Let’s say you are not in favor of pills (like me), you are a teetotaler (like me) and you do not have control over your calorie intake. Despite that, you could still be healthy and also live longer. Here are three simple tips to age gracefully and bring greater fulfillment to your life:

Dr. Ram Rao is an Associate Professor at the Buck Institute.

Dr. Ram Rao is an Associate Professor at the Buck Institute. (IJ Photo/Frankie Frost)

Smiling and Longevity: I came across an interesting scientific study that found a connection between smiling and longevity. People who are contented are not only healthier but they may also live longer. One visible way of showing that you are happy and contented is through a SMILE. Smiles can be warm, beautiful, welcoming, cute, innocent, charming or heart melting. A smile of any kind has the same positive effect: it brightens up the people surrounding the smiling person. Smile and notice that the people around smile with you. Having a smile on the face not only reveals the radiance of the person smiling but it also makes the individual a pleasurable person to be around. A person with a smile not only mitigates the suffering around but also boosts up someone else’s existence, even if it is for a fleeting moment. People tend to trust and cooperate more with individuals who sport a smile.

Several scientific studies suggest that people who smile a lot are not only happy and contented, they are also more stable, happier in their marriages, have better cognitive skills and interpersonal skills. And now there’s an additional benefit that comes with a smile: it adds years to your life. A study by researchers at Wayne State University concludes that a smile has an impact on aging and life expectancy. The wider you grin and the deeper you smile, the more likely you are to have a healthy aging and longer existence. Smiling helps to boost the immune system, which provides resistance from many diseases. Smiling also relieves stress, lowers blood pressure, triggers the release of endogenous pain killers and changes the mood attitude for the better, all of which help in graceful aging. So keep smiling as much as you can, even if you are not on camera!

Activity and Longevity: Prolonged sitting (> three hours), sleeping for extended periods of time, watching long hours of TV or simply idling away the time are the most common activities performed by indolent individuals and are now thought to be responsible for decreasing life expectancy in the United States. That puts these activities up there with smoking as a possible barrier to increasing life expectancy. Data gathered from 33 countries indicate that sedentary lifestyle accounts for six percent of all cases of coronary heart disease, about 7 percent of type 2 diabetes and 10 percent of breast and colon cancers. Findings from a recent study showed that individuals who sat for more than 8 hours daily had decreased longevity than those who sat for four hours or less daily.

Health experts are unanimous in their opinion that an adult requires at least 30 minutes/day of physical activity to stay fit while children require at least 60 minutes of playtime. Excessive time spent in sedentary behavior is not only having an impact on public health but also has effects on the life span of the individual. Those who maintain a reasonable amount of activity, particularly across the middle and later years, are twice as likely to avoid early death and serious illness. The US Center for Disease for Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following that constitutes physical activity: walking stairs (instead of taking the elevator), gardening, raking leaves, dancing, walking to different stores in the mall while shopping, carrying a grocery basket rather than pushing a cart (when applicable) and parking in the farthest parking spot. People of all ages benefit from performing some or all of the above mentioned physical activities as it influences health and longevity.

Selfless service and Longevity: Selfless service requires that an individual performs any service without any attachment or expectation and remain unaffected by the results of such service. Selfless service requires cultivation of two qualities: non-attachment and a loving attitude to do selfless service. An individual rendering selfless service gets rid of all egoistic tendencies while offering such a service and puts the well-being of others as a top priority ahead of his/her personal gain or achievement. People who are totally involved in selfless service are often heard saying that the more they serve selflessly, the more true happiness they receive.

According to a recent research study one of the benefits from performing selfless service is extended longevity. People who volunteer their service without any expectation may live longer than those who don’t, as long as their reasons for volunteering are to help others rather than themselves. The participants who volunteered only for compassionate reasons not only achieved the most health benefits but also lived longer compared to non-volunteers and the ones who volunteered purely for personal gain or self growth. Selfless service reduces stress, increases morale and boosts self confidence all of which trigger the release of certain “feel-good”chemicals that reduces pain, improves overall physical and mental health and adds those extra years to life.

Putting together these three simple tips, get off the couch, sport a smile, walk to the nearest institution and perform a selfless act. Interested in knowing additional simple steps to age gracefully? Contact Ram Rao.

Dr. Ram Rao is an Associate Research Professor at the Buck Institute. For more interesting articles by Dr. Rao on healthy aging, check out the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog.