If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that health is everything. There are simple steps everyone can take to increase their life expectancy, and to give individuals the best chance at living a long, healthy life. Incorporate these simple habits into your daily and weekly routines to increase your life expectancy and improve your health now and into the future.
1. Keep Your HbA1c Low, TiR High
If you live with diabetes, one of the healthiest life-extending habits you can adopt is keeping your HbA1c low and time in range (TiR) high. Tightly managing blood sugar levels can help prevent devastating complications such as blindness, amputation, heart disease, kidney failure and premature death.
In addition, since the HbA1c test is simply an average of one’s high blood sugars and low blood sugars, it’s important to keep your blood sugar consistent and stable, with your time in your target range as high as you can get it. Studies have linked more stable blood sugars (and not gigantic swings between highs and lows) to longer life for those with diabetes. Most people aim for an HbA1c lower than 7%, but check with your doctor for your ideal target.
2. Wear Sunscreen
Wearing sunscreen daily is crucial for preventing the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma. Even on cloudy days, your skin will absorb 80% of the sun’s rays, and with it, harmful UV radiation. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least 30 SPF every time you go outside. Ample use is crucial: On average, people only use about 20-25% of the amount of sunscreen needed for sufficient protection, so make sure to lather up!
3. Move Your Body
It’s no surprise that exercise is healthy for people, especially people living with chronic conditions like diabetes. Exercise is crucial for heart health, to manage blood sugars, increase lung capacity, and build and tone muscles to prevent future injury. All of the short term benefits of exercise add up to a longer, healthier life. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week, more if able! A study showed that people who exercise vigorously for only 3 hours a week had cells that were 9 years younger than nonexercisers.
4. Spend Time Outside
Nearly 50% of adults have low vitamin D levels, due to our sedentary lifestyle and the fact that most Americans live and work inside most hours of the day. Vitamin D (which can be absorbed right into the skin when people go outside) is important for proper immune system functioning, healthy teeth and bones, managing depression, and may even help prevent both type 1 and type 2 diabetes! Getting outside for just 15 minutes a day is usually enough to maintain adequate vitamin D levels for most people.
5. Spend More Time with Family & Friends
Blue Zone countries, places around the world that have notoriously long, healthy life expectancies, place a lot of emphasis on socializing with family and friends. Having a social circle can help people get through hard times, reduce daily stress, boost resilience and immune response, and act as a literal shoulder to cry on. This is especially important for people with diabetes who can oftentimes feel isolated and alone with their condition. Connecting with others in our struggle can help extend life expectancy: studies show that maintaining a social circle can help people live up to 50% longer, and having just 3 close social ties can decrease your risk of an early death by 200%.
6. Eat Whole Foods, Mostly Plants
Consuming a diet rich in fruits and vegetables will be full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that can extend life. Even if you don’t go completely vegetarian or vegan, eating more whole, unprocessed foods is beneficial for a healthy life, and to prevent diabetes complications. Many studies over the years have correlated a plant-forward diet to a lower risk of premature death, as well as protective factors against cancer, heart disease, depression, and dementia. People who eat mostly plants tend to have lower body weight, healthier blood pressure levels, and have significantly lower mortality risk. Bon Appetit!
7. Meditate to Manage Stress
Stress has been correlated with shorter life expectancies, and learning to manage it through meditation and yoga can improve and lengthen your life. Successfully managing stress through meditation can improve the quantity and quality of your sleep, boost your immune response, and improve your relationships, all of which add up to a healthier, longer life. Check out some free meditation apps to get you going!
8. See Your Doctor Regularly
Regularly seeing your doctor for screens and tests can catch diseases early (such as cancer), and can ensure an appropriate and timely treatment plan if something is detected. Mammograms, colonoscopies, and pap smears are some of the routine tests and screens scientifically proven to decrease mortality from the diseases they screen for. It may not be fun, but it’s proven, effective, and worth it!
9. Reduce Your Sugar Intake
Sugar is the new tobacco. Dr. Aseem Malhotra, a cardiologist from England, shares, “…added sugar is completely unnecessary. Contrary to what the food industry wants you to believe, the body doesn’t require any carbohydrate energy from added sugar.”
There is evidence linking sugar not only to obesity and higher incidence rates of type 2 diabetes, but also to liver disease, heart disease and tooth decay (which can lead to dementia). If you cut out added sugar from your diet, you are also more likely to gravitate to unpackaged, whole foods, which are chock full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and life-extending properties.
10. Get More Sleep
One in three Americans don’t get enough sleep. Lack of sleep has been linked with a plethora of negative outcomes on many body systems, including cardiovascular, endocrine, immune, and nervous systems. Side effects of not getting enough Zs include obesity, heart disease, hypertension, anxiety, depression, alcohol abuse, stroke and increased risk of developing cancer that can all shorten one’s life. Sleep is when the body replenishes cells, is crucial to proper brain functioning, regulates one’s metabolism, and repairs damage done to the body during the day. Adequate sleep promotes healing of all body systems, and getting enough of it can extend your life. Aim for 7-9 hours per night.
These small, easy changes can add up to many more healthy years. Try to incorporate a few of these strategies into your routine today to increase your life expectancy!
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Read more about A1c, diabetes burnout, diabetes management, exercise, Intensive management, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), mental health.