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Renowned Geriatrician Offers His Top Tips for Aging Well

Want to live a long life? Try laughter!

By Gabrielle DeGroot Redford

Want to live a superlong life? Choose your parents well. Want to be healthy until the day you die? Laugh more, get some sleep, and get a tetanus shot. “Longevity has a strong genetic component, but how healthy you are as you age is largely up to you,” says Harvey Jay Cohen, M.D., director of the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University in North Carolina. “Most of us want to be healthy until the end, not live to 100 and be a decrepit wreck.”

Join a laughter club
Numerous studies have shown that laughter can reduce stress, improve your immune system, even relieve pain. The findings have prompted the proliferation of “laughter clubs” around the globe. Participants, many of them with chronic illnesses, gather together to laugh and do breathing exercises. (Find a club near you at

Turn in early
People 50 or older who get six to nine hours of sleep a night think better than those who get fewer hours, according to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Sleep seems to strengthen the connections between brain cells, helping older adults process information more readily. And researchers at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland found that poor sleepers show signs of premature skin aging, including fine lines, uneven skin tone and reduced elasticity.

Cut out the middle
Your waist circumference is one of the strongest predictors of current and future health, even more than body mass index. In one recent study, even thin women who carried their weight in the abdomen had three times the risk of dying as thin women whose waist sizes were smaller. Opt for screenings over a wellness exam

“A yearly physical per se has not been demonstrated to be all that helpful” in preventing disease, Cohen points out. A better bet: Get specific screenings for heart disease, and breast and colon cancers, as well as vaccines for flu and shingles. “Plus, check to see if your tetanus vaccine is up-to-date,” he adds.

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