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Get a jump on your resolution

December 26, 2018

Your New Year’s resolution can be a step toward a lot of things. But can it help you live longer?

Dr. Robert Pignolo, Mayo Clinic’s chairman for the Department of Internal Medicine in the Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, says it can.

Genetic predisposition and biological sex have a hand in determining longevity, but not a weighty one.

“Genetics only account for about 25 percent of the variability in age between identical twins,” Pignolo said. “What that means is that most of it, we can influence — it’s environmental factors like activity and your diet. I think as far as your New Year’s resolution goes, that’s a good message.”

The same factors come up in people and populations: watching one’s weight, eating more plants, getting exercise, and creating a social support network.

“There’s a misconception that how long one lives is only related to whether your parents live to be old,” Pignolo said. “The bulk of what contributes to healthful living is related to environmental factors.”

Here, we asked Pignolo to help come up with some easy New Year’s Resolutions you could make this year.

Watch those calories: Eating in moderation, especially small or medium portions, is a constant among long-lived people. Maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) also helps. There’s a great change for mortality at either extreme of that spectrum, Pignolo said — so being underweight isn’t helpful.

With that said, slightly reducing your daily caloric intake increases health and reduces risk factors for coronary artery diseases, even in people who begin at normal weights, Pignolo said.

“We know from animal studies that if you can reduce caloric intake anywhere from 30 to 60 percent, you have tremendous benefits,” he said. “But that’s a really impractical goal for people. … Anywhere between 10 and 20 percent is probably achievable.”

Eat more greens: Plant-based diets have shown some benefits in studies, Pignolo said. That doesn’t mean you have to go vegan right away, though. In general, people who live long, healthy lives “moderate the non-plant-based foods,” instead of making an extreme dietary change.

Take a walk: Incorporating exercise into your daily routine is healthful, and doesn’t have to mean running to the gym every day, Pignolo said.

Get out of the house: Engaging with people — especially in person — is part of living a long, healthy life, Pignolo said. Involvement, and the social connections people have — church-based, community-based, or interest-based — matter quite a bit.

Consider joining a club, finding another social group, or looking for volunteer gigs (more on that later).

“The opposite is also true,” he added. “A lack of a strong support system and relationships is associated with a mortality risk that’s roughly equivalent to smoking.”

Find your purpose: “There seems to be evidence for purposeful living — a life philosophy,” Pignolo said. Spirituality may be a factor. “If you look across denominations … that seems have a benefit.”

Waking up in the morning and having an agenda is key, Pignolo said. So whether you find a purpose in religion, relationships, caregiving, or some other type of work, having that motivation helps quite a bit.

“People who volunteer do much better, cognitively and otherwise, after retirement,” he said. “That’s just one example.”

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