Science-Backed "Secrets" to Living a Long, Healthy Life

Science-Backed "Secrets" to Living a Long, Healthy Life
Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP
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Most everyone is interested in living a long, healthy, and happy life. The near universal demand has given rise to a copious supply of charlatans selling "answers."

Internet entrepreneur, conspiracy theorist, and natural health guru David Avocado Wolfe says that "superfoods" will extend your life. Freelee the Banana Girl espouses the benefits of a diet that's vegan, raw, and yes, full of bananas. Gwyneth Paltrow seems to stand behind whatever kooky quackery will make her the most money.

The claims these characters make are flashy, marketed as fix-all solutions to the health problems that prevent us from living long and productive lives. They're also fallacious. There's little to no evidence to back most of their assertions.

The reality is that Wolfe, Paltrow, The Banana Girl, and many others claiming dietary or lifestyle "secrets" are simply out there to make a buck. The actual "secrets" to health and longevity are not secrets at all. Far from being flashy, they're actually quite boring. And I'll give them to you for free:

1. Exercise. The physiological benefits of exercise are so powerful a group of scientists likened exercise to a medicinal drug. Habitual exercise promotes a healthy weight, prevents diabetes, fights depression, and reduces your chances of dementia, among many other benefits. You only need to spend 150 minutes per week exercising at a moderate pace to attain these benefits. That's merely 2.2% of your waking hours! For even more benefits, exercise 450 minutes per week at moderate intensity or 225 minutes per week at vigorous intensity.

2. Eat a Balanced Diet. Science has not identified a "healthiest" diet. "Everything in moderation" sounds vapid, but it has a lot of backing. Simply paying attention to what you eat seems to yield results, not any specific diet. If you want some specific tips, here's a few that can be distilled from the research:

3. Don't Smoke. The numbers are striking. Lifelong smokers can expect to live ten fewer years than their peers.

4. Make Friends. It sounds silly, but a meta-analysis from 2010 really drilled this point home. Examining 148 studies with 308,849 total participants, the researchers found that people with stronger relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival. What does this mean? According to the editors of PLoS ONE, this means that "by the time half of a hypothetical sample of 100 people has died, there will be five more people alive with stronger social relationships than people with weaker social relationships." Whether through a reduction in stress or levels of depression, or some other factor, meaningful relationships help us live longer.

More tips could undoubtedly make this list, but if you follow these four "secrets," the odds are good that you'll live a long and healthy life.

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