Richard Harris' parents

This blog post is dedicated to Mom and Dad, Don and Janeen Harris, who lived long and well.

Men and women above the age of 90 are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. That’s remarkable since the average life expectancy in the U.S. in 1900 was only 49 years.

Research in this age group has been sparse until recently – for obvious reasons. What we know is there are several key factors these long-lifers have in common. By incorporating these into your life, you can raise your odds of not only living to 90 and beyond, but also living well in your older years.

So, what seems to make a difference in living long?

Move

Physical activity keeps your muscles toned, your blood pumping and your brain enriched. It need not be a dedicated workout session, just commit to a block of time. Stand up and stretch. Walk around the block. Take your dog to the park. Lift weights. Tend to your yard, plant seasonal flowers and hand-water your grass, trees and bushes. Exercises that help you maintain your balance can help you avoid falls and injuries. The goal is to keep your body used to doing physical things and maintaining your physical strength. Turning off the TV helps your heart.

Use Your Mind

Keep your mind active and busy. Much like muscles, your mind loses its sharpness when it’s not used and challenged. Crossword or similar puzzles help your brain maintain cognitive abilities. Have deep conversations and debate topics with your friends and family. Write letters, or write a book. Learn new skills, and use a computer to open up new worlds and help stay connected with your family and friends.

Maintain a Sense of Purpose

Attend church or volunteer your time to expand your social circle and keep connected. Focus on hobbies and activities to lower the chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease.

Relax and Sleep

Minimize stress in your life by recognizing what you can and cannot control. Why worry about things you can do nothing about? Doctors suggest yoga, meditation and deep breathing to relax. Also, study after study proves how important it is to get enough sleep. If you’re not getting 7-8 hours of sleep, talk to your doctor. Rule out physical or mental problems (like depression) and find out if your medications are to blame. And there’s more good news: Naps are good! Research suggests those who take a regular snooze are 37% less likely to die from heart disease than those who don’t.

Eat and Drink Right

Talk to your doctor about what you’re doing right and could do better. Keep your cholesterol and glucose numbers in the healthy ranges. When you go grocery shopping, buy more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, chicken and lean beef. Cook with healthy fats, like olive oil. Stay hydrated with lots of water each day, and watch out for too much fruit juice, which is naturally high in sugar and calories.

Leave a little food on your plate. A study found the oldest Japanese people stop eating when feeling only about 80% full.

What about alcohol? The medical studies are conflicting. If your doctor says alcohol is okay for you, and you drink in moderation, it will probably not take away years. If you don’t drink, you shouldn’t drink for health benefits.

Do we really need to remind you to stop smoking? It’s never too late.

Share Yourself

Married, divorced and widowed people all tend to live longer than those who have never tied the knot. Research suggests it’s because these social and emotional connections are good for you. Get a pet! A dog or cat can add years to your life because you’ll love and share the purpose that pet ownership provides.

Get Going

Stop thinking, “It’s too late for me.” Your older years can be rich and rewarding. Phase in small changes that will add up. Get your friends and family involved and talk about how you’re not only going to live past 90, you’re going to do it well – mentally, physically and spiritually.

Story inspired by and statistics outlined from 90+, a Lesley Stahl segment on 60 Minutes, May 4, 2014, and multiple resources on the World Wide Web, including
WebMD.com.