Maybe there isn't a fountain of youth. But there is a series of simple, scientifically proven habits that can add years to your life, on average.
However, there is also a problem: Many of these habits are things highly successful people often feel forced to set aside.
We don't have time to deal with things that are merely important. We're busy dealing with things that are truly urgent.
It's especially true for entrepreneurs and successful business people (and those who hope to be successful in business). As my colleague Jessica Stillman put it a few years ago, memorably quoting Randi Zuckerberg: "Work, Sleep, Family, Fitness, or Friends: Pick Three."
The fact that you're reading this tells me you're likely going to pick "work" as one of your three choices.
I'm not going to tell you that you need to change your habits. For one thing, I'm an insane workaholic, so it would be the height of hypocrisy.
But on the assumption that perhaps you're in a similar boat, here are the five top health habits science says will extend your life, along with the life reality for extremely busy entrepreneurs, and some good news about what you can do anyway.
(Credit to Christie Aschwanden, whose work inThe Washington Post got me thinking about this.)
1. Get more exercise.
We know that regular exercise can lead to greater longevity: Between 30 and 40 minutes of jogging a day, five days a week, for example, can supposedly help your body mimic the "natural age progression" of someone nine years younger.
- The summary: "The most powerful way to promote longevity and improve your long-term health is also simple and, depending on how you do it, free," as Aschwanden writes.
- The reality: That's a beautiful thought. But honestly, it requires five hours a week or more of dedication. I know a lot of entrepreneurs who simply don't have that time -- and if they do find it, it's time they're going to devote to their families.
- The good news: You don't have to do much. You just have to do something. "Going from sedentary to even just a bit of exercise is where you get the biggest payoffs," as Aschwanden writes, including lower risk of heart disease and diabetes.
2. Get more sleep.
This one makes me laugh, because sleep is always the first thing to go. In fact, you probably know a lot of business people who actually brag about how little sleep they get.
- The summary: "Take someone who needs seven hours of sleep per night and restrict them to only five ... and they experience metabolic changes," Aschwanden writes, citing Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies.
- The reality: Heck, I'm writing this at 1 a.m. because I just don't have time to get around to this until late at night. It sucks, but it's where we are.
- The good news: Your body will more or less let you know when you're getting enough sleep. Mainly, you need to trust yourself and listen.
3. Eat better and drink only in moderation.
When it comes to pure longevity, the dietary strategy that seems to offer the most promise is simply caloric restriction. (Personally: no thanks.) Separately, it won't surprise you to learn that drinking copious amounts of alcohol will negatively impact longevity.
- Summary: "A Mediterranean diet -- with its heart-healthy emphasis on fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, healthy fats like olive oil, whole grains and limited consumption of red meat -- is probably the best approach for improving longevity." Carstensen says.
- Reality: Actually, of the five items on this list, I think this is one of the two easiest to comport with the aggressive, entrepreneurial lifestyle. Mainly, it's because it doesn't take much longer to eat healthily or drink in moderation than it does to be less careful.
- Good news: Personally, I try to limit myself to five liquids: water, coffee, tea, beer and wine. The extra good news is that while we don't understand why, as one researcher puts it: "I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity."
4. Manage stress.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha. No, seriously folks, tip your servers, I'll be here all week.
- Summary: This one makes sense, but the scientific argument requires connecting the dots. In short, "many conditions associated with older age," as Carstensen puts it, "share a common ingredient: inflammation." And stress can lead to inflammation.
- Reality: I mean, you're running a business. You're taking the risk, and carrying it all on your shoulders. By definition it's stressful.
- Good news: Managing stress effectively is likely to make you a better leader, and more successful, regardless of its difficulty.
5. Connect with people and have a purpose.
It's almost too easy: every serious study that talks about happiness and purpose in life comes down to one thing: connecting with other people and creating purpose.
- Summary: "Forging connections with other people has been found to be a powerful way to manage stress and improve your overall well-being," Carstensen writes.
- Reality: I'm going to put this with No. 3 above, meaning it's one of the two healthy lifestyle practices on this list most entrepreneurs seem to to aspire to accomplish.
- Good news: "People who have a strong sense of purpose and meaning in their lives have a markedly lower risk of death than those who don't."