Take A Break From Work: +2 Years
All work and no play makes .... well, you know how the saying goes.
It doesn't matter if your escape from work is as simple as starting up a new hobby in your spare time or as grand as taking more vacations. Either has great benefits for your health and your longevity.
Hobbies, whether it's knitting, gardening, woodworking, scrap-booking, coin collecting or photography, helps cut down on stress levels and brings a sense of accomplishment. The effect of hobbies is especially important after retiring, notes psychologist Michael Brickey, author of the anti-aging book "Defy Aging."
Vacations provide a similar benefit. According to the Framingham Heart Study, women who took vacations every six years or less were eight times more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack than those who vacationed twice a year.
Another study of men showed that those who didn't take at least one vacation were 21 percent more likely to die -- and 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack.
Flex Your Brain: +2 Years
Studies have shown that 20 percent of the U.S. population over the age or 85 suffers from some form of dementia. You have a better chance of avoiding falling into this statistic by using mental exercises to keep your brain cells active and more efficient as you age.
Experts suggest that lifelong learning combined with other healthy-lifestyle habits can prolong your life by at least two years. Dr. Gary Small, author of "The Longevity Bible" and chief of UCLA's Memory and Aging Research Center, says that just one mental boost can translate to a 7 percent gain in mental sharpness. And the more you do, the higher the percentage, Small said.
The key is to pick up a book more often, take up crosswords and play brain teasers. Such actions can lower your risk for Alzheimer's by nearly a third.
You'll also find that mental exercises can also improve your brain's speed and memory today. Fun games that rely on logic, word skills, math and more provide great benefit even if you play them a few minutes each day.
Snack Smarter: +2 to 6 Years
Everybody loves a snack now and then. The right snack can help you get through your day and also provide great health benefits if chosen wisely.
According to research in the British Medical Journal, a daily handful of dark chocolate and almonds, plus fruits, vegetables, and even a glass of wine, can increase a woman's lifespan by 4.8 years and a man's by 6.6 years. The foods are rich in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, fiber and other nutrients that can lower your heart disease risk by 76 percent.
The age gains also come from a 22-percent drop in breast-cancer risk linked to consuming less fat and fewer calories as you eat more fruit, veggies and whole grains.
When it comes to veggies, raw is the key word because cooking can deplete up to 30 percent of the antioxidants in vegetables. Italian researchers found that eating as little as 1 cup of raw vegetables daily can add two years to your life.
And when you're looking for something to wash those snacks down, remember that regular intake of caffeine, which puts more stress on your heart and body, can cut your life expectancy by six months.