It's no secret America isn't the healthiest country in the world. In fact, the US recently placed 35th in Bloomberg's annual Healthiest Country Index—well behind superstars like Sweden and Spain, but also behind the U.K, Australia, and even Croatia.
But all is not lost! The US still has the highest number of centenarians—with an estimated 72,000 people reaching or exceeding their 100th birthday. And you (that's right, you) could be one of them, if you play your cards right. Read on for the research-backed habits that could help you blow out 100 birthday candles one day.
1.You prioritize your gut health
Gut-healthy fermented foods are a trend we are actually behind, thanks to all of their scientifically-proven benefits. From improving digestion to boosting immunity, there are a whole lot of reasons to consume a probiotic-rich diet.
A 2018 study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature showed just how much influence our gut bacteria can have on lifespan and age-related chronic diseases. Another study, published by the American Society of Microbiology, looked at the gut bacteria of healthy elderly people in China and found their microbiomes looked the same as their healthy, 20-something counterparts. We'll take all the kombucha, please!
2. You eat a predominantly plant-based diet
A new study shows that abiding by a vegan diet can reduce your risk of premature death by 10 percent—but you can experience health benefits by simply reducing your animal protein intake and eating more plants.
There are hundreds of studies out there touting the anti-aging benefits of whole, plant-based foods, such as grapefruit and asparagus, and consuming more produce, whole grains, and protein have shown to be good for both your heart and waistline.
3. You get your heart rate up daily
Lately, it seems as if there's a new study every week highlighting just how important it is to move our bodies. Performing both cardio and resistance training have shown to improve longevity and keep the body resilient from age-related muscle loss. But that doesn't mean you have to buy a membership to your nearest Crossfit box or take up marathon training.
Walking has been shown to have serious health benefits, and doing so for 30 minutes a day is enough to have major health benefits. Even just opting for the stairs over the elevator or parking your car farther from the office in the mornings have shown to boost heart health and help us maintain a healthy weight.
4. You don't make a habit out of bingeing or dieting
We all overindulge occasionally, and there's nothing wrong with that (really!), but there could be if it starts to become a habit. Binge eating once a week for several weeks or more at a time puts you at risk for obesity and chronic diseases, which are both linked to reduced mortality rates.
However, it's important not to consume too few calories, either. Many studies out there advocate for reduced caloric intake for slower aging, but there are also consequences to consuming fewer calories than your body needs each day. A large review of studies related to eating disorders, showed a strong link between under-eating or purging for reduced caloric intake and a decreased lifespan. Yo-yo dieting has also shown to do the same, even if it's just cycling through a loss and gain of 10 pounds at a time can affect longevity.
UCLA evolutionary biologist John Phelan told EatingWell that the gains from consuming a restricted-calorie diet aren't enough to make it worth our while. Instead, focus on meeting your body's specific caloric requirements (you can figure them out here) for proper nutrition and longevity.
5. You prioritize unsaturated fats
There's a reason omega-3s are so trendy these days: We've finally come to understand that eating heart-healthy fats is essential to a good diet. So if you haven't yet, it's time to ditch the low-fat diet in favor of a balanced one. However, not all fats are created equal.
Foods high in saturated fats, such as red meat and butter, have been shown to reduce heart health, while unsaturated fats do just the opposite. Omega-3-rich foods, such as fatty fish, avocados, and nuts have shown to not only improve our heart health but also boost our overall health and longevity. Emphasizing consumption of unsaturated fats and lowering consumption of saturated ones can majorly improve our longevity. No wonder the Mediterranean Diet is one of the healthiest in the world!
Related: Should You Eat Collagen?
6. You enjoy a morning cup of joe (or tea!)
While drinking coffee isn't for everyone, it has been linked to longevity. One study with over 500,000 participants showed those who consumed coffee each day (even upwards of eight cups) were more likely to live longer than their non-coffee drinking counterparts.
However, drinking eight cups of coffee a day seems pretty excessive, and most experts recommended capping your caffeine intake at 400 mg per day, or about four cups of home-brewed coffee.
Tea is just as effective in boosting our health, and is linked to a lower risk of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. It also improves our ability to fall and stay asleep.
7. You enjoy the great outdoors when you can
Whether you're spending a lunch break at the nearest park or hiking in the Rockies, spending time outdoors is an important component of our health. An article written by experts from Harvard Medical School showed getting outdoors improves our physical and mental health, and even leads us to exercise more. We also absorb Vitamin D from sunlight, which possesses many disease-fighting powers.
8. You practice self-care
Pictured recipe: Cranberry-Coconut Salt Body Scrub
It can seem as if we all run on cortisol all day, running from one meeting to the next and stressing about deadlines—all while trying to care for ourselves and our families. While there is such thing as a healthy amount of stress in our lives, most of us are experiencing too much, and there can be dire consequences.
More and more studies are linking high-stress lives to morbidity, making finding balance vital. As Dr. Oz notes, stress is a "biological driver of aging," and can harm our immunity, weight, and artery function. Self care looks different for everyone but it means you can consider that nightly bath, monthly massage, or even a full night's sleep as a true essential for health.
9. You hit your fiber goal—at least on most days
Fiber has such a wide range of health benefits—from preventing disease to helping us reach or maintain a healthy weight—and can make us 80 percent more likely to live longer. However, most of us don't get enough, averaging 13-16g a day instead of a minimum of 25g for women and 38g for men.
Luckily, all it takes is consuming more whole, plant-based foods in our diet to reach (or exceed) our daily minimum requirements. For example, adding just a half-cup of black beans to your burrito adds 8 g fiber to your daily intake!
10. You stretch often
It turns out your post-workout activity is just as vital as your actual workout for longevity. Stretching for just five to ten minutes a day has serious health benefits. Not only does stretching improve flexibility, it also counteracts the negative effects of sitting at a desk job all day, and keep muscles strong into old age. Plus, you would be the coolest centenarian around if you could still do the splits.
11. You have several healthy, meaningful relationships
It turns out making time for catching up with your girlfriends and date nights with your significant other are more important than we thought. Harvard Medical School has a plethora of research out there on how healthy, meaningful relationships can boost longevity and overall well-being.
One 80-year study conducted by Harvard research showed those with close, healthy relationships had better physical and mental health and even stayed sharper as they age. Those who had fewer and less healthy social connections showed to be less healthy and had health declines earlier in midlife.
12. You *don't* avoid carbs
Pictured recipe: Long-Life Noodles with Beef & Chinese Broccoli
Yes, you read that right! Whole grains, such as quinoa, rice, and wheat, are excellent sources of fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals—and yes, carbohydrates too. Consuming healthier sources of carbs is actually linked to better heart, mental, and physical health.
Whole grains are much healthier than their refined counterparts, as the latter have had much of their nutrients stripped for longer preservation. Healthy starches, such as sweet potatoes, have shown to be the staple food of the Okinawan people group, who are five times as likely to reach their 100th birthday than Americans.
13. You practice proper dental care
We might want to stop rolling our eyes when our dentist tells us to floss more. Brushing our teeth every night and flossing daily have both shown to be significant risk factors for longevity, according to multiple peer-reviewed studies.
Our mouths are full of bacteria, which can be kept under control with brushing our teeth multiple times a day and flossing. However, when we don't practice proper oral hygiene, we become at risk for periodontitis—a type of gum disease—that puts us at risk for severe heart problems.
14. You don't smoke
You don't need an explanation for this, do you? Okay. Let's just move on then.
15. You consume a moderate amount of alcohol—or none at all
We often think a glass of wine (or a shot of tequila, if that's your thing) is a good way to de-stress after a long day. However, alcohol is a depressant, and drinking in excess can decrease levels of our "happy hormones."
Excessive drinking is defined by the CDC as more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks for men. It also doesn't take much to affect us physically. Alcohol seems to have a negative impact on our immunity, sleep quality, digestion, skin, and even our waistlines. We're not saying you can't have a drink. In fact, many centenarians drink alcohol. But, limiting your alcohol intake to a few drinks a week or less is essential to optimal health and longevity.
16. You get enough sleep during the week
As much as we'd all love to get eight hours of sleep a night, it's easy to make sleep a lower priority when there is so much to get done in a day. However, we are making the case for an earlier bedtime for longevity.
Not getting enough sleep can wreck all areas of our health and lead to inflammation in the body. Too little sleep increases stress, food cravings, risk for chronic disease, and even diminishes other health goals you're achieving throughout the week.
17. You watch your sugar intake
It's no secret added sugars are destructive for our health, but that also means it seriously affects our lifespan. Sugar is considered an inflammatory food, and the more we eat, the more likely we are to be diagnosed with a chronic disease. Sugary foods besides fruit can also be major inhibitors to achieving and sustaining a healthy weight.