7 age-defying lifestyle hacks to help you live longer

Want to add years to your life? Discover the easy, age-defying lifestyle hacks that can help you live longer, healthier and happier.

The hunt for the “fountain of youth” has been going on for centuries but in the past few years, solid research has revealed what genuinely influences your chances of living a longer life.

“Longevity certainly has a genetic component,” longevity and healthy ageing researcher Dr Karen Mather, of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of New South Wales, says.

“So if you have a family history of longevity, you’re already in a good place.”

Closing the gap between lifespan and healthspan

But with science-based “guesstimates” declaring only about 25 per cent of longevity is determined by our genes, it’s clear lifestyle choices play a huge role too.

And that’s good news for all of us, particularly when it comes to extending not just our lifespan but also our healthspan, or the number of years we’re healthy.

It’s an area Dr Mather, a lead researcher on the Sydney Centenarian Study, which explores genetic and environmental determinants of extreme longevity, is particularly interested in.

“I want to live a long and healthy life — not just a long life,” Dr Mather says.

“And statistics show that even though life expectancy has extended dramatically over the last century, there’s still a major gap between lifespan and healthspan.”

The key to closing it is something called “healthy ageing”.

And while it might not be possible to reverse the ageing process (as portrayed by fictional character Benjamin Button) just yet, there are things you can do to add years to your life and improve your healthspan.

Here are some age-defying lifestyle hacks to help you live longer, healthier and happier:

1. Think positively about ageing

Research shows that people who have more positive perceptions about ageing as they grow older tend to live about 7.5 years longer than people who do not.

Plus, they have a lower risk of everything from cancer and diabetes to heart disease, as well as better cognitive function and mental health.

Findings from the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing’s Sydney Centenarian Study show that near centenarians and centenarians had higher levels of life satisfaction compared to younger age groups.

To develop a more positive attitude about ageing, researchers suggest consciously noticing and rejecting negative stereotypes about growing older, staying socially active and trying new activities.

2. Adopt a longevity diet

A 2022 review of studies investigated what diet might help you live longer.

According to co-author Professor Valter Longo, of the University of Southern California, it involves eating lots of legumes, wholegrains and vegetables, some fish, no processed or red meat, minimal chicken, little sugar or refined grains, and a good amount of nuts and olive oil.

Research suggests it might add up to 13 years to your lifespan if you start eating this way at age 20, and more than eight years if you adopt the diet at 60.

Think it sounds a lot like the Mediterranean diet? You’re right.

There’s a reason why two of the world’s five Blue Zones — those geographical regions where people live exceptionally long lives — are in the Mediterranean.

Dr Evangeline Mantzioris, program director of Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of South Australia, says the longevity diet isn’t too different to the Australian dietary guidelines either.

“What’s good for us has always been eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, having wholegrain breads and cereals, considering processed meats as ‘sometimes foods’ and steering clear of ultra-processed foods,” Dr Mantzioris says.

“And a large study, which began in the late 1950s, highlighted the fact that it’s not total fat in the diet that’s important, it’s the type of fat that matters.

“So, a Mediterranean diet containing a significant amount of olive oil is associated with lower rates of heart disease and cancer.”

Recent research also shows that a Mediterranean diet could lower the risk of dementia, which affects significantly more women than men, by almost a quarter.

“I think what we all want is not just a longer life, but as much functionality for as long as possible,” Dr Mantzioris says.

“And following diets like the longevity diet, the Mediterranean diet and the Australian dietary guidelines is one of the best ways of helping to ensure that will happen.”

3. Eat a little less

According to a study published in 2023, when people cut their kilojoule (or energy) intake by a quarter, their ageing pace slowed by about two to three per cent over the two-year research period.

In reality, this translates to a 10 to 15 per cent reduction in death risk — about the same that smokers achieve by quitting.

Other research shows that cutting energy intake by a little more than 10 per cent reduces the risk of heart disease as well as type 2 diabetes, inflammation and some forms of cancer.

4. Stay social

Maintaining social connections not only improves longevity, it helps protect your health too.

A lack of social interaction has been shown to have the same negative effect on lifespan as things such as smoking and high blood pressure.

“Social interactions and participating in social events is really important and I don’t think we necessarily embrace that enough in Australia,” Dr Mather says.

Not so in the Blue Zone of Sardinia, where people remain close with friends and family throughout their lives.

While it’s undoubtedly the food elements of the Mediterranean diet that give Sardinia its healthy status, also key is the diet’s emphasis on eating with family and friends and enjoying longer mealtimes to encourage social connectivity.

5. Exercise regularly

On top of bolstering immunity and slowing brain ageing by up to 10 years, regular exercise also slows your biological ageing clock.

Research shows people who go for a 30- to 40-minute run most days of the week are almost nine years younger, biologically speaking, than people who are less active.

It turns out regular exercisers have significantly longer telomeres, which are the protective caps that play a critical role in maintaining the stability of our chromosomes.

While telomeres tend to shorten naturally as we age, slowing this process is key for healthy ageing, with shorter telomeres linked to a higher risk of various diseases as well as a shorter lifespan.

6. Find your purpose

No matter what your age, research shows feeling like you have a sense of purpose in life may help you live longer.

And the effect may be more pronounced in women.

Need more proof that it’s good for you?

At least two of the Blue Zones value it so highly, they have specific names or special words for it.

“Okinawans (in Japan) call it ‘ikigai’ and in Costa Rica, another Blue Zone, it’s called ‘plan de vida’,” Dr Mather says.

“As well as lower mortality, some research suggests a strong sense of purpose is also associated with better physical and mental health, quality of life and greater life satisfaction.”

So, what is purpose? It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning and gives you a reason for doing and prioritising certain things.

“And it’s likely that this changes across your lifespan,” Dr Mather says.

7. Learn something new

Not only has research linked learning to a longer lifespan, a 2023 study shows that people who took adult education classes during mid and later life had a 19 per cent lower risk of developing dementia within the study’s five-year follow-up period.

“It’s important to learn new things throughout your life,” Dr Mather says.

“It doesn’t have to be formal education — it could be learning to dance, learning a language or just learning something from a YouTube video.”

Read more on healthy ageing:

Written by Karen Fittall.