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How to Live Longer, According to Science

by Marguerite Darlington
June 20, 2017 | Living

If you're looking for tips on how to live longer, look no further than the internet. According to Google, there are more than 30 million verified pieces of information on the subject.

There are tips on how to lengthen your life span, products that you can buy, methods proven by scientific research—too many, in fact.

Most people don't have 10 years to spend reading articles about how old your mother should have been when she had you or the color of fruit you should be eating to someday see more than 100 candles on your birthday cake.

In fact, most people prefer simple answers to even the most complicated questions, according to Princeton University research covered in The New Yorker.

So if you were on a desert island and could only choose one thing that would increase your life expectancy, what would it be?

Exercise is a strong choice

Did you choose Bulletproof coffee or organic Goji berries? Maybe it's time to stop clicking on banner ads and consider making a lifestyle change that counteracts the risk factors that could negatively affect your health someday.

Live Longer pbs rewire

"Exercise would be right up there," said Warren Thompson, associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and director of the physical activity section of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. "Not smoking is another one, eating a good diet, also."

How does exercise improve your chances for living longer? By basically fixing everything that goes wrong with your body, including:

• Cardiovascular disease and coronary heart disease: In a 15-year study, participants who reported a high level of physical activity also experience a significantly reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

• Inflammation: Inflammation is the culprit in all sorts of chronic conditions, including depression, asthma and hepatitis. One study clearly showed that exercise reduces inflammation in both the short- and long-term, reducing it after each workout and in the overall reduction in body fat.

• Insulin sensitivity: Researchers have identified several ways that exercise improves insulin uptake, including reducing inflammation at the cellular level by boosting activity of M2 macrophages and reducing TNF alpha protein in the bloodstream.

In a 15-year Northwestern University study of young men and women ages 18 to 30, individuals who showed low cardiovascular fitness on a treadmill test were three to six times more likely to develop diabetes, hypertension and metabolic syndrome (the precursor to Type 2 diabetes) than those rated as having high cardiovascular fitness.

In fact, certain types of exercise that help build muscle mass can prevent age-related decline, too.

Moving past obstacles to exercise

All signs point toward regular exercise helping you live a longer, happier, healthier life—so why aren't we all doing it?

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"Every person is different," Thompson said. "Some people call them excuses, some call them obstacles, some call them barriers… I don't like excuses because it makes people feel guilty, and I don't like barriers because those don't seem solvable. I talk about obstacles to daily exercise, and each person has to figure out their own way to get past them."

Thompson said that the main obstacle that people face is time—they aren't able to fit exercise into their busy lives.

Other people simply don't like it, still others get injured, and some people are embarrassed to exercise where other people can see them.

As director of the physical activity portion of the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program, Thompson recommends people use whatever strategy works for them to move past their personal obstacle—anything from self help and motivational reading to hiring a personal trainer to enrolling in a formal program or exercises classes.

"If you have a demanding job, you have to figure out what time of day is best," Thompson said. "People often ask me, 'What time of day should I exercise?' And then I ask them 'What time of day would you exercise?' "

Thompson's only caution is against vigorous exercise right before bedtime, as that can make falling asleep difficult. Otherwise, the best method truly is whatever works for you.

People can help motivate you, too

While hiring a personal trainer can be an effective tool to hold yourself accountable and get a great workout, you don't have to pay someone to motivate you.

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Thompson pointed out that while step-counting devices like the FitBit can be a motivational tool, a competition between two people to see who gets the most steps in a day can be even more effective.

"I had a patient who lost 40 pounds because he refused to let his brother get more steps than him," Thompson said.

And while parenting creates huge demands on your time, it is possible to find ways to stay fit during the different stages in your child's life.

"Toddlers are very time-intensive for parents, but they need to run around to burn off their energy," Thompson said. "Run around with them, play tag and duck, duck, goose. Try to exercise as a family, go for hikes.

"When your child is a teenager, that's when you want kick your workouts into high gear again because they don't even want to talk to you."

Thompson also noted that there's a slow, steady decline in our activity levels from age 3 to age 99, and that's simply because we let ourselves become less active.

"There are three different types of activity, light activity, moderate activity and vigorous activity," Thompson said. "All of them are proven to improve your health."

Want more tips for adding exercise to your daily routine?

To Get Happy, a Little Movement Goes a Long Way

What 15 Minutes of Exercise Can Do for Your Brain

Taking the Stairs is a Better Boost than Caffeinated Soda


Marguerite Darlington
Marguerite Darlington has worked in digital marketing and media since 1999, supporting brands like The New York Times, The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, The University of Wisconsin–Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business, Jessica Simpson, ALDO Shoes and various independent entertainment properties. She joined Twin Cities Public Television as Rewire Director in June 2016.
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