When it comes to staying healthy, lifestyle matters. According to Harvard Health Publishing, lifestyle, not genetics, accounts for 70 to 80% of heart disease, and the earlier you adopt a healthier lifestyle, the lower your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Lifestyle plays a profound role in whether you’re diagnosed with other health problems too, such as type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer. So, the ball is in your park! Will you lower your risk through lifestyle?
You might wonder what lifestyle habits are the most beneficial for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems too. A study published in the journal Circulation looked at this issue and came to a surprising conclusion. Adopting five lifestyle habits could extend your lifespan by a full decade or more. What are these health-friendly habits?
Five Habits Lined with Longevity
For the study, researchers perused data from the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, two large studies that included over 120,000 men and women. They looked at their lifestyle habits and compared them to how long the subjects lived. From this data, they found five habits were linked with lifespan extensions of up to 10 years, depending on how many lifestyle habits the subjects adopted. Let’s look at each one.
Maintaining a Healthy Body Mass Index
Body mass index (BMI) is a measure health care professionals use to determine whether a person is overweight or underweight. Although it’s not as reliable of a measure for certain groups like the elderly and athletes, it gives a rough idea of whether a person is carrying too much bodyweight. The results? The study found that subjects who stayed a health BMI had greater odds of longevity than those who let their weight rise to an unhealthy range.
Why is a high BMI a problem? Body fat produces inflammatory chemicals that raise the risk of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. In fact, studies show that being overweight or obese increases the odds of developing 13 types of cancer, accounting for 40% of the cancers diagnosed in the United States.
Staying physically active is another key to longevity. In the study, those who maintained a high level of physical activity had a longevity advantage over those who were more sedentary. You don’t have to run marathons to get the benefits of physical activity. Meeting the recommended guideline of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week or 75 minutes or more intense physical activity weekly is enough to offer benefits.
You don’t have to exercise in 30-minute or more increments either. Boosting physical activity for 10 minutes here and 10 minutes can still add up to 150 minutes per week and benefits for your health. Start by taking two, short brisk walks per day and work up from there. Don’t forget to include strength training in your routine too. Loss of muscle mass due to aging increases the risk of premature death due to frailty.
In the study, not smoking was a life extender too, or you could say smoking is a life shortener. Smoking increases the risk of numerous health problems with the most common being lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the use of tobacco is the number one biggest preventable cause of death. Not starting or taking steps to kick the habit can add extra years to your life. That makes it worth the effort for many people. There are many aids on the market, some prescription-based, that will help you win the battle with nicotine and smoking.
Be Moderate with the Alcohol
Certain forms of alcohol may have some health benefits in moderation, however, this is controversial due to the potential risks associated with alcohol such as a higher risk of liver disease. The study suggests that keeping alcohol intake moderate is the best approach for longevity. For women, that would be around 5 ounces of wine per day, and for men no more than 2 glasses of wine daily. If you don’t drink alcohol now, don’t start, and if you do, keep it to no more than a glass or two of red wine per day.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Although healthy eating can mean a lot of things, so there are no clear guidelines here. However, a number of studies show eating a Mediterranean-style diet has longevity benefits. A Mediterranean diet emphasizes fish, plant-based protein sources, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats from sources like extra-virgin olive oil. Studies show such a diet lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke and mortality as a whole.
How Much Benefit Can You Expect?
If you adopt all five habits, based on the study. You could extend your lifespan an additional 14 years if you’re female and almost 13 years if you’re male. For example, a 50-year-old who didn’t adopt any of the habits, could expect to live another 25.5 years, but a female who adopted all 5 habits could stay around another 43.1 years. That’s substantial!
For men, a 50 year who adopted none of the habits, would live another 25.5 years after 50 while one who followed all five could add another 37.6 years to their life. If you only adopted 2 or 3 of the habits, you would get some benefit but not to the same degree as someone who adopted all of them. So, adopting any of these lifestyle habits will give you an edge, and the more the better.
The Bottom Line
Ten or more extra years is a lot of time. Start now and adopt as many of these healthy lifestyle habits as you can. Lifestyle matters to your future health and longevity.