Today, the negative impacts, but external and internal, of eating unhealthily are well-known and well-studied. This is why health through nutrition has become so important to everyone all over the world. We have seen many myths debunked and some new silent killers like salt and sugar now highlighted as what we should remove from our diets in order to stay healthy.

Food, in general, is life giving, so ensuring that what you put into your body is right for you should be a premium concern for everyone. Genetics has started to go one step further as it can identify what foods you are sensitive to, helping you to personalise your diet even further. And not only that, but maintaining a balanced diet – eating enough vegetables, getting enough protein and fats, for instance – is a means to living longer and in good health.

Get Enough Quality Sleep

Our brains and bodies in general are highly dependent on sleep. We need sleep in order to survive but many of us do not get enough sleep. We previously discussed how important sleep is for your workout, and diet, and this is because there needs to be a higher emphasis put on getting enough of it to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

With the world the way it is, we find ourselves constantly busy, without any time to stop and think about what we are doing to ourselves. Not getting enough sleep and staying active, working, for 20 hours out of a 24-hour day every single day is counterproductive to our health and wellbeing and in order to live longer, this needs to be addressed. You heal while you sleep, and should be getting at least 8 hours a night, regularly.

Stay Active

Exercising, and staying active is a key ingredient to living longer. If you stagnate and stop, then you are putting your body in a position where it is eventually going to slow down for good. Yes, rest is key, but taking time out of your day to work out is just as important.

And it doesn't have to mean time in the gym…

Staying active can mean taking the dogs for regular walks, socialising with people and playing sports outdoors.

Studies have shown how leisure time and physical activity is associated with a longer life expectancy for everyone aged 21 to 90, and over! They have also shown how important it is for obese people to exercise as it also keeps them healthier and allows them to live longer. Whichever way you look at it, with so much online and on the television, on screens, basically, our society has become more sedentary and it is up to us to seize the initiative and take control of our own health.

It is no longer easy for us to work outdoors or work shorter hours and have longer days spent outside. Today, we’re inside in our holes in the Earth and have to motivate ourselves to be better and live stronger. When you get older, you want to relent against being old and in need, rather, stay active and in the game of life. Have people look at you and gasp when you tell them how old you are…

We can guarantee that you’ll love the compliments.  

Maintain a Healthy Social Life

And it’s not only about eating right and staying active but being around people as well. A recent study discovered that the sheer size of a person's social network was important for health in early and late adulthood. In adolescence, that is, social isolation increased risk of inflammation by the same amount as physical inactivity while social integration protected against abdominal obesity. In old age, social isolation was actually more harmful to health than diabetes on developing and controlling hypertension. 

The key ingredient here is that although many of us glorify introversion and social anxiety today, we all need to recognise how important it is to be in contact with people. Other people motivate you to do more, and be more. They allay your fears and help you to understand how to turn your weaknesses into strengths. There is no better way to experience something than with someone you love and care about, and it is this that keeps us living because we have a reason to live.

Sure, not all of us who do all of this will live to be 100, but it is a step in the right direction. There are ways that we can hack our lives to make living easier, and these are just a few of them. Imagine waking up every single day and enjoying it. Loving every minute and looking forward to what the day might bring, rather than succumbing to the metaphysical dark clouds overhead. It might not be easy at first, but what is? Try it, you’ll like it, it’s fun.  

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