10 Simple Steps to Increase Your Life Expectancy

There are no surefire ways to increase life expectancy, but research has shown that people who embrace certain lifestyle changes tend to live longer than those who don't. These include things like adjusting your diet, turning off the TV and getting outdoors, increasing social interactions, and having sex. Even simple fixes like flossing your teeth can help.

This article looks at 10 simple steps to increase your life expectancy, including what the current research says.


Go Outside

Go outside and get more sun

Paul Bradbury / Getty Images

Life expectancy can be increased simply by going outside and getting some sun. Exposure to sunlight triggers cells in your skin to produce vitamin D.

Vitamin D is essential for many vital functions:

  • Bone growth
  • Bone remodeling (in which bones constantly rebuild themselves)
  • Involuntary muscle contractions (such as for heartbeat and digestion)
  • The conversion of blood glucose (sugar) into energy

Vitamin D deficiency can impair all of these functions and lead to an increased risk of fractures, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and osteoporosis (porous bones).

Research suggests that 50% of adults with low vitamin D levels simply don't get out into the sun enough. Getting sun for just 15 minutes a day is enough to maintain vitamin D levels in healthy people.

Taking vitamin D supplements and eating foods rich in vitamin D are also effective ways to increase vitamin D levels.

Foods rich in vitamin D include:

  • Dairy and plant milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Orange juice fortified with vitamin D
  • Oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines
  • Sardines
  • Beef liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified cereals

Vitamin D Deficiency and Life Expectancy

A 2019 review of studies concluded that vitamin D deficiency is linked to a higher risk of all-cause mortality (death from all causes) compared to those with normal vitamin D levels. This includes a two-fold increased risk of death by cancer.


Hang Out With Friends

Life expectancy can be increased by hanging out with your friends and family. Studies have shown that the more connected someone is to loved ones, the better their overall health.

Scientists are not exactly sure why relationships play a role in health and longevity. It could be that people in positive relationships are less likely to take risks and are more likely to take care of themselves. It could also be that having people around you reduces stress in your life.

On top of this, people who engage in "meaningful" relationships tend to have better life expectancies. This means having conversations about each other's beliefs, interests, or history or engaging in activities that both parties enjoy.

Relationships and Longevity

A study in the journal PLoS Medicine concluded that, based on 148 studies involving 308,849 participants, people who reported strong social relationships had a 50% lower risk of premature death than those who didn't.


Get Daily Exercise

Improvements in life expectancy are strongly linked to daily exercise. A comprehensive review of studies in the Journal of Aging Research showed that people who exercise regularly—even for as little as three hours a week—lived up to 6.9 years longer than those who didn't.

Habit-building is key to success. The easiest way to build a habit is to commit to daily workouts even if it's just for 20 minutes. If you do, you may skip a day but are more likely to get back on track immediately.

If you exercise three days a week and miss one workout, you may go four to five days without exercising and eventually give up.

For life expectancy, it is more important to exercise consistently year after year than have fits and starts of intense exercise followed by periods of no exercise.

Remember that daily exercise doesn't have to mean going to the gym every day. Home exercises such as yoga, stretching, free weights, swimming, or brisk walking can be incredibly beneficial, particularly if you are older.


Floss Daily

As strange as it may seem, flossing daily may extend life expectancy.

Flossing prevents gum disease and, by doing so, prevents bacteria in your mouth from passing through compromised tissues and entering the bloodstream. These bloodborne bacteria can migrate to the heart where they can infect and damage the heart muscle and valves.

Gum disease, otherwise known as periodontitis, affects 11% of the world's population and is the sixth most common disease worldwide.

Severe periodontitis is directly linked to not only an increased risk of heart disease but also an increased risk of death from heart attacks, according to a 2020 review of studies in the Journal of Clinical Periodontology.


Have More Sex

Your life expectancy may be increased by having more sex. Sex is thought to improve your overall sense of well-being, providing you with the incentive to take better care of your health.

Other factors may contribute. One early study reported, for example, that males with a high frequency of orgasms had a 50% reduction in all-cause mortality.

Sex and Life Expectancy

A 2022 study in the Journal of Applied Gerontology reported that the frequency or enjoyment of sex was not as influential on longevity as a person's belief that sex is an essential part of health.

According to the study, which monitored a group of adults aged 55 and over for 27 years, people who held sex-positive beliefs were 78% more likely to live to the expected life expectancy than those who didn't.


Embrace Vegetarianism

Vegetarianism may help you live longer.

This should in no way suggest that you should abandon meat—or that it's even appropriate or safe for you to do so. But research has shown the principles of vegetarianism may increase life expectancy by overcoming three barriers to good health, namely:

  • Obesity
  • The overconsumption of sugar
  • The consumption of saturated fats found in animal-based foods

By doing so, a person can reduce their risk of aging-related diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and even colon cancer.

Vegetarianism and Longevity

Several studies have linked the non-consumption of meat to a longer life. This includes a 2013 study in JAMA Internal Medicine which tracked 96,469 Seventh-Day Adventists (a religious order that encourages vegetarianism) for five years.

At the end of the study period, the researchers found that females and males in the group who practiced vegetarianism lived 6 and 10 years longer, respectively, than counterparts who ate meat.


Lower Your Stress

Life expectancy can be undermined by stress in two ways. The first way is through the direct effects of stress on your body over the long term.

Stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol which helps you respond to threats by raising your heart and respiration rate. Long-term elevations can be harmful, leading to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

There is also evidence that prolonged stress can "age" cells on a molecular scale.

Studies have shown that increased cortisol levels promote the breakdown of cells and the increased production of free radicals. Free radicals are molecules that damage cellular DNA, causing cells to age and malfunction prematurely. This, in turn, gives rise to many different types of cancer.

To better manage stress over the long term, try mind-body therapies like:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Gentle yoga
  • Tai chi
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Biofeedback
  • Guided imagery

Turn off Your TV

By cutting back on television watching, you may improve your health and increase your life expectancy as well.

Here are ​a few reasons why:

  • Watching TV excessively makes you inactive and more likely to gain weight.
  • Sitting for prolonged hours can lead to chronic back and neck pain.
  • TV can be stressful, particularly if you are a news junkie.
  • TV prevents quality social interaction and can contribute to anxiety and depression.

All of these things can have a negative impact on your health as well as your longevity.

Can TV Shorten Your Life?

According to the ongoing Australian Diabetes, Obesity, and Lifestyle Study, people who spend a lifetime average of six hours per day watching TV can expect to live 4.8 years less than people who watch no TV.

On average, every single hour of TV viewed after age 25 reduces the viewer's life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.


Avoid Risks

Your life expectancy can be protected by making sure you don't take any unnecessary risks.

For young people, the biggest causes of death aren't diseases or age-related problems. The most common causes are accidents, injuries, and violence.

As you get older, there are certain risk behaviors that also correspond to a significant loss of life years.

According to a 2021 study in the journal Aging, these include:

  • Prolonged sitting: Loss of 2-4 years
  • High blood pressure: Loss of 4-5 years
  • Being chronically underweight: Loss of 4-8 years
  • Smoking: Loss of 5-7 years
  • Alcohol abuse: Loss of 5-7 years
  • Physical inactivity: Loss of 5-7 years
  • Type 2 diabetes: Loss of 7-10 years

By having several co-occurring risk factors, you compound the risk. For example, inactive people with diabetes and obesity have anywhere from an 8- to 13-year loss of life.


Get Health Screenings and Tests

Keeping on top of your health is key to ensuring your optimal life expectancy. This means seeing your healthcare provider at least once yearly for a comprehensive physical exam and evaluation.

If you have one or more chronic medical conditions, you may need to see our provider more often or see other specialists to ensure your medications are working and the goals of treatment are being met.

In addition, you need to get your recommended vaccines, including annual ones like the flu and COVID shots and scheduled ones like the shingles and meningococcal vaccines.

Routine screenings are needed based on your age and sex. This may include mammograms, colonoscopies, Pap smears, and STI screenings.

By preventing diseases or treating them during the early stages, you will be better assured of uninterrupted good health over the long term.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, PhD, FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.