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These 5 Healthy Lifestyle Habits Could Add 14 Years To Your Life

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5/4/18

You’re probably already aware that avoiding smoking, not drinking excessively, eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, and maintaining a healthy weight all contribute to a healthier lifestyle. However, new research from Harvard University, published this week in the journal Circulation, suggests these five healthy habits may be able to add more than a decade to your life.

Here are the five healthy lifestyle factors researched in this study:

  • Following a healthy diet;
  • Performing moderate to vigorous exercise of at least 30 minutes a day;
  • Having a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9;
  • Not smoking;
  • Consuming alcohol in moderation

The Harvard researchers analyzing data on 78,865 women who participated in the Nurses' Health Study in 1976 and 44,354 men who took part in the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study in 1980. The women were followed for 34 years and the men for 27. All deaths among the participants were recorded. The researchers analyzed the data to determine if people with healthy habits lived longer than people without adopting healthy habits.

After accounting for factors such as age, ethnicity, multivitamin use and family history of diabetes, cancer, or heart attack, the researchers saw a strong correlation between the lifestyle choices people made and their chances of being alive in 2014. By 2014, 42,167 of these men and women had died, including 10,689 who died of cardiovascular disease and 13,953 who died of cancer.

The study found that women who followed all five healthy lifestyle factors prolonged their life expectancy at age 50 from 29 to 43.1 years (from age 79 to age 93) with an average of 14 years compared to women who followed none of these factors. For men who maintained all five healthy habits, their life expectancy at age 50 increased from 25.5 to 37.6 years (from age 75 to age 87) - 12 years longer than their male peers who adopted zero of the healthy habits.

The biggest benefits were shown by those who adhered to all five factors. But following any one of these factors was associated with extended life. The greater number of healthy lifestyle factors people followed, the longer they lived.

For instance, while women at age 50 with five healthy habits could expect to live to around 93 on average, those with four healthy habits could expect to live to 89, those with three to age 87, those with two to age 84, and those with one to age 82.

For men, those at age 50 with five healthy habits could expect to live to around 87 on average. Men with four healthy habits could expect to live to 85, those with three to age 82, those with two to age 80, and those with one to age 78.

Men and women having all five low-risk factors were 74% less likely to die during the study period than their peers who adopted none of the low-risk lifestyle factors. Additionally, the researchers found those adhering to all five factors were 65% less likely to die of cancer and 82% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.

Interestingly, just 8% of these American adult participants were meeting all five criteria for a healthy life as of 2006 which has been decreasing over the last three decades, the authors noted. They believe this decrease is a result of increasing obesity rates. The researchers concluded, three fourths of premature deaths due to cardiovascular disease and half of premature cancer deaths in the United States could be attributed to not maintaining a low-risk lifestyle.

"Prevention should be a top priority for national health policy, and preventive care should be an indispensable part of the healthcare system," the researchers added.

The study points out that although the United States is one of the wealthiest countries in the world, Americans have a shorter life expectancy than almost every other high-income country, ranking 31st as of 2015. Rather than focusing on prevention the US healthcare system focuses more on new drugs and treatment of disease.

Here's a detailed look at each of the five factors:

Healthy eating

A healthy diet was defined as one that scored in the top 40% based on the Alternate Healthy Eating Index. For this index, higher scores went to those who consume more vegetables, fruit, nuts, whole grains, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 and consumed less processed meats, sugary beverages, trans fat, and sodium.

Exercise

The healthy exercise factor was defined as performing moderate to vigorous exercise of at least 30 minutes a day. Participants who met this goal were 56% less likely to die of any cause during the study when compared to participants who got zero exercise. Additionally, their chances of cancer death were 45% lower and their chances of cardiovascular disease death were 61% lower.

Healthy weight

The healthy weight factor was defined as having a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. Those with a BMI of 30 to 34.9 had a 20% greater chance of death from any cause than those in the healthy BMI range. For BMIs of 35 or greater the chance of death from any cause rose to over 60%. Cardiovascular deaths for these higher BMI ranges were even greater.

Smoking

The healthy lifestyle factor for smoking was defined as participants that never smoked. Not surprisingly, the more a participant smoked the great chance of premature death. Participants who reported smoking at least 25 cigarettes per day were almost three times more likely to die of cancer and cardiovascular disease over the course of this study. Even those who smoked just a few cigarettes each day were twice more likely to die from cardiovascular disease or cancer than those who never smoked.

Moderate drinking

Moderate drinking was defined for women as consuming between 5 and 15 grams of alcohol per day. For men consumption between 5 and 30 grams per day was considered moderate. Men and women who drank more than 30 grams of alcohol daily over the course of this study were 25% more likely than their moderately consuming peers to die from any cause.

Unrelated to this study, another recent study published by BMJ, found that moderate drinkers were three times more likely to experience a decline in mental skills than people who drank no alcohol at all.

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