Living longer has a lot more to do with your own behavior than luck or good genes, research shows.
The Danish Twin Studies established that less than 20 percent of how long the average person lives is dictated by genes. In other words, most of how long and how well you live is up to you.
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As part of the special "Early Show Saturday Edition" broadcast "Secrets for a Longer Life," Health magazine Senior Editor Frances Largeman-Roth pointed to seven "quick fixes" that could significantly add to your longevity.
Get a Hobby = 2 years
It doesn't matter what you do - knitting, gardening, bird watching, or scrap-booking - having a hobby helps reduce stress and gives you a sense of accomplishment. The effect of hobbies is especially important when we retire from the workforce. (Source: Psychologist Michael Brickey, author of the book, "Defy Aging")
Take Vacations = 1-2 years
Americans don't take enough vacation! According to the Framingham Heart Study, women who took vacations every six years or less were eight times more likely to develop heart disease or have a heart attack than those who vacationed twice a year.
Another study of men showed that those who didn't take at least one vacation were 21 percent more likely to die - and 32 percent more likely to die of a heart attack. While people in Great Britain average 25 vacation days per year and the French 37 days, the average American worker only takes 14 days of vacation.
Sleep In = 2 years
The average American is short at least an hour of sleep a night. During sleep, the neurons in the brain become less active and undergo repair. Without repair these nerve cells are unable to function properly with the result that people find that they have trouble with memory and concentration.
The National Sleep Foundation's 2008 Sleep in America Poll found that Americans slept an average of six hours and 40 minutes a night, while most people need an average of 7 to 8 hours. Sticking to a regular bedtime and avoiding caffeine abuse will help you get your zzzs.
Floss Those Teeth! = 6.4 years
Only 5-10 percent of Americans are regular flossers. According to studies done at Emory University by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, common gum problems such as gingivitis and periodontitis lead to a 23 to 46 percent higher rate of death. Gum tissues are common sites for inflammation, which can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Flossing your teeth every night removes the bacteria that cause the inflammation.
Have Sex = 3-5 years
Regular sexual activity has been shown to be associated with a 50 percent reduction in deaths from heart attack and other causes according to a study published in the prestigious British Medical Journal. And it may lower your blood pressure (which offers a 2- to 3-year gain), help you sleep better, boost your immunity, and release heart-protective hormones.
And if the sex is part of a happy marriage, census research shows you'll get another 5 years. And it burns about 200 calories, to boot!
Lose the Flab = 3 to 4 years
Shed those extra holiday pounds, and you'll celebrate more holidays. Recent National Cancer Institute research shows that being overweight can increase the risk of death by 20 to 40 percent. Other research links being obese to high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke. The reasons are unclear, but obesity can shave 3 to 4 years off your life, says Robert Butler, MD, president of the nonprofit International Longevity Center-USA, an affiliate of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. This year, get moving before the holidays to fight weight gain.
Play Head Games = 2 years or more
Many experts believe that mental exercises can keep your brain cells active and more efficient as you age. And they say lifelong learning combined with other healthy-lifestyle habits can prolong your life by at least 2 years.
Even one mental boost a week can equal a 7 percent gain in mental sharpness. And the more you do, the greater the percentage, says Gary Small, MD, author of "The Longevity Bible."
Read regularly, toil over a Sudoku grid, or connect a 1,000-piece puzzle to lower your risk for Alzheimer's by nearly a third, adds Small, chief of the University of California, Los Angeles, Memory and Aging Research Center.
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