The average life expectancy in the U.S. has skyrocketed over the past century — from the high 40s in 1900 to the high 70s today — largely because of improvements in healthcare. But while Americans are living longer, a growing number of seniors are also suffering from cancer, heart disease, and other health conditions.
The reason: Unhealthy habits and lifestyle choices are compromising many American's health. But Roger Landry, M.D., one of the nation's leading preventive medicine specialists, argues that most people can improve their odds of living to celebrate their 100th birthdays by adopting a few simple strategies that have been scientifically proven to boost longevity and lower the risks of developing chronic health conditions.
Editor's Note: Improve Your Memory After Age 50
In his new book, "Live Long, Die Short: A Guide to Authentic Health and Successful Aging," the former Air Force surgeon outlines five steps to aging successfully.
Story continues below video.
"We have in our genetic code [the capacity] to live to be about 120, something like that, but the way we live our lives with stress and all the things that are around us in the environment that threaten us, we don't," Dr. Landry tells Newsmax TV. "But I believe we are learning more and I have no doubt that this understanding of lifestyle as a major determinant will get traction."
Dr. Landry says he is concerned that too many Americans have come to expect old age to be a period of decline and unease.
"Right now the stereotype of aging has been this long period of expensive, humiliating … decline, with a loss of independence; none of us want that," he says. "And we now know [is] lifestyle can make a difference for us. We can live a long period of time and squeeze disease — limit the time that we are sick and impaired."
Dr. Landry's prescription for health includes many tried-and-true recommendations for healthy living, such as eating a nutritious diet and exercising every day — "it's not rocket science," he says. But he adds that the key to living a long and healthy life is to resolve to live an active, engaged life — well into your golden years.
Among his tips for successful aging:
Use it or lose it. "The first one is use it or lose it — whether it's your physical self, mental self, or even your social skills," he says. "To the extent that we use that, is the extent that we keep those things [functioning well]. It's a question of not accepting a barrier — not accepting a stereotype of aging — that says you cannot do things." The key is developing healthy habits for staying active — mentally, physically, and socially.
Make learning lifelong. Many studies have shown challenging the brain by learning new things boosts brain cell growth and sparks new connections that keep the mind active and reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease. "We have discovered now that we can scan brains that we are the architect of our own brains, no matter what your age, and … [when] you challenge the brain with learning new things — however small, however large — we see the brain change, it gets bigger. We're making new connections and the result of that is not only learning new things, [but makes us] less likely to get the symptoms of dementia." He advises developing new hobbies and intellectual pursuits, but also looking for simple ways to engage your mind. "It can be a small thing — eating with the opposite hand, putting on your opposite shoe first, walking a different way to wherever you need to go. Those small things challenge the brain."
Get moving. Studies show that most Americans don't get the recommended 20-30 minutes of moderate daily exercise to stay healthy. Dr. Landry argues this is a primary reason many people suffer with health problems as they grow older. "We're a sedentary society — over 50 percent of us sit more than we stand and we have to move," he says. But exercise doesn't have to involve ours of huffing and puffing at a health club. "I think a lot of people are put off by the fact that they feel that the only way to be physically active is to be a member of some formal gym … or do a fantastic thing like run 10 miles, " he says. "[But] it's just moving, just continuing to move every day."
Stay connected. Maintaining close networks with family, friends, and the community has been shown to boost mental function and longer life in seniors. "It is absolutely critical … [that] we have to stay engaged," he says. "That [means] having a network of friends, being part of a community, and having meaning and purpose."
Lower stress. A growing body of research has linked chronic stress to depression, heart problems, and even dementia. That's why it's important to develop a way to manage the stresses of everyday life, Dr. Landry argues. "Really, you should not let stress [get to you]…because stress is a killer," he says. "It's a toxic environment that we create with our thoughts."
Editor's Note: Improve Your Memory After Age 50
Dr. Landry adds that many Americans are, in fact, discovering that growing older can open an entirely new chapter in life — providing a time to develop new pursuits, make new community connections, and remain healthy and vital.
"80 is the new 50, and 90 is the new 60 — to the extent we realize that we can continue to grow for our entire lives" he suggests. "We need not associate aging with just decline."
© 2015 NewsmaxHealth. All rights reserved.