By: David Hamilton
Oct 1, 2007

You know you should listen to your doctor, eat right, exercise, and never smoke, but here are 12 other tips from the frontier of aging science to extend your active life span

1 FLOSS DAILY. The consequence of not flossing (and the majority of men don’t) is more than bad breath. There is increasing evidence that the gums serve as an early warning system for a range of serious diseases. Earlier this year, researchers writing in The New England Journal of Medicine found that aggressive treatment of gum disease leads to improvements in blood-vessel function, which lowers the odds of having a heart attack. Another recent study of 51,529 men linked gum disease to pancreatic cancer. Other scientists have tied gum disease to diabetes and stroke.

2 EAT SMARTER. Okinawa has more centenarians than anywhere else on earth, and five times as many on a per capita basis as the United States. One reason is their antioxidant-rich diet of fish, tofu, and vegetables. Not just any antioxidant will do though: A recent Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health study found that taking vitamin C or E or beta-carotene pills had no significant effect on mortality. But eating fruits and vegetables—particularly deeply colored ones such as spinach, sweet potatoes, and blueberries—helped prevent cancer and heart disease. Restrict yourself to supplements with proven health benefits, such as sterol products that can lower “bad” cholesterol and fish-oil pills that contain heart- and brain-protecting omega-3 fatty acids.

3 LIFT WEIGHTS. Increased muscle mass speeds up metabo­lism, strengthens bones, and boosts heart health. In May, scientists at the Buck Institute for Age Research showed for the first time that resistance training can also cause cellular-level changes in muscle, pushing genes back to a younger level of function. Two 45-minute sessions of weight lifting a week is all you need.

4 INDULGE YOURSELF. Have more sex: Frequent orgasms (at least two a week) cut the risk of death in half, according to a long-term study of men ages 45 to 59 in the British Medical Journal. Eat more dark chocolate: Just 30 calories’ worth a day (about six grams of chocolate or three grams of cocoa) lowers blood pressure, according to a recent study in The Journal of the American Medical Association. Sip more red wine: Two glasses a day not only benefits your heart, but also could have other positive effects, because red wine is the best natural source of resveratrol, a chemical that has been proved to extend the life spans of yeast, worms, fish, and mice.

5 EAT LESS...WAY LESS. Researchers have known for decades that ratcheting down what rats eat by a third extends their lives. Few people are willing to try such a radical diet: Can you imagine skipping lunch for the rest of your life? But a more modest test of a calorie-restriction diet reviewed in The Journal of the American Medical Association showed that cutting between an eighth and a fourth of calories lowered metabolism and insulin levels and also appeared to limit damage to cellular DNA—all markers for the harmful effects of age. Teach yourself to push away your plate when you’re 80 percent full.

6 TRAIN YOUR BRAIN. Scientists once thought that age-related mental decline was inevitable and irreversible, but no longer. You can teach old neurons new tricks, thanks to a variety of activities that force the brain to reprogram itself, according to research by Michael Merzenich, PhD, a neuroscientist at the University of California at San Francisco. Traditional mental challenges such as solving crossword puzzles and playing bridge can create new neural connections and improve memory, but so can a broad range of new learning experiences—anything from studying a new language or dance steps to learning how to juggle or play tennis.

7 SLEEP RIGHT. Sleeping for fewer than six hours or more than eight hours is associated with a significantly higher risk of death, according to a landmark 2002 study at the University of California at San Diego. Researchers are still not quite sure why, but too little sleep is associated with high blood pressure, greater stress, memory problems, and weight gain. Too much sleep, by contrast, leads to breathing interruptions known as sleep apnea, which can be fatal. The sweet spot, researchers say, is seven hours a night, on average.

8 GET A DOG. Pet ownership can ward off depression, speed recovery from surgery, and even reduce the amount of time you spend with doctors in the first place, according to a range of studies. Elderly dog owners are even likely to be slimmer than their dogless peers, according to a recent study at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

9 NURTURE YOUR SENSITIVE SIDE. Women tend to live five years longer than men, and one reason may simply be that they’re better at forming and maintaining emotional connections with relatives and friends, according to a growing body of research, says Robert Butler, MD, former head of the National Institute on Aging. This means you should nurture strong bonds with your family and friends now. Maintain rituals, whether it’s as simple as a weekly Sunday night phone call or a yearly stay in a beach villa, and make a habit of social and sporting outings.

10 ENGAGE IN AN ISSUE. People who lead optimistic, “purpose-driven” lives tend to stick around longer—up to seven and a half years longer—than those who live for the moment, according to research from Yale University. Your purpose could be as simple as caring for your grandchildren, improving your golf game, or organizing a neighborhood watch, says Henry Lodge, MD,  an assistant professor at Columbia University. But don’t be afraid to think big—even save-the-world big. Long-term ventures such as an environmental project or a mentoring relationship can yield the biggest rewards.

11 TEST YOUR GENES. With advances in genomics, you can now be tested for a variety of hereditary diseases, although the results can be frustrating to interpret. Most tests, for instance, will tell you only the percentage chance that you’ll eventually develop a health problem. Because each test can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, and may not be covered by insurance, it’s best to  be selective. Your goal should be to identify life-threatening conditions that you can head off at the pass. Let your family history guide you. If close relatives have developed a hereditary form of cancer, then it makes sense to test yourself so that you can plan preventative action.

12 SCAN YOUR GENOME. Within a year, it will be possible to order a kind of abbreviated scan of your entire genome from Silicon Valley start-up 23andMe. Researchers are rapidly associating particular DNA patterns with disease risk, which will let you fine-tune your lifestyle to accommodate your genetic predis­positions. Further down the road, your DNA is also likely to guide your doctor in prescribing drugs and treatments that are most likely to work for you. The procedure, of course, isn’t without risk: You could also get some unexpected bad news. Confer with a genetic counselor—you can find one at - before and after the scan.