When it comes to living long, genes aren’t everything. Research has revealed a number of simple lifestyle changes you can make that could help to extend your life, and some of them may surprise you.

Here are 21 ways to live longer:

1. Exercise

It’s no secret that physical activity is good for you. Exercise helps you maintain a healthy body weight and lowers your blood pressure, both of which contribute to heart health and a reduced risk of heart disease–the top worldwide cause of death.

2. Drink in moderation

I know you’re probably picturing a glass of red wine right now, but recent research suggests that indulging in one to three glasses of any type of alcohol every day may help to increase longevity. Studies have found that heavy drinkers as well as abstainers seem to have a higher risk of early mortality than moderate drinkers.

3. Reduce stress in your life

Stress causes your body to release a hormone called cortisol. At high levels, this hormone can increase blood pressure and cause storage of abdominal fat, both of which can lead to an increased risk of heart disease.

4. Watch less television

A 2008 study found that people who watch six hours of television per day will likely die an average of 4.8 years earlier than those who don’t. It also found that, after the age of 25, every hour of television watched decreases life expectancy by 22 minutes. Television promotes inactivity and disengagement from the world, both of which can shorten your lifespan.

5. Eat less red meat

Red meat consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart disease and cancer. Swapping out your steaks for healthy proteins, like fish, may help to increase longevity. If you can’t stand the idea of a steak-free life, reducing your consumption to less than two to three servings a week can still incur health benefits.

6. Don’t smoke

This isn’t exactly a revelation. As you probably well know, smoking significantly increases your risk of cancer.

7. Socialize

Studies suggest that having social relationships promotes longevity. Although scientists are unsure of the reasons behind this, they speculate that socializing leads to increased self esteem as well as peer pressure to maintain health.

8. Eat foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids decrease the risk of heart disease and perhaps even Alzheimer’s disease. Salmon and walnuts are two of the best sources of Omega-3s.

9. Be optimistic

Studies suggest that optimists are at a lower risk for heart disease and, generally, live longer than pessimists. Researchers speculate that optimists have a healthier approach to life in general–exercising more, socializing, and actively seeking out medical advice. Thus, their risk of early mortality is lower.

10. Own a pet

Having a furry-friend leads to decreased stress, increased immunity, and a lessened risk of heart disease. Depending on the type of pet, they can also motivate you to be more active.

11. Drink coffee

Studies have found a link between coffee consumption and longer life. Although the reasons for this aren’t entirely clear, coffee’s high levels of antioxidants may play a role. Remember, though, drowning your cup of joe in sugar and whipped cream could counter whatever health benefits it may hold.

12. Eat less

Japan has the longest average lifespan in the world, and the longest lived of the Japanese–the natives of the Ryukyu Islands–stop eating when they’re 80% full. Limiting your calorie intake means lower overall stress on the body.

13. Meditate

Meditation leads to stress reduction and lowered blood pressure. Research suggests that it could also increase the activity of an enzyme associated with longevity. Taking as little as 15 minutes a day to find your zen can have significant health benefits, and may even extend your life.

14. Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight puts stress on your cardiovascular system, increasing your risk of heart disease. It may also increase the risk of cancer. Maintaining a healthy weight is important for heart health and living a long and healthy life.

15. Laugh often

Laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones, like cortisol, in your body. High levels of these hormones can weaken your immune system.

16. Don’t spend too much time in the sun

Too much time in the sun can lead to an increased risk of skin cancer. However, sun exposure is an excellent way to increase levels of vitamin D, so soaking up a few rays–perhaps for around 15 minutes a day–can be healthy. The key is moderation.

17. Cook your own food

When you eat at restaurants, you surrender control over your diet. Even salads tend to have a large number of additives, from sugar to saturated fats. Eating at home will enable you to monitor your food intake and ensure a healthy diet.

18. Eat mushrooms

Mushrooms are a central ingredient in Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s GOMBS disease fighting diet. They boost the immune system and may even reduce the risk of cancer.

19. Floss

Flossing helps to stave off gum disease, which is linked to an increased risk of cancer.

20. Eat foods rich in antioxidants

Antioxidants fight against the harmful effects of free-radicals, toxins which can cause cell damage and an increased risk of disease when they accumulate in the body. Berries, green tea and broccoli are three excellent sources of antioxidants.

21. Have sex

Getting down and dirty two to three times a week can have significant health benefits. Sex burns calories, decreases stress, improves sleep, and may even protect against heart disease. It’s an easy and effective way to get exercise–so love long and prosper!

Featured photo credit: Sweethearts/Patrick via flickr.com

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