So far, in our quest for longevity and good health, we’ve discussed conventional solutions like eating a healthy diet and doing the right amount of the core kinds of exercise. However, unconventional and somewhat strange tricks can also increase your health. Here are four weird tricks to extend life:
1. Eat hot peppers
If you’re a fan of spicy foods, you’re in luck! Research suggests eating hot peppers (chilis) may help extend your life. Capsaicin, the compound responsible for the spicy heat in peppers, has been found to have anti-inflammatory effects that can help protect against diseases such as cancer and heart disease. A meta-study that covered the USA, China, Italy, and Iran found that people who ate hot chili peppers weekly had a 13% reduction in premature death compared with those eating them less than weekly. For comparison, that’s about the same reduction as eating three servings of vegetables daily. (Although, your mother would want you to eat the chilis *and* eat your vegetables for more benefit.) Increasing the weekly amount further didn’t appear to provide additional protection.1
This reduction in mortality included reduced cardiovascular disease and reduced cancer. In the Italian study, they tried to identify the causes of improved cardiovascular health from chilis. Despite looking at a wide variety of biomarkers (lipids, renal function, inflammatory markers, etc.), they could only attribute about a tenth of the benefit chilis (half to lipid changes and half to serum vitamin D improvements).2
Sweet bell peppers were not found to provide the same health benefits, so hot chilis make the difference. Tolerance for the heat can be trained, even in a few weeks.3 Start with milder chilis, and use dairy products like cheese or milk to help cut the heat — water doesn’t help.
On the other hand, if hot spicy isn’t for you, the Iran study also showed extended life benefits from turmeric, saffron, and black pepper (although cinnamon did not show a benefit).4
2. Take care of your teeth
Believe it or not, good dental care can also help extend your life. Poor oral health is linked to an increased risk of heart disease5, stroke6, and dementia.7 In 2011, the Journal of Aging Research published a study on the benefits of daily tooth brushing, flossing, and annual dentist appointments. Brushing your teeth reduced premature death by 26%, but interestingly, only for night brushing — morning or afternoon brushing did not affect longevity. This may be due to the overnight reduction in saliva, which can be a boon to bacteria.
Daily flossing reduced premature death by an additional 24%, and seeing the dentist at least once a year gave the largest life extension with a 32% premature death reduction. However, using mouthwash was not found to affect longevity.8
In case you were wondering, flossing your teeth before brushing is better. Flossing first reduces plaque between the teeth by over a quarter more than brushing first, thanks to the loosening of the bacteria and plaque and residue between the teeth.9
3. Take glucosamine
Glucosamine, a supplement commonly used to support joint health, also has benefits for longevity. One study of nearly half a million people in the UK found that glucosamine use was associated with a 15% lower risk of premature death. In addition, it reduced the chance of cardiovascular issues and cancer and was most effective against respiratory and digestive problems, reducing mortality from those by about 25%.10 While the mechanisms behind these benefits are still being studied, it’s thought that glucosamine may help reduce inflammation and support the immune system.
Although glucosamine is often sold along with chondroitin in the same tablet, adding it doesn’t seem to increase the benefit, so it may be best to take the glucosamine alone.11
4. Go to the sauna
The people of Finland have a strong sauna culture, and a 2015 study on the association between sauna bathing and mortality showed a significant correlation between sauna time and longer life. The study followed about 2,300 middle-aged men from Eastern Finland for over 20 years. Men going to the sauna 4-7 times a week had a 40% reduction in premature death, especially from cardiovascular disease, compared with men going only once a week.12 Why didn’t they compare with people who went less than once a week? Not enough data! Of the over two thousand Finns who responded, only twelve used the sauna less than once a week.
A randomized, controlled, 8-week trial of sedentary people (including women) doing exercise or exercise plus sauna found that using a sauna improved cardiorespiratory fitness by 40% compared with exercise alone, reduced systolic blood pressure by eight mmHg, and reduced total cholesterol by nearly 20 mg/dL.13
The Bottom Line
While these four tricks may seem unconventional, they are backed by scientific research and may be worth trying if you want to extend your life. Of course, it’s important to remember that there’s no one magic solution for longevity, and the best approach is to maintain a healthy lifestyle overall. However, adding hot peppers, dental care, glucosamine, or saunas to your weekly routine can give you an extra boost toward a longer, healthier life.