12 Tips to Extend Your Life Span

The average life expectancy for Americans is now 77.7 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet research suggests that making several simple improvements to your life will not only have you blowing out a few extra candles on your birthday cakes, it can also help you feel — and stay — younger longer.

1. Eat Fish Twice a Week
A study published earlier this year by Dariush Mozaffarian, M.D., of the Harvard School of Public Health, found that the absence of omega-3 fatty acids in Americans' diets is responsible annually for up to 96,000 preventable deaths. Other studies have shown the deficiency may even contribute to the rise in cancer and diabetes. The nutrient also benefits your heart, your brain, and your skin. Wild salmon, herring, and anchovies are the best sources of omega-3s, but you should also pop a 1,000-milligram fish oil capsule daily. For more instant age erasers, check out the latest science on staying young.

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2. Build a Healthier Heart
If you want to stay young, make your heart stronger. With the right kind of total-body conditioning, you can increase your heart's stroke volume and your body's oxygen uptake. This allows your heart to pump blood more slowly and efficiently. "The average human life span is about 3 billion heartbeats," says Michael Lauer, M.D., of the National Heart Blood and Lung Institute. "If you can lower your heart rate, you can increase your life expectancy."

3. Buy a Farm and Make Babies
Using data from World War I draft registration records, researchers from the University of Chicago's Center on Aging found that having more than three children increases a man's chances of living to 100 by nearly 300 percent. Farmers, it turns out, are also more than twice as likely to become centenarians than their city-dwelling peers.

4. Remember that a Little Goes a Long Way
You're 97 percent more likely to reach age 85 if you keep your daily alcohol consumption to fewer than three drinks a day, according to a study of 6,000 patients in the Journal of the American Medical Association . Translation: Imbibe wisely. Shake it up with our Jimmy the Bartender iPhone app, which will help you mix dozens of drinks, find great watering holes near you, and even hone your pickup skills.

5. Lift Weights
Increased muscle mass speeds up metabolism, strengthens bones, and boosts heart health. In 2007, scientists at the Buck Institute for Age Research even discovered that resistance training causes cellular-level changes in muscle, pushing genes back to a younger level of function. Proving it's never too late to start, the subjects were senior citizens. But why wait?

6. Buy a Dog
Pet ownership can ward off depression, speed recovery from surgery, and even reduce the amount of time you spend with doctors in the first place, according to a range of studies. Elderly dog owners are even more likely to be slimmer than their dogless peers, according to a study at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

7. Take Up Golfing
The death rate for golfers is 40 percent lower than that of their peers, according to a study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports . The study authors, who credit this life-extending effect to the fact that golfers are outside for hours at a time, walk about 4 miles, and are engaged in a stress-reducing social activity, say this stat corresponds to a 5-year increase in life expectancy. Use these 20 exercises to lower your score on the golf course.

8. Floss, Floss, Floss
Inflamed, bloody gums can signify bodywide wellness issues. Not only do unhealthy mouths unleash bacteria into the bloodstream, where the bugs can travel to vital organs, but people with gum disease also have worse mental functioning than those whose gums are healthy, according to a U.K. study of more than 6,500 adults.

9. Ask For a Doggy Bag
A calorie-restriction diet reviewed in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that cutting between an eighth and a fourth of calories lowered metabolism and insulin levels, and also appeared to limit damage to cellular DNA — all markers for the harmful effects of age. You're also 84 percent more likely to be overweight if you eat quickly, according to research in the British Medical Journal . Some simple solutions: Chew your food longer, leave 20 percent of your meals behind, and steer clear of the 30 worst foods in America.

10. Lean on Your Buddies
Having guy time on a regular basis could decrease your risk for coronary heart disease, according to a review coauthored by James Blumenthal, Ph.D., a professor of medical psychology at Duke University. Blumenthal notes that low social support can almost double your susceptibility to the illness. "I would put guys' night into the context of social support or having people to confide in," says Blumenthal. "The health benefits could be due to the buffering effect of social support on cardiovascular stress responses."

11. Hit the Hay
Between the ages of 20 and 60, a man's level of human growth hormone — a key factor in maintaining overall vitality — drops 80 percent. Our best opportunity to replenish it every day is during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. "The more slow-wave sleep you get, the more growth hormone is secreted — and that may help to keep your body young," says David Kuhlmann, M.D., medical director of sleep medicine at Bothwell Regional Health Center in Sedalia, Missouri.

12. Take a YouTube Timeout
You can counteract stress — and roll back psychological aging — with laughter. Even the anticipation of a good laugh decreases the stress chemicals cortisol and epinephrine by 39 and 70 percent, respectively, say researchers at Loma Linda University. Laughter is also great for the heart. When participants in a University of Maryland study watched stressful film clips, they experienced vasoconstriction — a narrowing of the blood vessels — while the blood vessels of those watching funny films expanded by 22 percent. Learn 50 more little changes that will add years to your life, and you'll be laughing for decades to come.

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