The 44 Words That Will Give You a Longer (and Happier) Life

There’s an old saying: “It’s not about adding years to your life but adding life to your years.” So how can you feel—and look—younger at any age? Read on for the experts’ top findings.

44 Words to Live (Longer & Better)
TERRY DOYLE FOR Reader's Digest Magazine


A French study showed that listening to relaxing music before surgery was more effective at reducing anxiety than a sedative medication. These are other incredible health benefits of music.


According to a 25-year study of more than 6,000 men age 45 through 68, grip strength was the best predictor of how well they’d avoid being in­capacitated later in life. The weakest-gripping men suffered twice the disabilities those with hands of steel did. In a separate study of nearly 140,000 men and women, poor grip strength correlated with a higher incidence of death, especially from cardiovascular disease. 


In a small study of people age 55 to 76, those who carried out a series of Web searches showed increased activity in regions of the brain that control reading, language, memory, and visual ability. Regular Web surfers showed a significant boost in the areas that deal with decision making and complex reasoning. These keyboard shortcuts will make your web browsing easy and enjoyable


Harvard University scientists tracked more than 367,000 older adults for an average of 14 years and found that those who ate the most cereal fiber had a 19 percent lower risk of death from any cause than those who ate the least. Most notably, people who ate the most cereal fiber were 34 percent less likely to die from diabetes. Cereal fiber is found in cereal, whole-wheat bread, barley, and bran. Try these nutritionist-approved ideas for a healthy breakfast


Researchers in Britain asked participants who were feeling stressed to engage in various activities, including reading, listening to music, having a cup of tea or coffee, and taking a walk. Reading reduced stress levels and heart rates by 68 percent, the most significant effect of any item on the list. (The least effective: video games.) Find some suggestions for books to read here


One lesson of Hamlet: Learn to weather “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” if you want to live to a ripe old age. A Harvard study came to the same conclusion: Less than 2 percent of men who were observed exhibiting “psychological hardiness”—­mental resilience in the face of stress, anxiety, and ­depression—died before they were 53. In the less resilient group, 37 percent died by that age.


Lonely people have a 14 percent greater risk of dying than the average person, twice the death risk associated with obesity. A University of North Carolina study specifically found that social isolation increases hypertension even more than diabetes does. ­Related research links loneliness to a weakened immune system and higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and depression. If you have social anxiety, these tips will help you calm your mind.


Older women who ate onions every day had a 5 percent greater bone density than those who ate them once a month or less, according to researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina. They also decreased their risk of a hip fracture by more than 20 percent.

44 Words to Live (Longer & Better)
TERRY DOYLE FOR Reader's Digest Magazine


When you want dessert, take a bite or two of the good stuff. Susan B. Roberts, coauthor of a Tufts University study on cravings, finds that people who manage their weight best happily succumb at times.


It may sound illogical, but if you have a less-than-flat tummy, your best tactic is to have a belt cut across it—not too high (looks old), not too low (sloppy), but smack through the middle. “It creates a shorter torso and a longer leg line,” explains Stacy London, who cohosted TLC’s show What Not to Wear, “which makes you look taller and leaner.”

44 Words to Live (Longer & Better)
TERRY DOYLE FOR Reader's Digest Magazine


A study by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine found that dancing reduced the risk of dementia more than any other type of physical activity. Why? Learning new steps improves intellectual fitness, and if you dance with a group or a partner, you’re being social. Try this dance move, it’s said the be the sexiest one out there.


Loyola University researchers discovered that recalling good memories for just 20 minutes a day can make people feel more cheerful than they did the week before, reported Psychology Today. “There’s a magic and mystery in positive events,” psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, PhD, told the magazine.


Staying trim and fit is key to a long and healthy life. But an Oxford University review found that people with bigger butts (the proverbial pear shape) generally had lower levels of cholesterol and blood sugar and may be less likely to develop diabetes or heart disease than those who carried their extra weight around the stomach (apple shape). More research needs to be done to prove a protective effect, but scientists have observed that fat on the lower body secretes fewer inflammatory substances than abdominal fat does.


With laughter, that is. Michael Miller, MD, wrote in his book Heal Your Heart that when he and his colleagues asked 20 people to watch a clip from Saving Private Ryan, Kingpin, Shallow Hal, or There’s Something About Mary, they found that participants’ blood vessels narrowed by up to 50 percent during the stress-­inducing clips, while vessel dilation in ­people who watched a funny clip increased 22 percent. “After just 15 minutes of laughing, volunteers got the same vascular benefit as they would from spending 15 to 30 minutes at the gym or taking a daily statin,” wrote Dr. Miller.


The fruit can benefit your skin; its essential oil, produced inside the kernel, is rich in gamma-­linolenic acid, which encourages regeneration of skin cells. The light, nongreasy oil is also chock-full of vitamins A and E, making it a great skin hydrator. You can find it at health food stores or online.


A Journal of the American College of Cardiology study found that running just five to ten minutes every day reduces the risk of death from heart disease by 50 percent and overall mortality risk by 29 percent. Even participants who ran slower than six miles per hour once or twice a week benefited. This is what happens to your body when you start a new running workout


According to a 2012 study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 55 grams of cheese a day (about two slices) reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by about 12 percent, compared with eating no cheese. Researchers speculate that the probiotic bacteria in cheese and ­yogurt may lower cholesterol and produce certain vitamins that shield against diabetes. Keep to the recommended portion, as cheese can be high in fat.


Face powders can settle into your wrinkles and cling to facial down (aka “peach fuzz”), making you look older. Avoid these other makeup mistakes that age your face.


To uncover the secrets of living to 100, researchers from the University of Chicago compiled data on more than 1,500 centenarians born between 1880 and 1895 and compared their backgrounds with those of nearly 12,000 of their siblings and spouses. They found that if you’re born in September, October, or November, you have an above-average chance of living an ­extra-long life, perhaps because milder autumn weather places less stress on babies and causes fewer seasonal infections.


Experts from the UCLA Brain Mapping Center found in a small study that the brains of people who meditate had larger volumes of gray matter—the area responsible for memory, emotions, seeing, hearing, speech, impulse control, and decision making. These are others compelling reasons that you should start meditating


It’s good for your hair. Before you shower, mix three tablespoons of flat beer at room temperature with half a cup of warm water. After you shampoo, rub in the beer solution, let it sit for a couple of minutes, and then rinse with cool water. This will pump up the volume in your locks, which tend to get flatter as you age. 


In a ten-year study of 2,000 people over age 65 in Taiwan, researchers found that men who shopped daily had a 28 percent lower risk of dying early than those who shopped less often; among women, the risk reduction was 23 percent. Healthier people may be more likely to go to the store in the first place, but shopping every day could help you live longer by increasing your social contact, physical fitness, and mental agility.

44 Words to Live (Longer & Better)
TERRY DOYLE FOR Reader's Digest Magazine


Turns out carrots are not the best food for your vision. the nutrients in eggs—lutein, vitamin E, and omega-3s— are especially good for your eyes and may help prevent age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and other chronic diseases. Here are other vision boosters that you can try.

44 Words to Live (Longer & Better)
TERRY DOYLE FOR Reader's Digest Magazine


Walking barefoot reduces the load on knee joints by 12 percent compared with walking in comfortable shoes, and it may also minimize pain and disability from osteoarthritis. That’s the finding of a study from Rush University Medical Center of 75 people with osteo-arthritis. A later study found that “mobility shoes,” which are flat and flexible to mimic bare feet, reduced the load even more (by 18 percent) when worn for six months or more.


Researchers from Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, conducted a series of studies to demonstrate the differences between students who wrote out their notes and those who typed them. Both did well, though longhand note takers had a stronger grasp of the overall concepts of the lectures and were able to remember and understand them after a week had passed. This is what your handwriting reveals about your personality.


Massages feel good, obviously, but the increased blood flow associated with regular gentle kneading might also keep your face looking healthy and radiant. Skin-care expert Kimara Ahnert told Women’s Health that massage plumps slack skin, encourages lymphatic drainage (moving toxins out of cells so nutrients can travel in), and adds vitality to a dull complexion.


In a study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers measured blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids in a group of 2,692 healthy older American adults in 1992, then followed them through 2008. People with the highest omega-3 levels had decreased their risk of dying by 27 percent—and decreased their risk of dying from heart disease by 35 percent—compared with the group with the lowest levels. Eating 250 milligrams of omega-3s each day can add 2.2 years to the lives of adults age 65 and older, researchers say. You’ll get more than enough by eating one six-ounce fillet of cod or a two-ounce serving of raw firm tofu.


In Australia’s largest ongoing study of healthy aging, researchers analyzed the daily routines of more than 230,000 people. They found that sleeping too much (more than nine hours per night), sitting too much (more than seven hours a day), and not working out enough (less than 150 minutes a week) correlates to ­quadrupling the risk of dying prematurely.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, southerners tend to have the shortest life spans of all Americans. The average healthy life expectancy (defined as years in which you are in good or excellent health) was 76 years in Mississippi, Kentucky, and Alabama; in Connecticut and Minnesota, it was 81.


Throwing a party—deciding whom to invite, what to serve, and who should sit next to whom—forces your brain to make complex social decisions and strengthens your social contacts, both of which reduce your risk of developing dementia, writes Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, in his book Outsmarting Alzheimer’s


In a small study recently published in Behavioral Ecology, Caucasian men who took a supplement of beta-­carotene, the substance that makes carrots orange, were rated by women as looking more healthy and attractive than men who had not.


Low vitamin D levels have been associated with osteoporosis, diabetes, hyper­tension, and cancer. And it gets worse: According to new research, adults who don’t get enough of the “sunshine vitamin” are 26 percent more likely to die early. A 12-year study of 13,000 men and women didn’t finger any one cause of death, “because vitamin D’s impact on health is so widespread,” says researcher Michal Melamed, MD, an assistant professor of medicine, epidemiology, and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. In addition to drinking fortified milk, she suggests getting 10 to 15 minutes of midday sunshine (11 a.m. to 3 p.m.) several days a week. Try these other sneaky ways to get vitamin D after the summer is over.


“Wearing darker shades tends to read more conservative and has more of a polished feel, which is not bad,” says Dina Scherer, a wardrobe stylist and the owner of Modnitsa Styling. “But it can age you because it takes away from your approachability.” Brighter shades make you seem more open and fun, which in turn makes you look younger. Wearing brightly colored accessories such as scarves, necklaces, and broaches near your face is a particularly good way to highlight your features, Scherer says.


Hand strength, flexibility, and coordination are essential for everyday tasks such as opening jars and carrying packages. And gardening is the perfect way to hone those fine motor skills and muscles, according to a small study published in HortScience, and it may even help offset some of the strain caused by repetitive motions such as typing or phone swiping, especially if you alternate gardening tasks.


Raising your voice a lot may lead to polyps, bumps on your vocal cords that can make you sound old and hoarse. Instead of yelling, move closer.


Want to look younger? Vitamin C in general seems to be associated with fewer wrinkles, according to a study from the United Kingdom. Hydration, of course, also keeps skin healthier. So lemon ­water, which combines both, is the perfect recipe for great skin, says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE.


A four-year study found that seniors who had taken up painting, drawing, or sculpting during middle age and continued into their old age were 73 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment than were those who did not participate in artistic activities. These pastimes encourage you to focus your attention.


A U.S. study of 166 older adults revealed that those who joined a choir were in better health, used less medication, were less lonely, and had fewer falls after a year than a similar group of non-singers. This could be due to the effect that singing has on breathing as well as the emotional benefits of creating harmony with a group. Another small study out of Sweden found that when choir members sang in unison, their heart rates slowed down and eventually synchronized, which may have long-term benefits for both cardiovascular and mental health.


According to an attention-­grabbing CDC report that pooled data on nearly three million people from all over the world, while extreme obesity shortened lives, people who were just overweight (having a body mass index between 25 and 30) were actually less likely to die early than those who were at a normal weight. This doesn’t mean that being overweight is healthy, but if you have normal blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, slimming down may not confer a huge health advantage.


Dab Vaseline or lip gloss on the middle of your lower lip. This gives the appearance of a fuller mouth, which makes you look younger. Avoid dark lipstick colors, which make lips look smaller.


Snoozing on your side seems to be associated with a lower risk of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. A group of scientists led by
researchers at Stony Brook University observed that when rats slept on their sides, a pathway that removes waste chemicals from the brain worked more efficiently. Research on humans is needed.


Even if you’re too self- conscious to show your whole calf, don’t hide your ankles. “As we age, we’re consumed with how many parts of our body we feel like we have to cover up, but a few don’t need to be covered,” Lauren Rothman, a fashion stylist and the author of Style Bible, says. “Elongating the leg with a cropped pant is flattering and sexy, and the ankle doesn’t tend to show age.”


A study of 1,000 adults age 60 to 93 in Singapore found that those who ate curry at least twice a year scored better on cognitive tests than people who ate it once a year or less. Turmeric, the yellow spice used in most ­curries, contains the plant chemical curcumin, which has anti­cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and cholesterol-­lowering properties. Try incorporating these healing herbs and spices into your cooking.


Psychologist Howard S. Friedman, co­author of a landmark study that followed 1,500 boys and girls for as long as eight decades, observed, “The key ­personality predictor of a long life was one that we never expected: conscientiousness. It wasn’t always the cheerful kids who went on to have the longest lives—it was the ones who did their homework, whose parents would say, ‘She has a good head on her shoulders.’ They developed healthy patterns and maintained them. People who weren’t dependable as kids but became more responsible as adults did well too.”

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest