In addition to what you eat, science shows these moves may also increase health span.

Joyce Hendley, M.S.
April 15, 2021
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Part of aging well is genetics. But what we eat and lifestyle factors play a role as well. We took a deeper dive into the best foods to eat to look at feel more youthful, but also wanted to see how lifestyle factors, such as exercise and socializing play a role. Here are 5 healthy habits to adopt that may slow down the aging process.

1. Regular exercise

Experts and countless studies agree: regular exercise is probably the closest we'll ever get to a fountain of youth. The mechanisms are multifold. Aerobic exercise helps strengthen aging hearts, makes arteries more flexible, lowers blood pressure and promotes healthy blood flow to the brain. Strength training preserves muscle and bone mass, which naturally decline as we age. And a 2018 report that tracked 5,823 adults found that those who exercised the most (equal to a 30-minute jog, 5 times a week) had significantly longer telomeres—giving them a biologic aging advantage of 9 years over their sedentary counterparts. Researchers believe the benefit is related to exercise's ability to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.

2. Intermittent fasting

It may seem a little left-field, but research in lab animals has found that cutting calorie intake by 20 to 50%—at least occasionally—is linked to significantly longer life spans and better health measures. The connection isn't well understood, but one theory suggests that when the body has less food to process, fewer inflammation-boosting free radicals are generated. Cycling periods of fasting and eating may also help increase the activity of sirtuins—enzymes that have been dubbed "longevity genes" because of their role in recruiting other cells to repair damaged DNA and restore cell vitality. A rigorous human clinical trial found that even just a 12% cut in calories, on average, was associated with a significant reduced risk of age-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, compared to controls. Researcher David Sinclair, co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School and author of the provocatively titled Lifespan: Why We Age—and Why We Don't Have To, follows an informal intermittent-fasting protocol: he tries to skip one meal daily. That said, intermittent fasting is not for every-one and more trials in humans need to be conducted.

Older woman flexing her muscles on beach
Credit: Getty Images / Peathegee Inc

3. Plenty of sleep

While everyone's needs are different—most adults need between 7 and 9 hours a night—getting too little shut-eye puts you at a higher risk of developing inflammation and accelerate aging. Indeed, a review of 72 studies showed that sleep problems were strongly associated with higher blood levels of inflammatory factors, such as C-reactive protein and interleukin-6. Here are 4 Ways to Get a Better Night's Sleep, According to an Expert.

4.Managing stress

When UCSF researchers analyzed blood samples from a highly stressed group—moms caring for a child with chronic illness—they found the women had significantly shorter telomeres compared to moms with healthy kids. Those who cared for their sick child for the longest period of time, or who perceived themselves as being under the most stress, had the shortest telomeres of all. There's no way to avoid stress, but learning how to manage it can circumvent the stress-aging connection. Studies have found that techniques like meditation are associated with longer telomeres and lower levels of some markers of aging.

5. Cultivating social connections

Human interaction is vital to our well-being—and the same goes for our cells. A study in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine that compared blood samples from 948 older adults found that the participants with low social support—few social ties, more self-reported feelings of isolation and stress—had the shortest telomeres. On the flip side, strong social networks are a hallmark of blue zones—regions of the world with remarkably high concentrations of centenarians. So bestselling author Dan Buettner, who discovered these blue zones, advises "taking the time to go out and find—or reinforce—friendships with 2 or 3 people you can count on on a bad day."