Get sun everyday to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D in your body.
Are you likely to become a centenarian? If you have good genes, eat your fruits and veggies, exercise regularly, and get enough rest, your odds of living a long, healthy life are much greater. However, there are many other factors that come into play in determining your life span. Here are six surprising signs that you’ll live to 100 and enjoy the ride along the way.
1. Flossing Your Teeth
Flossing isn’t just good for preventing periodontal disease (gum disease), it may prevent heart attacks and stroke. The link between gum disease and heart disease is clear: Inflammation is a major factor in the clogging of arteries that leads to stroke and heart attacks. Researchers now think that the bacterial infection of gum disease may spread through the bloodstream and contribute to inflammation in other parts of the body. Studies have shown that intensively treating gum disease will actually improve the health of the arteries.
Preventing gum disease through regular flossing may also lower your risk of diabetes. Gum disease is associated with greater insulin resistance, a precursor of Type 2 diabetes. Flossing also helps reduce your susceptibility to respiratory illnesses like bronchitis and emphysema by decreasing the number of disease-causing organisms in the mouth.
Lastly, flossing may also help keep your mind sharp. People with gum disease have been found to have worse mental functioning, according to a UK study of 6,693 adults in their twenties to seventies. The reason may be that system-wide inflammation caused by gum disease damages the white matter in the brain, impairing mental function. Other studies have found that elderly with gum disease are more prone to have cognitive impairment or develop Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Spending Time in the Sun Daily
Too much time in the sun may increase your risk of skin cancer, but spending too little time in the sun isn’t good either. You need regular sun exposure to keep healthy levels of vitamin D in your body.
The interest in vitamin D has increased tremendously over the last few years. Vitamin D functions as more than a vitamin; it is thought to be a “prehormone,” which impacts the adrenal hormones, the production of enzymes, and the growth of cells. Some health professionals believe that optimizing your levels of vitamin D through sun exposure may be one of the most important physical steps you can take to improve your long-term health.
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with numerous health risks, including osteoporosis and multiple sclerosis. Vitamin D deficiency also increases the risk of heart disease and heart attacks. Vitamin D produced via sunlight is thought to help heart health by increasing the body’s natural anti-inflammatory defense and preventing calcification of blood vessels.
Too much vitamin D is toxic when taken through supplements, but not when created naturally through exposure to sunlight. (If you exercise in the sun, don’t shower immediately afterwards, as some of the vitamin D formed in your skin could get washed off. Allow time to cool down and let your body absorb the vitamin D.)
If you use sunscreen, stay in the sun for 15 to 20 minutes before applying it (in the spring, start with 10 minutes of sun exposure and work up). In the winter, when not enough sunlight penetrates the atmosphere, supplement your vitamin D intake with a high-quality cod liver oil.
3. Learning to Tweet
Okay, so you don’t have to embrace every single new Web 2.0 craze like Twitter to live a long life, but learning new things helps. Mastering a new language, learning to dance, or exposing yourself to other areas of knowledge helps keep brain cells young and healthy.
Activities that help keep you socially engaged, such as staying connected to family and friends and engaged in current events, are particularly useful, because it helps you feel loved and relevant, another factor that greatly impacts longevity.
4. Standing Up Straight
Poor posture doesn’t just make you look older, it predisposes you to a host of health problems down the road. As we get older, a seriously rounded back, a.k.a. hyperkyphosis or dowager’s hump, is a contributing factor to almost every single age-related issue you don’t want.
People with a hyperkyphotic bad posture are more likely to suffer fractures of the hip, leg, wrist, shoulder, and arm; the more hunched the back, the greater the risk. The risk of fractures is independent of bone mass density, meaning that hyperkyphosis is a separate risk factor for fractures, on par with osteoporosis. (Read Eva’s article on bad posture.)
The rounded back also puts pressure on the chest and lung cavity, causing shortness of breath. In the elderly, shortness of breath is linked to a host of health issues, including increased anxiety and depression, reduced happiness, increased risk of cardiovascular or lung disease, and Type 2 diabetes. Not surprisingly, elderly with a forward hunched posture have higher levels of mortality, as much as 44% higher according to one study. Once developed, hyperkyphosis is hard to reverse, so prevention is your best bet. Although, according to recent studies, yoga exercises for back pain and back health may be useful at reversing hyperkyphosis, even in people over 70.
5. You Don’t Snore
If you snore almost every night, you may suffer from obstructive sleep apnea, a disorder in which you stop breathing for short periods of time. Sleep apnea doesn’t just make you feel tired and drowsy during the day, it is linked to high blood pressure, memory problems, weight gain, mood swings and depression, and increased risk of car accidents.
Sleep apnea ups the risk of heart attacks and stroke considerably; in one study, almost three-quarters of male stroke victims suffered from sleep apnea. A longitudinal study following people over 18 years found that people without obstructive sleep apnea were three times more likely to live longer than those with severe apnea.
Sleep apnea is much more common than most people realize; in one study of adult men, 24 percent suffered from sleep apnea; the risk is increased if you are overweight or suffer from high blood pressure.
6. Standing on One Foot with Your Eyes Closed
Our sense of balance deteriorates as we get older. In the elderly, poor balance is a leading risk factor for falls that result in hip fractures. In older people, hip fractures are generally not caused by a traumatic event like a traffic accident or a serious fall; they result from minimal trauma, such as a tripping because of poor balance.
Fracturing the hip is a big deal when you get older. In the best case it seriously affects your ability to take care of yourself; in worst cases it leads to death. As much as one in three elderly men die within one year after sustaining a hip fracture; for women the risk is somewhat lower, but still almost one in five.
To test your balance, try standing on one foot with your eyes closed. If you can stand for 30 seconds or longer, your balance is great. Fifteen seconds is okay, but less than that is a sign that you need to engage in exercises that help you improve your balance.
7. You Rarely Drink Soda Pop
There is now undisputable evidence for what the soda industry and high-fructose corn syrup producers have denied for years. Yes, Virginia, drinking soda makes you fat. According to a recent study of 43,000 adults and 4,000 adolescents in California, a staggering 62% of adults, who drank at least one soda a day were overweight or obese.
Drinking one (or more) sodas a day increased the chances of being overweight by 27 percent. According to the study, California teens on average get 39 pounds of liquid sugar per year just from drinking soda pops; 41 percent of the children and 62 percent of adolescents in the study drank at least one soda per day.
As soda consumption has increased in this country, so has the incidence of obesity. And, with higher obesity rates, of course, come increased rates of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, depression and other chronic diseases that are difficult to treat effectively. Further, soda doesn’t just lead to obesity, the phosphoric acid in sodas may cause bone loss and osteoporosis, even in men.
If you think you’re off the hook just because you’re hooked on diet soda instead of regular pop, think again. Several studies have shown that drinking diet soda on a daily basis strongly predisposes you for Type 2 Diabetes and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of changes linked to both increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. And, aspartame (NutraSweet), the most commonly used sweetener in diet soda and other sugar-free products may be linked to increased incidence of brain cancer, migraines, and seizures.
8. You Still Have Your Appendix
The appendix has long been considered to be little more than a useless remnant from our prehistoric ancestors. Well, not so fast. Researchers now believe that the appendix may serve a vital function as a storehouse for good intestinal bacteria needed to recolonize the gut with good bacteria after a case of diarrhea. The appendix may also play a role in the formation of white blood cells needed for immune functioning.
Having friendly bacteria in your gut is critical, because these are needed for everything from digesting and absorbing many types of carbohydrates; help in the production of vitamins K and B; promote mineral absorption; and aid in the breakdown of toxins. Having helpful bacteria in your gut also helps prevent allergies, and they support the immune system by aiding in the production of antibodies.
Of course, if your appendix becomes inflamed, there may be no alternative other than to remove it, since failing to do so could be fatal. If you’ve lost your appendix, use a high-quality probiotic to make sure your intestinal flora stays balanced and healthy. And, even if you still have your appendix, regular intake of probiotic is a great tonic for longevity.
9. You have a flat belly, even after 45
The shifting hormones at midlife predispose both men and women for weight gain. For most people, the extra weight settles in the middle. Having a “spare tire” around the abdomen is one of the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome; a group of symptoms linked to the development of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. Other symptoms of metabolic syndrome include insulin resistance, high blood pressure, low HDL cholesterol (the good type), and high triglycerides (a type of blood fat).
In one study by the National Institute of Aging, women with extra weight around the middle were 20 percent more likely to die sooner; the effect remained even for people whose body mass index was normal.
How much extra weight around the waist is too much? For women, if your waist measures more than 35 inches, and for men 40 inches or more, you may be at higher risk for metabolic syndrome. The good news is that the symptoms associated with metabolic syndrome respond remarkably well to simple lifestyle changes: get plenty of exercise, avoid processed foods, eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, and emphasize healthy fats while avoiding transfats.
10. You Are Never (or Rarely) in a Hurry
Forget about the swine flu epidemic; the real epidemic is one we rarely hear about: hurry disease. Hurry disease affects a majority of the adult population and claims millions of lives. According to Dr. Gershon Lesser, a cardiologist at the University of Southern California, hurry disease is a real pathological entity, which contributes to numerous illnesses, including colds, flu, and those stress-related heart attacks that often strike as early as in people’s fifties or sixties.
The symptoms? Rushing on your way to work, rushing to get things done at work, rushing to a meeting, rushing to lunch and back to work, rushing back home in the evening. Physicians refer to this chronic sense of time pressure as time urgency impatience; and it’s epidemic among us multitasking Americans. More than half the adult population report that they regularly experience significant stress and have too little time to get the eight hours of sleep needed for good health and optimum performance.
Time urgency impatience takes its toll on our health. It puts us under a chronic sense of stress, with all the health-undermining effects that that entails: it weakens the immune system; it has been associated with a nearly twofold increase in high blood pressure; and it is a key feature of the heart attack prone Type A personality. Being under chronic mental stress (including a sense of time urgency) has also been observed to increase not just the risk of heart attack and stroke, but also the chance of dying from these.
In short, a sobering reminder for all of us frenzied, harried hurry-itis sufferers: it’s time to hurry up and smell those roses!
Eva Norlyk Smith is a health writer and movement therapist. Reach her at FairfieldWellness@gmail.com.