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.
Stay In Bed Longer: +2 Years
It's a paradox. We all like sleep. We all complain about not getting enough sleep. But then we never seem to get enough sleep.
According to the National Sleep Foundation's 2009 "Sleep in America" poll, the number of Americans who sleep less than six hours a night jumped from 13 percent to 20 percent over the past eight years. And those who reported sleeping eight hours or more a night dropped from 38 percent to 28 percent.
The poll pegged the average nightly amount of sleep for Americans at six hours, 40 minutes on weekdays/workdays, while most people need an average of seven to eight hours.
The importance of sleep cannot be overstated because it allows the neurons in the brain to become less active and undergo repair. Without repair these nerve cells are unable to function properly with the result that people find that they have trouble with memory and concentration.
Sticking to a regular bedtime is one key to getting a good night's sleep, along with exercising regularly and avoiding foods and drinks high in caffeine for at least eight hours prior to bedtime.
The foundation's tips also recommend using your bedroom for only sleep and sex to strengthen the association between bed and sleep. Removing work materials, computers and televisions from the sleep environment will go a long way toward accomplishing this.
Have More Sex: +3 to 8 Years
A few extra winks under the covers isn't the only bedroom activity you can partake in to extend your life. Sex is another key to living a longer and healthier life.
The years you can add to your lifespan by spending more time in the bedroom -- or wherever else you want, we're not the kind to judge -- comes from a combination of several factors.
The British Medical Journal says that regular sexual activity, meaning two to three times a week, can cut your chance of heart disease and stroke in half. Regular sex can also provide a two- to three-year gain by lowering your blood pressure, improving your sleep and boosting your immunity. The fact that it can burn 200 calories doesn't hurt either.
And if said sex comes as part of a happy marriage, census research shows you'll get another five years added onto your tab.
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