7 Inexpensive Lifestyle Habits That Can Add Years to Your Life

Photo: RelaxingMusic

When it comes to making healthy choices, we all have a pretty good idea of what we should be doing. Of course, that doesn’t mean we always do it. Maybe you’re OK, and if you’re still young (or just really lucky), you might not perceive your health to be an immediate threat. But here’s the thing — making good choices for the sake of your health is one of the best investments you can make, especially for budget-conscious people. After all, many of the health moves that have the biggest impact are cheap — or even free. And the payoff — avoiding the grim reaper for years, or even decades — is about as good as it gets.

Want to live longer? Here are seven cheap ways to do it. (See also: 25 Healthy Changes You Can Make Today)

1. Sleep

If you look at the research around the importance of sleep, the excuses we make for not getting enough just don’t add up. Getting by on less sleep might allow you to catch up on some work or get more done around the house, but several studies link getting enough high-quality sleep with how long your live. A 2007 study on sleep and mortality by the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London Medical School found that sleeping less than six hours per night increased the risk of death by 12%. The study followed adults over the age of 60 for up to 25 years. Those who slept less were more likely to die of all causes. That’s because getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night helps to reduce inflammation in the body, helps us deal with stress, and increases the strength of our immune system, thus protecting us against a host of chronic diseases. Plus, a good night’s sleep improves memory and productivity. It's also interesting to note that the study found a higher risk of death among those who regularly slept more than nine hours per night. So sleep well, but wake when the alarm goes off!

How to do it on the cheap: Cut the excuses and get to bed! Not only will you get more done when you’re awake — you might also have seven more years to work with!

2. Eat Healthy: +3 Years

A healthy diet is one of the most important factors in how long we live and how well we feel. For example, people who live in Okinawa, Japan, have an average life expectancy of 81 years — longer than anyone else in the world — compared to 78 years in the U.S. Scientists think the reason can be attributed mostly to these Pacific Islanders’ high-quality diet, which is extremely high in vegetables and legumes, and low in meat, starches, and sugar.

How to do it on the cheap: Eating healthy isn’t always easy, but it is inexpensive. And when I say healthy, I don’t mean packaged and processed foods from the health-food section of the grocery store — that’s a trap that can bust a budget without putting a dent in improving your health. Instead, look for in-season, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, protein and milk, and learn to cook for yourself.

3. Exercise Every Day: +4 Years

Recent research suggests that we spend too much time sitting and often no time exercising at all. But when it comes to your health, getting regular, vigorous exercise is one of the most potent ways to boost your health — and longevity. A 2005 study by Erasmus M.C. University Medical Center in Rotterdam found that middle-aged and elderly people who worked out vigorously each day — the equivalent of running for 30 minutes per day five days a week — lived up to four years longer than those who didn’t exercise, mostly because they managed to avoid cardiac disease.

How to do it on the cheap: Going the gym can be expensive, but you don’t need a fancy fitness center to enjoy the benefits of exercise. Walking, running, and playing other outdoor sports cost next to nothing — and the payoff is huge!

4. Reduce Stress: +8 Years

Have you ever noticed how the president often goes gray during his time in office? That’s because being president is a tough job, and nothing speeds up the aging process like ongoing stress. Life will always include stress, but when that pressure is severe and prolonged, it can take up to eight years off your life span. That's according to a 2007 study conducted at Ohio State University of children and spouses caring for family members with Alzheimer's disease. The chronic stress of providing full-time care affected the participants on a chronic and molecular level, which was found to shorten their lives by between four and eight years.

How to do it on the cheap: If life is stressful for you, evaluate what you can do to reduce the pressure. This might include striking a better work/life balance and fitting in activities such as exercise and meditation (both of which can be done for free!) to help keep you on a more even keel. And chill out already. Nothing’s so bad it’s worth dying over.

5. Avoid Obesity: +3 to 10 Years

Being obese is very hard on your body. In 2009, researchers at Oxford University found that moderate obesity, which is now common, can cut your life expectancy by about three years, while severe obesity will slash a whopping 10 years off your life.

How to do it on the cheap: Diet and exercise are an important part of the equation here, but unlike putting on a few extra pounds, most experts agree that obesity is a serious health problem that may require professional help. That can be expensive, but the payoff is huge — and you’re also likely to save a lot of money on health insurance. A 2012 study out of Lehigh University found that obese men racked up $1,152 more per year in medical spending than those who were not obese, while obese women spent an additional $3,613 per year.

6. Skip Smoking: +25 Years

Yes, you read that right; research shows that smoking can take up to 25 years off your lifespan. Plus, a long-term smoker can spend thousands of dollars on cigarettes over a lifetime.

How to do it on the cheap: If you can quit cold turkey, all the power to you. If you need a little help, you’ll easily recoup whatever it costs in savings once you no longer need to get your fix. (If you smoke, you can calculate just how much it’s costing you here.) Saving money and saving your life. Sounds like a no-brainer.

7. Have More Sex

If all the other items on this list seem like work, here’s one fun, free activity that could add years to your life. According to a longitudinal study by Duke University, how often people had sex was a major predictor of longevity, especially in men. Sex boosts antibodies, reduces stress, and if you work really hard at it, can even boost fitness. It’s also a great way for you and your partner to maintain a strong relationship, which, as luck would have it, is another important factor in longevity!

How to do it on the cheap: Just, you know, do it.

No one wants to meet their maker sooner than they have to, but rather than being duped into fancy wrinkle creams or vitamin supplements, why not try some of these simple changes to your lifestyle? Some of them won’t cost you a thing, but the payoff is about as good as it gets.

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Guest's picture

I learned a lot about how keeping up with lifestyle habits can add extra years to your life. I have made sure that I know have more hours to sleep. It feels great! I even get up before my alarm clock because I feel like I have gained so much sleep.

Guest's picture

Tara, I agree with you that we need to sleep more hours (between 8-10 hours a day) in order to live longer. Having poor sleeping habits will reduce our immune system and antibodies, meaning we are prone to illness if we develop bad sleeping routine.

In addition to that, if we are susceptible to diseases, significantly we will spend more money for medical bills and our productivity will be reduced as well.

Guest's picture

Its known that being inactive and overweight kills just as many people a year in the United States as smoking cigarettes. That's pretty scary, but your health should be top priority if you want to be able to live a long life. Great post!

Guest's picture

Loved the article and it's all so true. Sleep deprivation, smoking, stress etc can really cut our years. I mean so many people who are just 40 get strokes and die, it's insane. Years ago I'd hear this from people who were at least 60-70, now we have people in their thirties who die. No money or career is worth risking our lives for.

Guest's picture

Sleep is underrated, but so valuable. I know I feel so much better and more equipped to make smart decisions about health when I'm well rested. Sleep can help you live a full lifespan, have a higher quality of life than without getting enough, and can help you make money as you'll be rested, alert, and energetic.

Guest's picture

Great read!! I definitely want to live a long life. Most of the habits in your article I just started doing so at least I know that I am on the right track.