What is the secret to a longer life? Is it just luck? Is it down to our genes? Or do we need to find the mysterious Fountain of Youth? Well, according to a new study published in Circulation, the answer is actually rather simple, as making five healthy lifestyle choices could add more than a decade to your life.
Once you hit the age of 50, the five lifestyle factors can extend a woman’s life by 14 years, and a man’s by 12 years. So, what are they?
The healthy habits are rather obvious, but the effect they can have on your longevity is pretty astounding. They are eating a healthy diet, not smoking, regularly exercising, maintaining a healthy body weight, and only drinking moderate amounts of alcohol.
A healthy body weight was defined as a BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 and regular exercise was described as 30 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous activity a day, which includes brisk walking. Moderate alcohol consumption was defined as 5-15 grams per day for women and 5-30 grams a day for men.
Although the list certainly won’t come as a surprise, a huge number of people do not adhere to these lifestyle choices, and it's impacting how long they live. In fact, the authors of the new study point out that “Americans have a shorter life expectancy compared with residents of almost all other high-income countries.”
Average life expectancy in the US is currently 79 years, which isn’t great for such a wealthy nation. In Japan, for example, it is 84 years. What’s more, the authors point out that the US healthcare system focuses a lot on disease management and discovering new drugs and doesn’t pay enough attention to actually preventing disease. Diseases related to an unhealthy lifestyle, like heart attacks and stroke, are some of the country’s biggest killers, and shockingly someone dies of heart disease every 38 seconds.
It may seem ridiculously obvious, but improving our lifestyles could help buck this trend. To come to their conclusion, the researchers looked at over 100,000 participants in the Nurse’s Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-up Study. They combined their data with results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A follow-up was conducted 34 years later for women and 27 years later for men, and the researchers found that a total of 42,167 of the participants had died by this point. Close to 14,000 of the deaths were the result of cancer, while 10,689 were due to cardiovascular disease. The researchers found that following all five of the healthy lifestyle choices was a significant predictor of a longer life, decreasing the likelihood of death by a massive 74 percent. Meanwhile, the five tricks decreased risk of death related to cardiovascular disease and cancer by 82 percent and 65 percent respectively.
While things out of our control like genetics and the environment can also increase our risk of disease, the study does show that small changes to our lifestyles can make a huge difference to our lives.