Live Long and Prosper With These 15 Small Healthy Habits

In the United States, men can expect to live 76 years on average, while women tend to live for 81 years. Of course, both those numbers are just averages. In practical terms, what that means is that some people will live well in into their nineties, while others barely make it to their sixties. (See also: 7 Frugal Habits That Add Years to Your Life)

I doubt I need to ask you which group you'd prefer to fall into. The good news is, we all have some measure of control over our lifespans, and we have a whole lot of control over our health. You can't live forever, but how you choose to live day-to-day will determine whether you live as long as possible — and whether you're fit and healthy enough to have a good time while you're here. Here are 15 tiny changes that can make a big difference.

1. Add Veggies

Scientists might argue about how good or bad coffee is for you. Or fat. Or wheat. Forget about those and focus on what no one's arguing about: the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. One study found that the risk of heart disease dropped by up to 7% for each additional fruit consumed each day. Another found that doubling fruit and vegetable intake increased life expectancy by as much as a year and a half. Add a serving or two. It does a body good. (See also: Guide to Choosing Fruits and Vegetables)

Start small: Try adding one serving to a meal where you tend to miss out, or sub in fruits and veggies for less-healthy snacks.

2. Cut the Junk

It tastes so good, but processed convenience foods contain ingredients that are linked to diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. And they always contain some potent combination of sugar, salt, fat, and flour. If you can't find it in the perimeter of your grocery store, where the fresh foods are kept (or, better yet, at the farmer's market!), don't make it a regular part of your diet.

Start small: Buy junk food in single servings. When you have a craving, visit the ice cream shop for a scoop, rather than bringing home a whole pint.

3. Save More

Money can buy a lot of things, including, it seems, a longer lifespan. A study released in 2010 found that wealthy people have more of the specific hormones that that prolong life expectancy. Not everyone can be filthy rich, but anyone can make smart moves that lead to long-term financial security. Do it as though your life depends on it — because it might. (See also: How to Become FInancial Secure)

Start small: Start putting away $5 a week. You can increase that amount as you get into the habit.

4. Have More Sex

Sex is fun, it's free, and it does the body good. And studies show it has a long list of health benefits ranging from fewer colds to an improved sense of smell (really!). What other motivation do you need?

Start small: C'mon, you know what to do.

5. Watch Less TV

TV producers have upped their game in recent years. Some of the new television dramas are as addictive as any drug — and especially hard to resist when you're able to download them all through services like Netflix. You must be strong; a 2010 study found that people who spend more than four hours in front of the tube each day were 46% more likely to die than people who watched less than two hours. That brand-new season of "Mad Men" will just have to wait.

Start small: If you can't give it up altogether, choose a show you love, watch it, and then hit the off button.

6. Drink More Wine

Red wine, that is. Hundreds of studies have found that a compound in red wine called resveratrol (when consumed in moderation) can help us live longer, healthier lives, and slow down age-related illnesses. Those who love the stuff might also say it makes life worth living.

Start small: Find a few tasty, affordable wines you love and enjoy!

7. Floss Your Teeth

There is some evidence that the stinky bacteria between your teeth can contribute to your risk of heart disease and heart attack. Plus, if you're working on Tip 4, this healthy habit is a must. (See also: How to Avoid Expensive Dental Problems)

Start small: It only takes a minute. Just do it!

8. Get a Pet

Maybe Fifi pees on the rug from time to time, but it's totally worth it — a furry friend can really boost your lifespan. In 2011, researchers at the American Psychological Association found that pet owners had better self esteem and were more fit, less lonely, and more extroverted than their pet-free peers. Both dogs and cats have been found to have benefits. No word yet on other furry, scaly, feathered, or fish friends, but if they make you happy, they probably do some good.

Start small: Try pet-sitting or volunteering at an animal shelter. You'll get all the cuddles — without the commitment.

9. See the Doctor

You don't have to become a hypochondriac, but certain types of health screenings are recommended for men and women in certain age groups. This can help ensure you get the treatment you need for serious conditions such as high blood pressure and cancers. The other option is to wait and see whether they kill you. Your choice.

Start small: Start with an annual check-up. Your doctor will fill you in on which screenings are appropriate for you.

10. Take More Vitamin D

The jury's still out on whether people should supplement their diets with vitamins, but vitamin D is one supplement most health organizations now recommend. Low levels of this vitamin have been linked to lower immune function, increased mortality, and a long list of other health issues.

Start small: Most health experts have settled on 1,000 mg per day as the dosage of choice. (Check with your doctor, of course.)

11. Make More Friends

Being lonely increases stress hormones and inflammation in the body. And that is very bad for both your physical and mental health. Plus, if there's anything that'll make you feel younger, it's old friends. (And by that I mean friends you've had for a long time!)

Start small: Join a MeetUp group, sports team, or other activity to help you meet people.

12. Get More Exercise...

You don't have to start putting in hours every day training for an ironman. What the most recent studies show is that some exercise is better than no exercise.

Start small: Head out for a quick walk or do a few pushups. You'll be fitter when you're done!

13. ...and More Sleep

You know when you're all snuggled up in bed and it feels so absolutely amazing? That isn't because you're indulging; it's because your body needs sleep. To live. If you regularly get less than six hours per night, research says you'll die (sooner).

Start small: Get into bed 15-20 minutes earlier each night until you're feeling rested in the morning.

14. Worry Less

If you're a worrier, you've probably been told by someone not to "worry yourself to death." That isn't hyperbole. Serious long-term worrying reduces your life expectancy on a molecular level. That means coping with stress and worry — and removing some of the things in your life that contribute to it — could be one the best things you ever do for your health.

Start small: Make a list of what's bothering you. Then either do something about it or let it go.

15. Embrace Getting Old

Maybe you'd be content to just survive getting old, or even accept it, but no, scientists say the key to living longer is embracing your age. In fact, one study showed that people who had a positive attitude about aging lived seven years longer than those who didn't. I bet they had way more fun too.

Start small: Seek out other active, happy people of all ages. It's contagious!

How many of these healthy habits have you already formed? Which ones will you try?

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Guest's picture

Lots of good health habits. Of course I'm partial to #4, but unfortunately, also have to embrace #15. I used to pretend I was like someone perpetually in his 20s. But now that I have chronic health issues, I have to act more my age. Oh well, at least I'm closer to retirement.

Tara Struyk's picture

Ha! Great comment. I wouldn't give up on the 20s though. Denial is a powerful potion. Actually, I should have included that too!