10 Tips for Living a Longer, Happier Life

Life insurance and health insurance are there for you if something goes wrong in your life, but to truly get the most out of your life you need to take preemptive action and embrace the things that make you healthy and happy.

Thanks to improvements in healthcare and a better understanding of healthy lifestyles, humans are living longer than ever. In fact, researchers estimate that by 2050 there will be more than three million Centenarians-people aged 100 and over-living worldwide. But life is about more than just living it.

That's why we've put together this list of 10 tips to help you live the happiest, healthiest, and longest life you can.

1. Adopt a pet

Psychology Today has done numerous studies to determine the relationship between pet owners and happy lives. "In one study involving 217 community members, pet owners exhibited greater self-esteem, were more physically fit, were less lonely, were more conscientious, were more socially outgoing, and had healthier relationship styles (i.e., they were less fearful and less preoccupied) than non-owners," the publication reports. Pets have also been found to increase empathy and decrease depression, all while providing humans with a sense of meaning and belonging. Feel even better and adopt a pet from a shelter, so you can lengthen not only your life, but also that of an animal in need.

2. Cook at home

Sure we all love going out for dinner, but not taking advantage of our kitchens could be decreasing our lifespan. One study found that people who cooked at home more than five times a week lived longer than those who rarely or never cooked at home. Restaurants tend to pack more fat into their meals, portion sizes can be astronomical, and on top of this we tend to make choices we wouldn't make at home. Having an appreciation for cooking can also enhance happiness, provide satisfaction, and, if you choose to cook with others, deepen relationships. Now that's a tasty recipe for a long life!

3. Become an optimist

Numerous studies have shown that optimistic people tend to live longer than their pessimistic counterparts. One study out of Yale University found that people who maintained a positive attitude in middle age lived an average of 7.5 years longer than those who did not. But fear not pessimists, as there is hope for you yet. Pessimists who took action on their dwellings were found to reap some of the same benefits that optimists typically enjoy. So if optimism simply isn't your style, try turning your pessimism into an opportunity for positive change.

4. Be social

Be a social butterfly, a chatty Cathy, or whatever you want to call it, because being social is key to a long happy life. Researchers analyzed 148 studies examining social relationships and death risk, and found that people who had strong social relationships were 50 per cent more likely to be alive by the time the studies wrapped up-regardless of age, gender or health status. Social support can also encourage healthy habits. Researchers found that, for example, if your friends are active, you're more likely to be active too. That's right, simply hanging out with your friends or family can increase your life span all while enhancing your social life and fostering healthy habits.

5. Be compassionate

"Compassion is defined as the emotional response when perceiving suffering and involves an authentic desire to help," the Association for Psychological Science reports in an essay entitled The Compassionate Mind. Compassion has been linked to a number of health benefits including reduced levels of stress and increased levels of happiness, both of which are linked to longer lives. The report continues, "Sara Konrath, at the University of Michigan, discovered that people who engaged in volunteerism lived longer than their non-volunteering peers - but only if their reasons for volunteering were altruistic rather than self-serving." Being compassionate and helping others for the purpose of helping others provides meaning and can lengthen your life while improving the lives of those around you.

6. Sing More

Singing is good for your entire body-it regulates breathing while strengthening your lungs and, according to a joint 2008 study between Harvard and Yale universities, can increase life expectancy. The study looked at the population of New Haven, Connecticut and found that choir members had longer life expectancies than the rest of the population. "The report concluded that this was because singing promoted both a healthy heart and an enhanced mental state," one organization summarized. Additional studies have found singing in groups can be even more therapeutic than singing alone, while others suggest the health benefits of singing rival that of yoga. So join a choir, sing in the shower, or grab some friends for some good ol' fashioned karaoke.

7. Eat less

Dan Buettner, an explorer and researcher who studies, among other things, keys to life longevity, says that if you want to live to 100 you should cut calories by 20 per cent. He recommends embracing "Hara hachi bi," an Okinawan practice of stopping eating once you feel 80 per cent full. To do this, Buettner encourages serving yourself, using smaller dishes, and sitting down to eat-aka avoiding eating on the go or standing in front of the fridge. Scientists agree-having found that the right amount of calorie restriction creates a positive stress that can rev up certain genes and "protect cells from diseases of aging." Of course, this is about finding the right balance. Eating too little or too much will ultimately shorten your life span.

8. Get checked

Take advantage of our Canadian healthcare system and get regular health check ups and screening tests. This might not sound like the most ideal way to enhance your life span, but prevention and early detection are key components of a long, healthy life. Talk to your doctor about the frequency of your testing, as this varies by family and personal health histories. Healthy adult Canadians are generally recommended to get one physical exam each year, one eye exam at least every two years, and one dental cleaning every six months.

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9. Get moving

You didn't think we'd write this list without mentioning exercise did you? Exercise is critical if you want to live a healthy, long life. In one study, researchers who examined self-reported data from 650,000 individuals over the age of 40 (from both American and Swedish studies) found that being active even 75 minutes a week increased life expectancy 1.8 years, while 150 minutes a week of brisk walking increased life expectancy 3.4 to 4.5 years. Exercise helps control weight, increases energy, improves mood, helps you sleep, and reduces your chances of cardiovascular disease. The Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity each week for adults aged 18-64. To live even longer, find something active that you enjoy. Be it yoga, running, or riding a bike, invest some time in finding an activity that not only makes you sweat, but makes you happy.

10. Take some "Me time"

Stress is the ultimate killer. It increases our risk of contracting ailments from cancer to heart disease-some studies show by as much as 20 per cent. It wrecks havoc on our sleep cycles (making us more susceptible to illness) and sabotages our sex drive (regular sex is another ingredient in the recipe to a long happy life). This is why it's important to take some "Me time" to de-stress. Find something calming that brings you joy-perhaps immersing yourself in a good book, taking a long bath, meditating, visiting the salon, or walking along the water. Whatever it is, make yourself a priority and schedule time for you. Even five minutes of "Me time" has been shown to have positive benefits.

Whatever you do, just do things that make you happy

Start by doing something that makes you happy every day because happiness itself holds the key to a long, happy life. In one study that looked at the daily happiness and excitement levels of people aged between 52 and 79, those who were happy were found to have a 35 per cent less chance of dying during the study period. So smile more, laugh more, be silly more-or whatever it is that brings joy to your life. That's a recipe for longevity that you-and everyone around you-can truly appreciate.

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