Longevity and mental health are more linked than you might realize. “Our bodies and minds are not separate, so it’s really no surprise that our mental health and our physical health are closely connected, especially when it comes to aging,” Regina Koepp, a board-certified clinical psychologist and the founder of the Center for Mental Health and Aging, tells Yahoo Life.
Her advice: Focus on improving your mental health and longevity, while also working on your physical health. “Maintaining your mental health is actually the key to living a long and fulfilled and healthy life,” she says. Working on your mental health is easier than you might think, if, as Koepp recommends, you can incorporate these simple steps into your life.
1. Practice purpose-based activities.
Purpose-based activities like volunteering, engaging in a hobby or doing spiritual practice can help foster good mental health. Why? They lower your stress levels, which decreases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, heart attacks and depression, Koepp says. Koepp says this is one of her “favorite tips” for enhancing mental health, because almost everyone can do it.
2. Move regularly.
“People who lead a physically active lifestyle have a lower risk of heart disease and cognitive decline,” Koepp says, noting that “Stretching is not enough.” She suggests striving to do the recommended 30 minutes daily of moderate activity five days a week, along with strength-based activities like lifting weights two days a week. This, Koepp explains, increases the production of the feel-good hormones serotonin and endorphins, and decreases your risk for depression. Just check in with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen to see if it’s a good fit for you.
3. Fuel up with healthy foods.
A diet that mainly focuses on plant-based foods is key, but Koepp specifically recommends eating foods that are high in fiber, along with plenty of “key foods,” like legumes, spinach, blueberries and nuts.
Eating a healthy diet “can improve blood pressure [and] cholesterol, and decrease the risk for diabetes, stroke, vascular disease and depression,” Koepp says.
4. Get good, regular sleep.
“Getting good sleep is related to good brain health and physical health, especially as we age,” Koepp says. Current recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are that most adults should aim to get seven or more hours of sleep a night.
Koepp recommends that you try to create a good bedtime routine to optimize your sleep, including avoiding screen time for at least an hour before bed, keeping your room dark and keeping your room cool. “What’s really important is to go to bed around the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning,” she says. “That will actually give you the best results with your sleep schedule.”
5. Have a healthy attitude toward aging.
There are a lot of negative stereotypes about aging, and Koepp says they can be harmful to your health. “Studies have found that people who have a more positive view of aging live seven and a half years longer than those with a negative view of aging,” she says. “This means if you’re catching yourself engaging in negative stereotypes about aging, then simply change the narrative [and] counter the stereotype with something else.”
Her advice: Try to stop making negative statements about yourself and linking it to aging — like saying that your left hip is hurting “because I’m getting old.” Remind yourself that your right hip doesn’t hurt and is just as old. “Change the narrative,” she advises.
Focusing on the positive will increase self-esteem while lowering anxiety and stress, Koepp says.