How to Increase Your Lifespan—and Health Span

Do you want to spend your golden years disabled, increasingly frail, and a burden to your family? Of course not. No one does. At 58 years of age, I can tell you that I want to continue to live this very active, joy-filled lifestyle for many years to come!

So the critical question is, how do you do the very best you can to live not only a long life, but one filled with vigor and passion? Well, I want you to know that you actually have more control over the length of your life, and how much of that life you spend sick, than you might think. In fact, scientists have estimated that only about 50% of your genetic makeup has a hand in your lifespan.7

Looking at people who are over 100 years old and still vital, independent, and sharp, researchers are figuring out how we can increase our chances of living to a ripe and vibrant old age. Here are five of the most recently identified factors that directly or indirectly influence our health and longevity.

1. The Adaptive Stress Response

Whether stress kills us or makes us stronger is a matter of degree. Serious, long-term stress (such as being trapped in an abusive relationship), as well as shorter-term stress of extreme severity (such as experiencing a near-fatal crash), are both risk factors for illness, accelerated aging, and a shorter life.

But periodic doses of moderate, controllable stress, such as fasting one or two days per week, or moderate exercise at least four to five days a week, actually entrains the cells, and the body as a whole, to not only deal better with stress but also to become physically and emotionally stronger and more resilient because of it. The result is a healthier and longer life. This is one reason I’m a fan of regular fasting and exercising.1,2

2. Diet Patterns

In recent years, researchers have studied communities around the globe in which people routinely live past their 100th birthday while remaining free of chronic and debilitating age-related diseases.3,4

While these far-flung groups differ in many ways, aspects of their diet tie them together: They’re centered around fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and whole grains, and include little, if any, unhealthy fats. As such, they’re inherently richer in nutrients and lower in calories than is typical in the developed world.

In addition to the benefits of nutrient richness, their lower calorie count provides two extra effects: 1) It’s a mild form of calorie restriction—a well-documented strategy to increase lifespan in animals and a stimulator of the Adaptive Stress Response, and 2) It prevents weight gain, especially in the belly. Visceral (abdominal) fat is a known cause of chronic, disease-causing inflammation.

3. Polyphenols

Diets rich in fruits and vegetables are consistently associated with longer and healthier lives. It’s partly because of the Adaptive Stress Response the plants undergo before the fruits and vegetables are harvested.

When plants are stressed, whether it’s by bugs, nibbling rabbits, inclement weather, or encroaching weeds, they defend themselves by synthesizing phytochemicals such as polyphenols, flavonoids, and others, which impart a bitter taste or an astringent mouth feel, or “poison” the soil so encroaching weeds will back off. Then, when we eat the produce, we “steal” their Adaptive Stress Response. Across the board, the studied centenarians’ diets are extremely rich in these defensive phytochemicals.1

The polyphenols known to initiate the Adaptive Stress Response are especially found in the skins of and products made from dark fruits and vegetables, as well as certain teas (especially green tea). All of these contain life-enhancing polyphenols called trans-resveratrol, anthocyanins, and catechins.

4. Mitochondrial Fitness

Mitochondria are tiny, cigar-shaped power generators inside each of our cells. After our food is digested, its glucose enters the cells and mitochondria then convert it into energy the body can use.

If we live a physically active lifestyle, which burns more energy, we have more mitochondria in our cells, and our mitochondria operate at peak efficiency. This is called mitochondrial fitness, an important factor associated with healthy aging.5

5. A Positive Attitude and a Strong Faith

Our minds are extraordinarily powerful with regard to how we live and how long we will live. I’m reminded of the famous Abraham Lincoln quote: “Folks are usually about as happy as they make their minds up to be.” I would add to that, folks are typically as heathy and vigorous as they make up their minds to be. If you chose to be and act old, stressed, fearful, and depressed, you can be assured that rapid aging will be a self-fulfilling prophecy and you will age quickly. Scientists have long understood the deep connections between our minds and bodies, and that prolonged negative feelings and thoughts are linked to disease susceptibility and aging through changes to our bodies, and particularly increases in stress hormones, blood pressure, energy metabolism, and inflammation.

In a recent survey, faith and spirituality were cited most often by people over the age of 100 as the source of their longevity. For me, my deep spiritual faith that I have a loving God who acts as a perfect Father and accompanies me through life even under the most difficult circumstances, allows me to live with joy and confidence. I find it fascinating that the phrases “do not be afraid” or “fear not” appear over 80 times in the Bible. Do you think God is trying to tell us something? Clearly, God anticipated our natural tendency toward fear, our bent to hold on to the familiar. I realize undoing this grip is hard for many of us, especially when we are inundated with messages in the media, in advertising, and even in everyday conversations that heighten our level of fear to an unhealthy and destructive degree. But I can assure you that faith in God, yourself, and the future are keys to joyful living and healthy aging.

Putting It All Together

So what does this all mean for you? The concept is simple, but not many people want to do it…

Eat a nutrient-rich, lower-calorie Mediterranean-style diet. Induce your Adaptive Stress Response through exercise and fasting. And most of all, live life with a positive attitude, without fear and with great faith!

These are sensible and strongly science-backed ways to live a healthier and longer life. And this is what good planning for those “golden years” looks like.

Remember, my promise to you is that I will always provide you with accurate information, based on the latest science. I look forward to helping you live your best life.


  1. Davinelli S, et al. Immunity & Ageing. 2012 Apr;9:9.
  2. Cornelius C, et al. Immunity & Ageing. 2013 Apr;10(1):15.
  3. Panagiotakos D, et al. Cardiol Res Pract. 2011 Feb;2011:679187.
  4. Buettner D. The Blue Zones. 2012 Nov; National Geographic Society.
  5. Van Leeuwen N, et al. Age. 2014 Jun;36(3):9629.
  6. Verburgh K. Aging Cell. 2015 Feb;14(1):17-24.
  7. Deelen J, et al. Bioessays. 2013 Apr;35(4):386-96.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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