If you could extend your life by a decade just by changing a handful of habits, would you do it? It seems like a "no-brainer"--of course you would! But as you might expect, the five things that Harvard scientists say will prolong our lives are all things we both probably know already and sometimes neglect to do anyway.
Here is the short list of life-prolonging habits as reported by MarketWatch:[i]
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise 30 minutes or more a day
- Maintain a healthy weight (Specifically, a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9 - you can find yours here.)
- Don't drink too much alcohol (No more than one 5 oz. glass of wine per day for women, and two glasses for men)
- Don't smoke (ever)
On paper, this seems easy enough, and most of us probably adhere to these guidelines most of the time or at least some of the time. There is a valid argument for the idea of balance and moderation, living our most enjoyable lives while keeping an eye on the five points above. But science seems to be telling us that in order to live the longest life possible, we need to do a better job following them. Look no further than the New Year's Resolution, with its 9% success rate.[ii]
Generally, negative motivations are inadequate to affect change. ("I need to quit smoking because my spouse hates it.") Motivation needs to come from within and be positively oriented. ("I want to quit smoking so I see my grandchildren graduate.")
Goals must be specific, measurable, realistic, and time-related. In other words, "I am going to exercise more" is not enough. You need to set a more defined goal, such as, "I am going to walk 30 minutes a day, five days a week."
Permanent Change is Evolutionary, not Revolutionary
As a rule, individuals travel through stages on their way to permanent change. These stages can't be rushed or skipped.
Phase one: Precontemplation. Whether through lack of knowledge or because of past failures, you are not consciously thinking about any change.
Phase two: Contemplation. You are considering change, but aren't yet committed to it. To help move through this phase, it may be useful to write out the pros and cons of changing your behavior. Examine the barriers to change. Not enough time to exercise? How could you create that time?
Phase three: Preparation. You're at the point of believing change is necessary and you can succeed. When making plans, it's critical to begin anticipating potential obstacles. How will you address temptations that test your resolve? For instance, how will you decline a colleague's lunch invitation to that greasy spoon restaurant?
Phase four: Taking action. This is the start of change. Practice your alternative strategies to avoid temptation. Remind yourself daily of your motivation; write it down if necessary. Get support from family and friends.
Phase five: Maintenance. You've been faithful to your new behavior. Now it's time to prevent relapse and integrate this change into your life.
Remember, this process is not a straight line. You may fail, even repeatedly, but don't let failure discourage you. Reflect on why you failed and apply that knowledge to your efforts going forward.