Though calorie restriction has the best evidence for lengthening life, if you just can't starve yourself here's a sampling of other theories...

Share story

A to-do list for adding years to your life

Though calorie restriction has the best evidence for lengthening life, if you just can’t starve yourself here’s a sampling of other theories and approaches.

Keep your HDL (good) cholesterol levels high: Healthy centenarians had significantly higher than normal levels, Dr. Nir Barzilai of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York reported earlier this year. More recently, he found those levels may be genetically controlled, helping protect centenarians and their offspring from “bad” cholesterol.

Drink red wine and eat peanuts: Small doses of chemicals known as polyphenols — found in red wine, peanuts and some plants, fruits and vegetables — help stimulate an enzyme that allows cells to repair damage, Harvard Medical School scientists said in a recent issue of the journal Nature.

Laugh: There’s no hard data showing a link between humor and longevity, but Thomas Perls, the head of the New England Centenarian Study, notes that female centenarians tend to be funny and gregarious — a key to building the social networks that can help sustain health. Some researchers say handling stress well is a key to a long life.

Push yourself while exercising:

A person’s “peak exercise capacity” was the best indicator of a long life, Stanford University doctors reported last year in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Be born into a long-lived family:

The New England Centenarian study found that at least 50 percent had close relatives or grandparents who also achieved very old age. For example: Male siblings of centenarians have 11 times the chance of other men born around the same time of reaching age 97.

Give birth late in life: The New England Centenarian Study also found that a woman who naturally has a child after age 40 has a four times greater-than-average chance of living to 100. Researchers’ theory: Late childbearing doesn’t “cause” longevity but indicates the woman’s reproductive system — and the rest of her body — is aging more slowly than average.

Have fewer children: That’s the theory of three University of Utah researchers who studied genealogy and death records of 13,987 Utah couples who married in the 1800s. The findings mimic those with other species showing that females who “spend less time investing in reproduction and more time in taking care of themselves” will live longer.

Get less sleep (or maybe more): Don’t fret if you don’t get eight hours of sleep a night. Research published in February’s Archives of General Psychiatry suggests adults live longer if they get six or seven. The report was criticized by sleep experts because subjects self-reported and didn’t report naps, for example. The researchers, at the University of California, San Diego, said more studies were needed.

— Carol M. Ostrom,

Seattle Times staff reporter