5 Lifestyle Habits May Increase Life Expectancy
Factors Such as Diet, Limited Alcohol Proven to Add 10+ Years
Americans tend to have a shorter life expectancy compared with adults living in other industrialized countries, ranking 31st in the world in 2015 with an average life expectancy of 78.8 years. Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, are the most expensive and most common of all health problems that can lead to premature death, even though these conditions are largely preventable.
Enter an exciting new study that suggests the U.S. can begin to close this gap if more adults commit to five healthy lifestyle habits: eating a healthy diet, not smoking, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling alcohol intake.
The study, published in Circulation, indicates that such habits could prolong your life at age 50 by an average of 14 years for women and 12 years for men, compared with those who didn’t adopt these lifestyle habits. Over the course of about 30 years of follow-up, researchers found that Americans who implemented and maintained these healthy lifestyle habits were 82 percent less likely to die of heart disease and 65 percent less likely to die of cancer, compared with those with less healthy lifestyles. And those who followed the five habits were also 74 percent less likely to die during the study period.
How do these habits play such an important role in promoting longevity? Read on to find out:
1. Eating a healthy diet.
Prioritizing nutritious foods from every food group can provide your body with the fuel it needs to keep you healthy. Various minerals, protein, healthy fats, and other nutrients can also help keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels in check. The American Heart Association recommends a diet rich in fiber; fruits; vegetables; whole grains; low-fat dairy products; poultry; oily fish that is high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, trout, and herring; nuts; and legumes. Limit sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and beverages and foods with added sugars.
2. Not smoking.
No matter how old you are, avoiding cigarettes is a wise choice. And no matter how long you’ve been smoking, quitting can add years to your life, help you breathe more easily, and give you more energy. Quitting smoking also lowers your risk for cancer, heart attack, stroke, and lung disease while helping your blood circulate better. Smoking causes about one out of every five deaths in the U.S. every year. If you want to quit smoking, work with your doctor on a plan to deal with urges to light up.
3. Exercising regularly.
Consistent physical activity is one of the best things you can do to boost your overall health—and it also promotes a longer life. In particular, regular exercise can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke, as well as lower your blood pressure, blood sugar, and improve cholesterol levels. Being physically active also decreases your risk for colon cancer and breast cancer. Furthermore, research shows that exercising for about seven hours each week could give you a 40 percent lower risk of dying earlier than those who are active for less than 30 minutes each week. And the exercise you do doesn’t have to be vigorous—activity of moderate intensity can still help you reap these healthy rewards.
4. Maintaining a healthy weight.
The Circulation study found that a healthy weight significantly reduced participants’ risk for diabetes, cardiovascular risk factors, and breast cancer. So how do you maintain a healthy weight? As you age, your body makeup gradually shifts, so the proportion of muscle decreases while the proportion of fat increases. But weight gain can be prevented through good eating habits and daily exercise. By keeping your weight in a healthy range, you’ll avoid higher risks for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and various forms of cancer. If you are already at a healthy weight, you may still find it helpful to weigh yourself on a regular basis. If you notice a weight gain, ask yourself whether your activity level has changed or if you are eating more than usual and then decide next steps to get your weight back to normal.
5. Consuming alcohol moderately.
Keeping your alcohol intake down to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men can help you live longer. That’s because excessive alcohol use can cause serious health problems over time. For example, drinking too much can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Heavy drinking can also harm the liver, leading to issues such as fibrosis or fatty liver. In addition, alcohol can cause inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas, as well as increase your risk of developing cancers of the mouth, esophagus, throat, liver, and breast. In fact, excessive drinking led to about 88,000 deaths and 2.5 million years of potential life lost each year in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010.
Of course, adhering to even just one of these healthy lifestyle habits could bring more life to your years. But researchers in the Circulation study found that a combination of all five healthy behaviors—which, in large part, go hand-in-hand—was linked with bringing more years to your life.