Maximize your quality of life with the best diet, fitness, and health advice from the past year

By The Editors of Huffington Post Healthy Living
December 24, 2012

We made it to the end of December-and the world didn't end! This seems like an appropriate time to approach the impending new year with reflections on the past 12 months, along with resolutions and hopes for the future.

In years past, we may have chalked that future up to genetics and a dose of good luck. But research now suggests we have much more of a hand in our destiny than previously believed. In fact, a number of straight-forward nutrition, fitness, sleep, and other health tips can help assure you maximize the life in your years.

Here are seven of those things that we learned in 2012.

1. It's never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle. An advanced age is no excuse to give up on healthy habits! A 2012 study showed that exercise, eating right, and avoiding harmful habits such as smoking helped people 75 or older live 5.4 years longer than their less health-conscious peers.

2. Exercise really works. There's nothing new about the fact that exercise helps us live longer. But a recent study did take a closer look at just how powerful regular activity really is: The physically active benefit from several years added to their lives. Black women in particular seem to benefit the most from regular exercise, HuffPost Black Voices reports. The study found that for every additional hour of exercise that a black woman gets, she can gain 11 hours of lifespan.

3. Cook at home. A survey of Taiwan residents over the age of 65 found that those who cooked up to five times a week were 47 percent more likely to still be alive 10 years later. There are some limitations: For example, the least healthy of participants wouldn't be able to cook or perform the errands associated with making meals at home because of their health-but even after controlling for these factors and more, researchers found that something about simply cooking at home more frequently can extend your years.

4. Laugh more. As part of an ongoing study on genes and aging, researchers found this year that certain personality traits seem to be associated with a longer life, including the propensity to laugh-a lot!

5. Look on the bright side. In the above-mentioned study on aging, optimism was also linked to living longer. The 243 subjects over the age of 95 "were outgoing, optimistic, and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up," study researcher Dr. Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research, said in a statement.

6. Supplements can help. Adults in their 60s and 70s were 9 percent less likely to die over a three-year period when they took vitamin D supplements with calcium, compared to the elderly who went without either supplement. A number of other foods and nutrients have also been linked to a longer lifespan, including omega-3s and certain antioxidants.

7. There's no secret to life. Ultimately, there's no magic pill to ensure long life, but daily habits such as exercising, not smoking, following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure, and keeping your cholesterol levels in check go a long way. In fact, you're probably tired of hearing about them. But just a little more than 1 percent of American adults actually abide by these guidelines, according to a 2012 study. People who do meet all the criteria? Well, they enjoy a 51 percent decreased risk of death from any cause.

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