8 Habits That Could Extend Your Life 24 Years
If you want to live a long life, health experts say maintaining healthy eating habits and staying physically active can go a long way in fulfilling this goal. Lending support to the experts are previously published studies that show how a healthy lifestyle can contribute to longevity.
Now, a recent unpublished study revealed that incorporating eight healthy habits into your daily routine could add more than two decades to your life. It turns out that the people who adopt these habits in their 40s, 50s, and 60s can expect to live substantially longer than those who practice few or none of these habits, according to the study presented in July at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition.
“There’s a 20-year period in which you can make these changes, whether you do it gradually or all at once,” Xuan-Mai Nguyen, the study’s lead author, told CNN. “We also did an analysis to see if we eliminated people with type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke, cancer, and the like, does it change the outcome? And it really didn’t. So, if you start off with chronic diseases, making changes does still help.”
The research team examined data from medical records and questionnaires collected between 2011 and 2019 from nearly 720,000 military veterans who were enrolled in the Million Veteran Program, a national research study designed to investigate the health and wellness of U.S. veterans. The veterans were between the ages of 40 and 99. The data also included 33,375 deaths during follow-up.
The investigators discovered that men who practiced all eight habits at age 40 were expected to live an average of 24 years longer than men who practiced none of these habits. It was predicted that women who practiced all eight habits at age 40 would live 22 years longer than women who practiced none of these habits.
“We were really surprised by just how much could be gained with the adoption of one, two, three, or all eight lifestyle factors,” Nguyen, a health science specialist for the Million Veteran Program at the VA Boston Healthcare System, said in a press release. “Our research findings suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for both public health and personal wellness. The earlier, the better, but even if you only make a small change in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, it still is beneficial.”
The study identified eight healthy lifestyle habits that—when adopted by middle age—may extend a person’s lifespan:
- Staying physically active. It’s no surprise that being physically active topped the list of important lifestyle behaviors. Nguyen said that adding exercise produced a 46 percent decrease in the risk of death from any cause when compared with those who did not exercise. “We looked at whether they did light, moderate, or vigorous activity compared to not doing anything and just sitting on the couch,” said Nguyen. “People who lived longer did 7.5 metabolic equivalent hours of exercise a week. Just to give you a baseline, if you can walk up a flight of stairs without losing your breath, that’s four minutes of the 7.5.”
- Avoiding opioid addiction. Staying away from opioid drugs reduces the risk of early death by 38 percent, according to the study. Opioid addiction is such a significant problem that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared it a national public health emergency.
- Avoiding smoking and using other tobacco products. Staying away from tobacco reduces the risk of death by 29 percent. The study did not count former smokers. “We did that to make it as strict as we could,” Nguyen said. Health experts say there are major health benefits when people quit smoking at any point in life.
- Managing Stress. Reducing stress can lower the risk of premature death by 22 percent, according to the study. Health experts say one way to manage stress is to change your perspective and transform bad stress into good stress.
- Eating a plant-based diet. The study found that a plant-based diet increases the chances of longevity by 21 percent. This does not mean that you should become a vegetarian or vegan, Nguyen said. But what is important is adhering to a healthy plant-based plan such as the Mediterranean diet, which has whole grains and leafy green vegetables.
- Avoiding binge drinking. Refraining from binge drinking on a regular basis can lower the risk of death by 19 percent, Nguyen said. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking for males as consuming five or more drinks in about two hours, and for females, four or more drinks in about two hours. In addition, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 1 in 6 adults in the United States binge drinks, with 25 percent doing so at least weekly.
- Having good sleep hygiene. Getting a good night’s sleep decreased premature death from any cause by 18 percent, Nguyen said. Sleep experts say adults need between seven to nine hours of sleep per night. And studies have found that chronic poor sleep can increase the risk of mental and physical health problems.
- Having positive social relationships. Supportive social networks increased lifespan by five percent, the study found. “Five percent may seem small, but that’s still a decrease in terms of all-cause mortality,” Nguyen said. “Every little bit helps, whether you pick physical activity or make sure you’re surrounded by positive social support.”
The study also highlighted the role certain lifestyle factors play in contributing to chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease, which can result in premature death and disability. The findings also show how making healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent chronic diseases and lengthen one’s life.
Furthermore, Nguyen noted that the study only showed an association between longevity and the eight lifestyle habits and did not definitely prove a cause and effect. However, previously published research maintains that a healthy lifestyle can prevent chronic diseases and promote healthy aging.
The research team also noticed that the predicted increase in life expectancy due to the eight healthy lifestyle habits decreased somewhat with age. However, it remained substantial enough to show that establishing healthy behaviors even as you age can still increase your lifespan.
“It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” Nguyen said.