Seven Habits That Science Says Increase Longevity

Sarita Harbour

As more people live well into their 90s and even surpass their 100th birthdays, scientists and researchers are studying just what they’re doing (and not doing) to live long lives.

Research shows that during the 30-year period from 1980 to 2010, the number of centenarians (people age 100 or older) grew by almost 66%, while the most recent U.S. Census report estimates that as of July 2015 there were 76,943 centenarians. The National Institutes of Health, or NIH, reports that people born in the U.S. today can expect to live to about the age of 79, a full 25 years longer than those born 100 years ago.

If you’re wondering what you can do to extend your life, but don’t like the idea of drastically changing your lifestyle and diet, you’re in luck. You can ease yourself into many of the lifestyle, diet and exercise habits of the world’s longest-living people—that is, if you aren’t already making these easy-to-live-with choices.

Take a look at these seven habits of people who enjoy long lives, and learn how to incorporate them into your daily life to boost the chances of increasing your longevity.

1. Drink (a Little) and Take Your Time With Meals.

National Geographic fellow and journalist Dan Buettner has carried out extensive research on the dietary and lifestyle choices in so-called “Blue Zones,” parts of the world identified by scientists as having unusually long-living inhabitants. The five Blue Zones currently include:

  • Sardinia, Italy
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Icaria (Ikaria), Greece
  • Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
  • Loma Linda, California

Buettner’s research uncovered the fact that one of the noticeable traits of some Blue Zone inhabitants is that they enjoy life, including drinking wine—in moderation—and relaxing over long meals.

For example, the long-living residents of Sardinia and Ikaria enjoy small glasses of wine on a daily basis. They also take a long time to eat their main meal of the day, enjoying it with family and friends.

And, earlier this year, researchers at Stanford University’s School of Medicine found evidence that the caffeine present in coffee or tea correlates to reduced inflammation as we age, contributing to the drinker’s longevity. So enjoying a small glass of wine with a leisurely family meal and following it up with a small cup of coffee on a regular basis could help you live longer.

2. Eat Bread, Meat, and Desserts…Sometimes.

While it should come as no surprise that people with longer-than-average lifespans eat lots of fruits and vegetables, you may not know that many of them also don’t shy away from eating bread, meat, and desserts.

Religious occasions, birthdays, and anniversaries—along with their associated special meat and dessert dishes—are common in the countries where people live the longest. Yet researchers have discovered that Blue Zone inhabitants enjoy small portions of these dishes and don’t focus on them as the main part of the meal.

In Okinawa, the diet is heavy on vegetables and rice but includes small amounts of meat stir-fried into the main dish, providing protein but low calories. In Loma Linda, California, the home of the long-living Seventh-Day Adventist community, where inhabitants live about 10 years longer than the average American, most of the population avoids meat. However, they do enjoy whole grains—a common food among the five Blue Zone communities.

3. Prioritize Being Active Over Going to the Gym.

Living longer in good health requires regular physical activity but don’t worry—you don’t have to start training to run a marathon.

Dr. Luigi Ferrucci, an NIH geriatrician, believes that if you want to live longer, you should prioritize staying active: “Exercise is especially important for lengthening active life expectancy, which is life without disease and without physical and mental/thinking disability.”

However, that doesn’t mean hitting the gym. Indeed, interviews with individuals who have lived to age 100 or older reveal that a gym membership wasn’t even on their radar. Instead, their daily routines include lots of walking, gardening, or swimming.

Doesn’t that sound doable? If you want to live longer, hang up your weight belt and replace strenuous weight lifting and cardio routines with walking, working in the garden, swimming, and other gentle physical activities. Try to get in at least a 30 minute brisk walk daily.

4. Don’t Retire.

Everywhere you look you’ll see advice about saving for retirement, preparing for retirement, and how to enjoy retirement. However, as reported in the Harvard Business Review, researchers from Oregon State University (OSU) found a surprising tidbit when studying data from the Health and Retirement Study. This longitudinal study began in 1992 and includes participants who retired in 2010. The OSU researchers found that, although most of the participants retired at age 65, those who retired at age 66 actually had an 11% lower mortality rate, so working longer may contribute to longevity.

There is still much work to be done in the study of retirement age and longevity. However, many studies show that feeling like you’re contributing to society and keeping active in your community all contribute to a longer life.

So if working makes you feel good, don’t retire! Consider your specific situation—perhaps you could work part-time, or work from home. Or you could leave your primary job and work as a consultant where you set your own hours or work on short projects. If your work brings you joy, stick with it.

5. Grow Your Own Foods.

One common trait of Blue Zone inhabitants is that their heavily-plant-based diets depend on food they grew themselves. In addition to the beneficial daily physical activity required to plant, weed, and maintain a garden, growing their own food lets people enjoy a “less-processed” diet, including raw or lightly stir-fried fruits and veggies.

Including more fruits and vegetables in your diet can improve your health and help you live longer, but do ensure that the greens you eat are fresh and free from chemicals. And instead of buying them from a grocery store where you don’t know if they’ve been exposed to harmful pesticides or other chemicals, enjoy foods from your own garden.

Begin “growing your own” vegetables and herbs in a small garden plot. If you’re unfamiliar with gardening, start small by planting some herb seeds (try basil) in a pot to set on your windowsill. Some vegetables, such as tomatoes and peppers, are also good “starter” vegetables as they’re easy to grow indoors in pots.

6. Enjoy Daily Spiritual Practice and Reading.

If you feel better after your daily meditation or prayers, it shouldn’t surprise you to find out that statistics show that the majority of people who live to ages over 100 have a strong faith. In addition to quiet individual spiritual practice they often enjoy participating in their own religious community and attending regular church services.

But if pursuing a daily spiritual practice doesn’t interest you, start a daily reading practice to boost longevity instead.

A recent study found that book lovers live longer. According to the study carried out by Yale University researchers, people who read reduced their mortality rate by an astounding 20% more than non-readers during the 12 years following the study!

7. Maintain Strong Ties to Family, Friends, and Community.

As both studies and interviews show, healthy, loving relationships and a strong social network has emerged as another key to a long and healthy life.

In the Harvard longitudinal study, study director Robert Waldinger said, “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.” Over the 80-year course of the study, researchers conclude that close relationships were an important part of happiness, which has been found to help protect against and delay the mental and physical decline that leads to death.

And, as it turns out, a strong social network can include your online and social media network. In a recent study carried out by University of California San Diego and Yale University in collaboration with Facebook, using the social media platform Facebook correlates to longer life—so long as you’re using it to keep up with your real-life social relationships.

To maintain and improve your social relationships, make a point of staying connected to your friends and family members near and far. Look for opportunities to volunteer in your community, join a club, or take a class where you’ll meet new people who could become friends. Think of maintaining relationships as a form of self-care that may add years to your life.

Go Forth and Conquer.

Making lifestyle changes and introducing new habits can be easier if you introduce them gradually.

  • Tackle one or two habits at a time.
  • Enjoy smaller portions at meal times, and start taking a 30-minute walk with your spouse or a friend each evening.
  • Invite friends, neighbors, or family members over for a potluck meal with a glass of wine once in a while.
  • Check out a few new books from the library, and plant a few tomato plants.
  • And look for regular opportunities to participate in a gentle physical activity that you enjoy with family or friends whom you like.

After all, if you’re going to live longer, you want to have some fun!

woman living a happy life

Share and inspire in comments: Volunteer? Travel? Exercise?  What power habits do you have that are helping you live a happier life? 

31 Responses to "Seven Habits That Science Says Increase Longevity"

  • How Using These Mobile Apps May Boost Wellness and Longevity | June 6, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    […] keys to living longer include staying active, continually growing and learning, and staying on top of your health and […]

  • Extra Mile Staff | February 18, 2019 at 2:08 pm

    Thanks Teresa! Count us in.

  • Teresa | February 17, 2019 at 12:54 pm

    This is great information. I believe I'll head over to Dave & Busters and play a few fun games today instead of the gym.

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experience Peter!

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 22, 2019 at 1:59 pm

    Thank you for sharing, Marlene! Good luck with your book.

  • Peter | January 20, 2019 at 5:57 am

    I am 71, and have so far had good health, in part because of good genes, but also because of healthy eating and exercise. Several years before retiring from a great but very stressful job, I offered to become the neighborhood grandpa to a couple who had moved to the house across ours shortly before their first child was born - which they immediately accepted because both their parents lived out of state. When I retired, I told them that since I would have more time, I was going to offer to do more things for them so they would have more time for their two children. It has been a very satisfying for me, and has added a dimension to my sharing and receiving of love.

  • Marlene Franklin | January 20, 2019 at 2:33 am

    I am 79 and counting. I retired from U.S. Government after 42 years (1957-1999). I worked 17 years for the Executive Branch of Government, Article II; I transferred to the Judiciary, Article III. I am knowledgable about the United States Constitution and the three tiers of government: Article I, II, and III. I returned to complete my education and graduated from DePaul University School for New Learning June 2010. I was 70-1/2 years of age. At this time, I am gathering, reading and writing about my lifestyle and lifelong learning experience. I am fortunate to be a descendant of two people, my grandfather's grandparents. My Mother's father was born 1898 and his Mother was born in 1879. They all were alive when I was born. My reflections from family pictures are my memories of their legacy. My education in the liberal arts and the fashion industry inspire me to be creative in sharing my heritage. I hope to publish my book and host a book signing. Stay tuned, I hope to see all soon. Ben Franklin said, "Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." Smart is the new Pretty. I'm Book Smart and I'm Blessed by the Grace of GOD to be alive. Marlene "I am not what I used to be was; I am now what I now am is." Life is good and my book will be written from the "I AM" perspective.

  • Extra Mile Staff | January 2, 2019 at 1:09 pm

    April, you are such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your experience and Happy New Year!

  • April Agostinello | January 1, 2019 at 8:10 pm

    Awesome article!! Although I am only 38, I am disabled and unable to work. I have a rare condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, and need surgery on my back and both feet. Two months ago, I was going about my business and opened my eyes, looked around and realized I was in a hospital. I immediately hit the nurse button to find out what on Earth happened and how/why I was there. They came rushing in and were so shocked that I was awake and talking to them! They said that they were not expecting me to pull through. They said that my heart rate was in the low 30's for the past 5 days that I've been in the intensive Care unit and that I was in kidney failure and having seizures. I have no memory of anything at all, and still am not sure of what point I stopped remembering. They asked me who the President was, and I said Al Gore!!! Haha. My whole family was under the impression that I was never going to walk out of the hospital and were preparing for my final arrangements. I have a whole new outlook on life now and it's so scary to realize that without any warning whatsoever, any minute can be your last! I have a whole new understanding of how valuable every second of my life is, and how important it is to take better care of myself so that I can be here to maybe become a Grandma one day and experience life to it's fullest! This article gave me some inspiration and ideas to focus on! Though walking is not one of my strong points, low impact activities such as swimming can provide the exercise I need, and swimming with friends can add to the enjoyable social activities that make you come back for more! I don't know many people who live nearby, so perhaps I could inspire other disabled people who might be interested and create our own swim-social group and possibly make some new friends along the way! I do love gardening, but always limited myself to do it during the summer months... I guess I didn't think about growing my tomatoes in a pot kept in a sunny window! I am digging out my seeds and planting them TODAY! My advice to all of you is DON'T WAIT UNTIL TOMORROW for anything you can do TODAY! Tomorrow may never come, so live life to the fullest now! Don't plan on statistics saying you should live to your 70's or 80's or more and you have plenty of time left to do the things you want! Enjoy it now, and enjoy more tomorrow when it comes! Be kind to everyone and your spirit WILL live forever in all of the lives you've touched along the way!

  • David Smith | November 7, 2018 at 4:00 pm

    Love to read successful retiree"s stories. I think the truth of the matter is to do exercise,volunteering, eating, and drinking in moderation AND pick the ones you enjoy. That will lead to an enjoyable life regardless of length.

  • Amelia BALTAZAR ABAYA | September 2, 2018 at 12:10 am


  • Jose Garrido | August 19, 2018 at 2:37 am

    I moved from Daly City to Fairfield City, CA and enjoying a non-stressful life. Hopefully,we'll live longer with no pressure from unplanned daily schedules.

  • Richard Tiff | August 18, 2018 at 1:08 pm

    I agree with most of your research and try to practice most things recommended. I am 80 and still work part time at a senior facility. I have found that a plant based diet is the way to go for most of your diet, with a few exceptions. Thanks for article.

  • Maxey | August 18, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    71 & still working my 40 hours at a relaxed productive pace with no date in mind to retire. I chat with coworkers every day, and schmooze with everyone I meet. I walk around the block during my two fifteen minute breaks at work. My wife of 48 years and I travel extensively & enjoy our intimacy. I read a book a week, drink coffee and eat in moderation. Life is sweet!

  • Dilip Desai | July 1, 2018 at 2:57 am

    I will be 70 in December. Working 3 days in a month. My activities are any of the following in a day. Prayanam; meditation; yoga; swimming;tennis; la fitness; learning Spanish; playing Indian musical instrument and reading. In short I want to live healthy.

  • Cleo Castellanos | June 25, 2018 at 3:57 am

    I have retired several times but am now working full time again at 85.5 as our library director. i have a little wine with my evening meal, eat organics primarily, and just enjoy life.

  • Judy C Conrad | June 22, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    Enjoyed reading each person’s story. Seems they have made positive changes in their life. Good luck to all!!!

  • Normand | June 22, 2018 at 1:50 am

    Work in the garden? Go to church? Keep working at a job? Etc etc. ,You call that living ?.... I believe the majority of sane people would like to die younger but enjoy their shorter life.

  • Susan Gabriele | June 12, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    I don't find it mentioned often enough : do volunteer work. We retired early (62) because we hated our jobs, but keep busy with volunteer work: Lions Club, local food pantries, taking care of our grandchildren. It's worth living on less money and enjoying what we're doing.

  • Mary Lou Graham | June 4, 2018 at 2:44 am

    Went to a 90th Birthday of friend,Dick. He is still working and so is his wife at 77!!👏👏

  • susan gunn | June 4, 2018 at 12:51 am

    even if you can only achieve small stretches & are unable to be really active...try deep breathing as a conscious meditative practice. this will relax you & relieves our chronic anxiety. deep conscious breathing. try it to a count of 10 breathes. count five seconds aloud on intake hold for another cojnt of five exhale slowly to a count of 5 too. you will immediately begin to feel the benefits. your brain will focus as it should on the breath.... simple. anyone can do it. no excuses.

  • Extra Mile Staff | May 24, 2018 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for sharing your story. So inspiring!

  • Sandraperry | May 24, 2018 at 1:30 pm

    I retired worked part time walked ,climbed stairs all day long ,house work gardening.Then I reconnected with and old man friend and started traveling everywhere.He is a retired pilot.We fave flown Alaska,moved him to Nevada first we flew the plane down then we drove his truck csmoervwith a high trailer down the AlCan to Nevada.Drove to Dsllas Texas loaded two trailers with all my belongings and he and I drove to Louisville Kentucky where we are in the process of moving into our new condo tomorrow.I am from Louisville.We plan to travel from Nevada to Louisville.My family is here His is in Nevada.Wecwent to New Hampshire for Christmas.I had spent three months in Hawaii prior to starting the Alaska travels.My granddaughter and her husband were in the Aur Force.We never stop.After our move we are headed to California and a June wedding.Life for me is wonderful today.Last June I thought my life was over I was in the hospital getting a heart catherization .The next month I was up and gone and never looked back.It is never too late.

  • Pamela Bowser | May 24, 2018 at 3:27 am

    I retired in 2005 after 27 years with the City of Carson, California, relocated to Midland, Texas with my fiancé. I continued part time work and played golf three days a week and love gardening. However, I relocated back to California to take care of my Alzheimer mother. After her death, I purchased a home and have been working part time and will forever grow as many tomatoes, artichokes, and plants around my home. I also work part-time at Popeye's!

  • Marcia | May 24, 2018 at 12:02 am

    Similar question to Karen Casenek and Patricia but sever osteoarthritis. I have already had two hip replacements, one knee replacement, two major back (and one neck) surgeries. Nothing is pain free. No way in the world can I do a Downward Facing Dog Yoga move. I still force movement even on really bad days - housework, stairs, things of this nature. I am doing repetitions of simple leg lifts while lying on the bed and small weight lifts for the arms. Any other suggestions?

  • Ramiro Valdez | May 23, 2018 at 9:49 pm

    Great information which must be read everywhere

  • Patricia | May 19, 2018 at 1:12 am

    I have the same question as Karen Cesanek

  • Phyllis | March 27, 2018 at 4:05 pm

    Good article. Thank you. Tomatoes are a fruit that eats like a vegetable. Really, who cares? They're yummy. Eat them.

  • Karen Cesanek | March 22, 2018 at 1:28 am

    What kind of exercises can u do when u have COPD, use oxygen, and have pains in legs , arms, back and ankles, a condition that disables u to walk far with pain.

  • Pat | March 17, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    Excellent information

  • Extra Mile Staff | March 15, 2018 at 2:00 pm

    Wayne - Good catch! The debate over whether a tomato is a fruit or a vegetable comes from who’s looking at it. Most scientists will say it’s a fruit because of its anatomy. Most chefs will say it’s a vegetable because of its culinary profile. So it’s really dependent on who’s looking at it. Kind of a true Tomato vs Tomahto situation.

  • wayne | March 14, 2018 at 6:53 pm

    Tomatoes are a Fruit!!

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