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  • According to the preponderance of scientific data, the most important social factor predicting longevity is not your income, nor your race, nor whether or not you have health insurance—the most important predictive factor is your education
  • Education appears to teach people how to delay gratification and how to plan for the future
  • Your social support system is also important if you wish to lead a long, healthy life; if you are socially isolated, you’re more likely to suffer from poor health and a shorter lifespan
  • Other factors important for longevity include lifestyle choices such as diet, exercise, sleep, frequency of prescription drug use, overall attitude and stress management skills
 

The Surprising Secrets to a Long Life

December 22, 2012 | 245,796 views
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By Dr. Mercola

Many have studied the reasons for longevity. Why do some people live longer than others? Is it genetics? Is it culture, or perhaps lifestyle?

James Smith, a health economist at the RAND Corporation, delved into the prevailing mystery of why some groups of people live longer than others. What he found you might find surprising. I certainly did. The number one social factor that correlated with long life was not geographic region or health or socioeconomic status, but education.

Among the most important things you can do to help lengthen your children's lives is to keep them in school, according to Dr. Smith. And he's not the only one who has come to this conclusion, as you will discover in this New York Times article.1

The National Institute on Aging finds education is the most important social factor for longevity in study after study, dominating other factors such as income, race and health insurance. Columbia University graduate student Adriana Lleras-Muney found that your life expectancy at age 35 is extended by one and a half years simply by going to school for one extra year.

These findings imply that sinking our precious national dollars into health insurance programs will never give us as much "bang for our buck" as directing those funds toward education.

Dr. Smith suggests education may teach people how to delay gratification and think ahead. Education may teach you how to plan for your future, as opposed to simply living for the moment. Besides education, what other social factors may extend your life?

Having More Friends May Help You Live Longer

Harvard Professor of Public Policy Lisa Berkman cites social isolation as a significant factor in longevity. If you're socially isolated, you may experience poor health and a shorter lifespan. This may be, at least in part, because those who don't have good social networks may not be able to get assistance if they become ill.

Is there a health-wealth connection? Yes, there is, according to Dr. Smith. An analysis of Medicare beneficiaries performed by Dartmouth College found the lowest death rates are seen in the wealthiest places.

Current studies suggest getting rich does not make you healthier, but getting sick does make you poorer. Low income doesn't lead to poor health as much as poor health leads to low income, according to the latest research. This is largely due to the fact that, if you develop cancer, heart disease, diabetes or another serious disease, your medical expenses rise while your ability to work declines. For countries like England and Sweden that have universal health insurance, there is no difference in longevity between the rich and the poor.

What Can You Do NOW to Extend Your Life?

Total Video Length: 1:19:16

Download Interview Transcript

David Kekich, founder of the Maximum Life Foundation, recommends the following seven steps to increase the quality and quantity of your life. I invite you to listen to my interview with David, linked above.

1. Appropriate diet
2. Exercise
3. Sensible supplementation
4. Lifestyle habits such as quitting smoking and maintaining a healthy weight
5. Seeing an anti-aging physician
6. Stress management
7. Attitude/positive thoughts

Lifestyle Choices Today that Can Multiply Your Tomorrows

One of the key things you can do to extend not only the quantity of your years, but also the quality, is to make a few simple changes to your lifestyle. One of the most important changes is regulating your insulin through diet and exercise. Optimizing your insulin and leptin levels have been found to be key factors in slowing down the aging process.

Consuming sugar and grains will increase your insulin level, which is the equivalent of slamming your foot on your aging accelerator. There's simply no more potent way to accelerate aging than sticking to a diet full of sugar and grains. When consumed in excess, sugar, and fructose in particular, act as a toxin and drive multiple disease processes in your body, not the least of which is insulin resistance, a major cause of accelerated aging.

Furthermore, research by Professor Cynthia Kenyon shows that carbohydrates directly affect two key genes in your body that govern longevity and youthfulness. Previous research has shown that you can extend your lifespan by reducing your caloric intake, and I've written about this technique in the past. The problem is that most people do not understand how to properly cut calories, because in order to remain healthy, you have to cut out calories from a specific source – namely, carbohydrates.

Protein intake should be about one gram per kilogram of lean body mass or less than half a gram per pound of lean body mass. Most people are currently consuming 2-3 times this much. The key to success with this anti-aging strategy is not necessarily to reduce your calories but replace the missing carbs and protein with healthy fats such as butter, olive oil, coconut oil, avocado, the fat from pastured animals, or nuts.

Here are the rest of my top "anti-aging" recommendations:

  • Proper Food Choices: For a comprehensive food guide, see my free nutrition plan. Generally speaking, you should focus your diet on whole, unprocessed foods (organic vegetables, grass-fed meats, raw dairy, nuts, and so forth) that come from healthy, sustainable, local sources, such as small organic farms near your home.
  • For the best nutrition and health benefits, you will want to eat a good portion of your food raw. Personally, I aim to eat about 75 percent of my food raw, including raw eggs.

    Topping the list of foods to avoid is fructose.

    Eat plenty of natural, unprocessed salt with your food, as higher salt intake has been tied to longevity. I recommend Himalayan crystal salt. Also include liberal amounts of naturally fermented foods in your daily diet, which are important for optimal immune function.

  • Comprehensive Exercise Program, including High-Intensity Exercise like Peak Fitness: Even if you're eating the best diet in the world, you still need to exercise effectively to reach your highest level of health. This means incorporating core-strengthening exercises, strength training, stretching and high-intensity activities into your rotation.
  • High-intensity interval training boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. I've discussed the importance of Peak Fitness for your health on numerous occasions.

  • Stress Reduction and Positive Attitude: You cannot be optimally healthy if you avoid addressing the emotional components of your health. Your emotional state plays a role in nearly every physical disease, from heart disease and depression to arthritis and cancer. Effective coping mechanisms and stress management are major factors in promoting longevity, in part because stress has a direct impact on inflammation, which in turn underlies many of the chronic diseases that kill people prematurely. The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), meditation, yoga, prayer, social support and exercise are all ways to help you maintain emotional equilibrium.
  • The Right Amount of Sleep: Not only is sleep important in preventing illness, but recent research suggests it correlates with longevity as well. Not just enough sleep – but the right amount of sleep. In a 22-year twin study,2 adults who slept more than 8 hours per night, or less than 7, showed increased risk of death. Of course, the quality of your sleep is also important, not just the quantity.
  • Proper Sun Exposure to Optimize Vitamin D: We have long known that it is best to get your vitamin D from sun exposure. If at all possible, I strongly urge you to make sure you're getting out in the sun on a daily basis during the months that UVB rays are able to penetrate the atmosphere. To learn more about how to determine when you can effectively generate vitamin D from sun exposure, please see my previous article, Little Sunshine Mistakes that Can Give You Cancer Instead of Vitamin D.
  • During times when no UVB's are able to penetrate, and hence will not lead to vitamin D production, you can use a safe tanning bed or an oral vitamin D3 supplement. There is preliminary evidence suggesting that oral vitamin D may not provide the identical benefits, but it's still better than none at all.

  • Take High-Quality Animal-Based Omega-3 Fats: Animal-based omega-3 fats are a strong factor in helping people live longer. Many experts believe it's the predominant reason why the Japanese are the longest-lived race on the planet.
  • Get your antioxidants from foods: Good sources include blueberries, cranberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, cherries, beans, and artichokes. Many may also benefit by adding supplemental astaxanthin as a profoundly potent antixoxidant.
  • Use coconut oil: Another excellent anti-aging food is coconut oil, known to reduce your risk of heart disease and Alzheimer's disease, and lower your cholesterol, among other things.
  • Avoid as Many Chemicals, Toxins, and Pollutants as Possible: This includes tossing out your toxic household cleaners, soaps, personal hygiene products, air fresheners, bug sprays, lawn pesticides and insecticides, just to name a few, and replacing them with non-toxic alternatives.
  • Avoid Prescription Drugs: Avoiding drugs and the conventional medical system is a good idea if you want to live a long and healthy life. According to data collected by the National Center for Health statistics, poisoning by prescription drugs has now surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States. The most commonly abused prescription painkillers (including OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax, and Soma) now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.
  • Making sure your doctor is properly accredited is also important when you seek medical care. According to a book about degree mills, there are well over 5,000 doctors operating with fake medical degrees in the U.S., and people have died as a result. Additionally, more than half of all PhD degrees in the U.S.are reportedly fakes.

There is no quick fix, when it comes to longevity. There is no magic pill and no fountain of youth, which makes finding a physician who is well versed in the basic principles of a healthy lifestyle all the more important. Although some people seem to be blessed with longevity in spiteof their lifestyle choices, this is the exception and not the rule. For most of us, becoming healthy Centenarians will require some effort and attention to the factors outlined above.

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