These Simple Lifestyle Swaps Will Help You Live Longer

a clock framing a glass of wine

Getty Images/KCM

Ready to ditch your nightly doom-scrolling?

Trying to keep yourself healthy can feel, at times, like a full-time job. First, you have to stay on top of the latest science around nutrition (red meat is bad for you; wait, actually, no it’s not!), and then you have to pick out an exercise plan (swimming or jogging or maybe even pickleball, but definitely make sure to stretch first), and then you have to take on the all-consuming task of engaging with technology on a daily basis without sacrificing your mental health (and general sanity) in the process. 

Because of all these competing factors, it’s natural that we tend to relent to less healthy (but more immediately enjoyable) habits in our daily lives — things like drinking wine to relax at the end of a long day or scrolling through Facebook before bed. Those habits give you quick hits of pleasure, which can sometimes be more attractive than the longer-term gratification of healthier habits. It doesn’t help that those healthier habits usually seem like huge endeavors or require major lifestyle shifts.

But what if we told you a few simple swaps could make all the difference when it comes to how long you live? What if you stopped worrying about kicking a “bad habit” permanently, and started thinking about making small changes on a daily basis, when the moment arises, without any concern about whether or not the “good habit” will stick? Doesn’t that all sound much more doable?

Katie Couric Media spoke with some of the top longevity experts in the world to learn about the easiest ways to swap out old habits in favor of healthier ones. Below, our experts explain what you can do today to increase your chances of a longer, healthier, happier life. 

Instead of your nightly glass of wine…

If you’re one of the millions of Americans who like to unwind after a long day with a glass of Chardonnay, consider swapping it out for a nightly cup of hot tea. 

“It’s a common practice in America to have a heavy dinner with lots of alcohol every night, then to have a strong cup of coffee the next morning to counteract the effects of the previous evening,” says Dilip Jeste, M.D., an American geriatric neuropsychiatrist who studies the process of successful aging. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly a ticket for eternal health. 

You might already know, in some generalized way, that alcohol isn’t great for your health. But what you might not know is all the ways that it can speed up the aging process for your mind and body. 

Unfortunately, alcohol ages your body in so many ways, from reducing your collagen and elastin production (thereby making your skin more wrinkled and dull) to literally accelerating your biological age by shortening the length of your telomeres (long story, but just know this: Telomeres are little DNA sequences that cap the end of your chromosomes, and the longer they are, the better off you’ll be.)

If you want to look, feel, and literally be as biologically youthful as possible, then alcohol should probably be the first part of your daily routine that you scrutinize heavily. And one of the best ways to get rid of an old habit is to swap it out for a new one, right? So get that mug of lemon ginger tea and give it a whirl. (Just make sure the tea is decaffeinated before you take a big gulp before bedtime.)

Instead of doom-scrolling every night…

A century ago, most people would prepare for bed by reading a book or doing their nightly prayers. Now, you have endless options for entertainment available at your literal fingertips, and most of that entertainment comes in the form of a device that radiates blue light into your exhausted eyes. 

“These days, people get ready for bed by watching news or television shows filled with violence, or they engage in stressful activities on their phone, like responding to emails, texting people, or spending time on social media,” Dr. Jeste explains. “These are things to actively avoid before bed.”

Even if you’re participating in an activity that feels pleasurable (like watching a funny video on TikTok, or reading a funny text message from a friend), that doesn’t mean it’s not creating a stress response in your body. Studies have consistently shown the connection between phone usage and increased cortisol levels in humans, which is why it’s not a great idea to stare at your device right before you try to sleep. 

“​​Instead of doing things that stress you out, try thinking about three good things which happened that day,” Dr. Jeste suggests. “This could include moments that made you feel grateful, or acts of service you performed for others.”

If this sounds like a far less ideal activity than watching four episodes of Great British Baking Show in a row, then Dr. Jeste encourages you to give it a try anyway, even if it’s totally out of your comfort zone. “If one makes a conscious effort to do this every evening, it can become one’s second nature,” he explains. “The result is feeling happier and being healthier — and perhaps living longer, too.”

Instead of a complicated workout you won’t stick to anyway…

This is maybe the easiest possible way to add some longevity-boosting behavior into your daily routine: Incorporate a short exercise routine into your day, even for as little as seven minutes. 

“Aerobic activity is one of the strongest accessible interventions that promotes good cognitive function and prevents dementia,” explains Elissa Epel, Ph.D., an American health psychologist and director of the University of California, San Francisco’s Aging, Metabolism, and Emotion Center. “Our own research has shown that just seven minutes a day of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can lead to meaningful reductions in depressive symptoms in just three weeks.”

HIIT exercises incorporate several rounds of movements that alternate between longer instances of (you guessed it) high-intensity exercises, which get your heart pumping and blood flowing, and shorter instances of low-intensity exercises to help you catch your breath. For example, a HIIT exercise might require you to do jumping jacks for a minute straight (high intensity), then do slow squats (lower intensity), then do a jump rope exercise (high intensity again.)

A major benefit of HIIT is, as Dr. Epel mentioned above, how good it is for your mental health (hello endorphins), as well as for your physical health (hello calorie-burning and increased blood flow). But what’s even better about HIIT is that it accomplishes all of these health benefits in a more efficient time frame than your regular exercise routines, like jogging or swimming. 

If you already have a beloved exercise routine, then don’t feel the need to switch to HIIT if you don’t want to. But if you tend to avoid the hassle of working out, then HIIT might be the workout routine for you, since it’s so quick. Oh, and you don’t have to worry about straining your knees, back, or joints in order to do HIIT exercises — there are plenty of low-impact HIIT exercise options out there, too. Here are some examples:

Low-impact HIIT exercises

  • Kettlebell swings
  • Lateral lunges
  • Reverse lunge and forward lunge
  • Alternating toe taps

If all of this just sounds like an absolute headache (and you swore off jumping jacks after high school phys. ed), then Dr. Jeste has another option to consider: Try to walk 1,000 steps after dinner and before bed. It’ll help you digest your food and increase blood flow.

Instead of those highly processed snacks…

Does your favorite snack have about 50 different ingredients, half of which you can’t even pronounce? It might be time to make a change. 

“When it comes to foods that promote longevity, the biggest swap you can make, nutritionally, is to replace highly processed food with whole foods,” Dr. Epel says. “Focus on the rainbow — whole fruits and vegetables. That gives you the range of healthy antioxidants you need for optimal well being.”

Focusing on a whole food-heavy diet is one of the easiest meal plans you’ll ever follow, because all you have to do is prioritize foods that are comprised of a single ingredient, or just a small handful of all-natural ingredients. For example, an apple doesn’t have a long list of ingredients stamped to a sticker. It’s just an apple. 

A helpful exercise might be to write down your daily eating routine (you can go through your fridge and pantry for inspiration), and then circle the snacks and meals that include processed foods. Try to replace those circled items with options that are composed of simple foods. Here are some examples:

Whole food snack ideas

  • apple slices with organic peanut butter
  • Greek yogurt and berries
  • chia pudding
  • orange slices 
  • scrambled eggs
  • sliced vegetables with organic hummus
  • mixed nuts 

Whole food meal ideas

  • arugula salad with grilled chicken, walnuts, cranberries, and other toppings
  • baked salmon with green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes
  • a two-egg omelet with swiss cheese and mushrooms

When it comes to making swaps for healthier habits, keep in mind that you don’t have to do everything at once. Pick one swap from this list to start with, and then once you’ve woven that habit naturally into your life, go for the next one. Take it step by step, and you’ll be a mean, green, life-boosting machine in no time.

Want more wisdom about living your longest life? Catch up on our full longevity series right here, featuring advice on nutrition, fitness, mental health, and more — and subscribe to Wake-Up Call to stay in the loop as our reporting continues.