What You Can Do to live long and well ( By TIME - Jun. 13. 2004 )

Regular exercise not only helps to maintain flexibility, joint resilience and balance but it also keeps the mind alert and the cardiovascular system healthy. Walking and yoga are particularly good for maintaining fit abdominal muscles. A Canadian study published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports found that participants with weak abs suffered a higher death rate.

Asia's most elderly have suffered extreme stress in their lifetimes―multiple wars, hardship and the loss of loved ones. But many share a positive and easygoing attitude that lets them roll with the punches. A study of female centenarians done at the Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts found they tend to be less neurotic than average, as did a similar study in Japan. Gerontologists report that psychological health is far more important than physical health for maintaining well-being in later life.

Dimming the lights and putting on some mood music might have more benefits than simple stress reduction. A 1997 study published in the British Medical Journal tracked 918 men aged 45 to 59 for a decade and found that those who ejaculated less than once a month were twice as likely to die during the study period than men who had orgasms at least twice a week.

Increased sexual activity, however, does not mean that swinging singles have any advantage over their coupled counterparts. A 1996 report by the RAND Center for the Study of Aging confirms that married men live longer than confirmed singles. Gerontologists suspect that better nutrition, attentive care during illnesses and the stress-reducing benefits afforded by a steady home life are possible factors. Professor Jean Woo, head of Hong Kong's Sau Po Center on Aging, says stimulating companionship in old age is an additional indicator of longevity.

Mature couples may hesitate to have children, citing studies that link older mothers with an increased risk of birth defects. But a recent study in the British journal Nature found that women who begin childbearing in their 30s or 40s tend to live longer than average. An earlier Harvard study suggests centenarians are four times more likely than average to have had their first child while in their 40s.

Shut-eye is essential for repairing daily cell damage, which over time could lead to cancer and breakdown of organ function. A recent survey by the American Cancer Society found that participants who slept an average of seven hours a day had the lowest mortality rates. Too much sleep, however, might be worse than not enough: nine hours per night was more risky than four. David Phillips, associate director of the Asia Pacific Institute of Aging Studies, points out that excess sleep can lead to depression, sloth and mental inactivity―proven impediments to long life.

After good genes, smart eating habits might be the single most important longevity factor. The standard platitudes apply: fruits, vegetables and unprocessed carbohydrates such as rice should make up most of your diet; protein should come mostly from fish or legumes (lentils, chick peas or soy beans); and go easy on the red meat. Moderate consumption of alcohol is O.K. A long-term study by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center shows that daily consumption of a glass of wine, beer or any other kind of alcohol can significantly reduce the risk of coronary disease and heart attack.

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