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Longevity is another term that is used to describe life expectancy and it varies throughout the world depending on where you’re from. Hong Kong and Japan have the two highest life expectancies in the world with females living on average to the age of 88 and males to age 82. Other contenders include Switzerland, Singapore, Italy, Spain, the Channel Islands (in Northern Europe), Iceland, South Korea, Israel, and Sweden. Much further down the list, you will find the United States at number 46, its life expectancy is 81 for females and 77 for males. At the very bottom of the list, you will find the Central African Republic with a life expectancy of only 56 for women and 52 for men.
Of course, there are some obvious reasons for longevity. In countries where infectious diseases run rampant due to inadequate healthcare and there are wars, early death is common. But in first world countries like the United States, why is longevity so much lower than it is in countries like Japan, Italy, and Spain? Let’s take a closer look.
5 things That Hurt Longevity:
The U.S. is often called the “No Vacation Nation” because we are the only advanced nation in the world that does not guarantee our workers paid vacation. And in the U.S., vacation in general is not considered a priority.
France guarantees its workers 30 days of paid vacation and the United Kingdom guarantees 28 days. The list goes down from there with Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Spain, and Sweden all offering 25 days. Even the workaholic nation of Japan offers 10 days of paid vacation. But down at the very bottom of the list, there is the U.S. with zero days. In fact, one in four American workers do not get any vacation at all. Even when we do get vacation, Americans are much less likely to take it. One survey found that Americans only use about 50 percent of their paid vacation when their employer does offer it.
And even for those that take some time, 66 percent of us report working while we are gone. When my older brother recently went on vacation to Hawaii, he woke up every morning at 3 a.m. to start the work day with his East Coast colleagues and then worked an entire day before his kids and wife woke up. While this is extreme, I cannot remember a single trip that I have taken where I have not brought my laptop along and checked into work at least once a day. American workers cannot seem to get away in the same way as workers from other countries. It is ingrained in our culture that travel is not necessary, especially if it means missing time at work.
We work too hard in the U.S. and we do not play hard enough, and none of this is good for longevity.
Stress is a killer. We know this, yet we are still doing things all the time that cause stress. We are always trying to find ways to fit more into our days, which means that we do not have time to just sit and enjoy the moment that we are in. You will notice that when you are in a hurry, no matter what you are trying to accomplish, it is stressful. Stress hormones like cortisol have also been shown to cause long term chronic disease like heart diseases, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. A study published the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that “stressful life experiences are associated with all-cause mortality.” Another study published in the European Journal of Public Health found that work stress in midlife contributed to all-cause mortality. The authors write “modifications to work environments that reduce work-related stress may contribute to better health and longer lives.”
3. Smoking And Vaping
If you want to live a long and healthy life, smoking is one of the worst things that you can do. It causes lung cancer and increases your risk of heart attack and stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “more than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. For every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness. Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.” If you were never a smoker, that is great. If you are a smoker, it is time to quit. If you think vaping is any better, you would be wrong. The tiny particles get into your lungs and added flavorings can cause lung diseases. Vape smoke also contains volatile organic compounds and heavy metals like lead, tin, and nickel, all of which you are inhaling into your lungs.
4. Environmental Toxins
We are surrounded by environmental toxins that can take years off our lives. While you will never be able to get rid of all of them entirely, you can take steps to limit them. Choose foods that are organic, free range, and local to avoid pesticides and insecticides that end up in and on the foods you are eating. Avoid plastics which contain toxins like BPA, BPS, phthalates, and the list goes on. Choose furniture that is made of natural materials like wood. Sleep on mattresses that do not contain flame retardants and other chemicals. Choose toiletries that do not contain parabens, phthalates, and fragrances. Drink filtered water to avoid heavy metals, chemical pesticides, and endocrine disruptors. It is impossible to completely avoid environmental toxins but you can do a lot to reduce your exposure.
5. Excessive Alcohol
Drinking too much does a number on your liver. It is dehydrating, disease-causing, and it causes you to make other poor life-limiting decisions like driving drunk, having unprotected sex, doing extracurricular drugs, and eating a poor diet. Drinking in moderation is not a bad thing, in fact centenarians tend to drink moderately and often, but when you have more than a few glasses of wine on a regular basis, you are limiting your longevity.
5 Ways To Increase Longevity
1. Eat a healthy diet
You do it three times a day everyday that is why it makes a huge difference in your life expectancy. The countries with the highest life expectancy have a few things in common: they eat mostly a whole foods diet with lots of fruits and vegetables, they tend to grow their own gardens, enjoy local foods, eat together as a family, and entirely avoid processed and packaged foods. They do not eat refined and heavily processed carbohydrates nor they do not eat standing up. Food is cultural and diet matters when it comes to living a healthy life.
Sitting too much is worse than smoking. Active people live longer. In countries with good longevity, the elderly are mobile and active late into life. They do not sit at their desks for 10 hours a day and they walk to wherever they are going. They tend to their own garden, bike to town, and stay active altogether. A study published in the journal Maturitas, found that “exercise can partially reverse the effects of the aging process on physiological functions and preserve functional reserves in the elderly. Numerous studies have shown that maintaining a minimum quantity and quality of exercise decreases the risk of death, prevents the development of certain cancers, lowers the risk of osteoporosis, and increases longevity. A study published in the journal ESC Heart Failure found that “exercise is a tool of primary prevention in heart failure patients.”
3. Meditation And Yoga
If you want to live longer you need to find ways to manage your stress. For me that is daily yoga, twice daily meditation, deep breathing, and cardio exercise every other day. Other tools for stress management include kirtan, qigong, mindful walking, and doing the things that you love. A review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that “studies of meditation suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk, although the overall quality and, in some cases, quantity of study data are modest.” Another study published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Endocrinology & Diabetes found that yoga seems to be an effective treatment for hypertension.
4. Be Social
Having friends is an important part of staying healthy. Anxiety increased as a result of the pandemic largely because spending too much time by yourself is not good for your health. It is those that maintain relationships through the busiest parts of middle age that are healthy long into life. Participate in group hobbies, plan at least a few outings a week, stay in close contact with those you love, and cut the toxic people from your life. Being social does not just mean being with people, it means being with people that you connect with on a regular basis. A study published in the Journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, found that “social isolation increased the risk of inflammation by the same magnitude as physical inactivity in adolescence, and the effect of social isolation on hypertension exceeded that of clinical risk factors such as diabetes in old age.” Another study published in the journal BMC Public Health found that “in this Mediterranean population, maintaining an important role in the lives of one's grown children is associated with survival.”
5. Sleep More Than You Think
The cultures where people sleep the most, tend to have people that live longer. Taking naps in the afternoon, getting on a regular sleep cycle, sleeping deeply through the night, managing stress so that it does not cause insomnia—these are all aligned with living longer. Sleep is also closely linked to mental health. Insomniacs are more likely to be anxious and depressed, which can cause inflammation in the body that can shorten longevity. Stay away from the caffeine in the evening, take a warm bath, turn off screens, read a relaxing book, meditate, stretch—these are all tools that can help you get to sleep at night. A review published in the journal Sleep Medicine found that "the cumulative long-term effects of sleep deprivation and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.” Another study published in the journal Current Sleep Medicine Reports found that “outside of Alzheimer’s disease drug discovery, sleep is at the forefront of public and scientific interest in cognitive longevity.”