The blueprint for living a longer life has been confirmed in new research out today from Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health and the American Heart Association. The good news is that sticking to just five healthy habits adds between 12 - 14 years to the American lifespan on average, according to the findings of the new study.
Unfortunately, the research doesn't reveal any silver bullet diet tricks or wonder workouts that can add years to your life. Instead, the five healthy habits that lead to extra years on this planet are all things we've heard many times before: eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, drinking alcohol in moderation, and not smoking.
It all sounds very familiar, right? Now we know it's for very good reason.
When the Harvard researchers looked at over three decades worth of data from 78,865 women participating in the Nurses' Health Study and 27 years of data from 44,354 men involved in the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, they found major differences between those who adopted the five healthy living habits and those who did not.
For starters, those that followed the five habits were 74 percent less likely to die during the study period than those that followed none of them.
The researchers also estimated life expectancy at age 50 for people who had adopted none of the healthy lifestyle habits at that point and found they could expect to live another 29 years for women and 25.5 years for men. However, those who adopted all of the habits at age 50 were projected to live another 43.1 years for women and 37.6 years for men. That's an extra 12 years for men who adopt all five habits and 14 years for women who do so.
The habits also seem to have a cumulative effect: that is, the more of them a person adopts, the more years they can expect to add to their lifespan.
To be clear about those habits, they're defined as:
1. Having a healthy diet quality score in the upper 40th percentile
2. Moderate or vigorous exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
3. About a glass of wine per day (apparently two is okay for men, for some reason)
4. A low body mass index between 18.5 - 24.9 kg/m2
5. No smoking at all.
"This study underscores the importance of following healthy lifestyle habits," said the study's lead author, Frank Hu, from the Department of Nutrition at Harvard Chan School. "However, adherence to healthy lifestyle habits is very low."
Hu says society could help by adopting policies that promote the five habits and focusing more on prevention when we think about health and living longer.
"It is critical to put prevention first. Prevention, through diet and lifestyle modifications, has enormous benefits in terms of reducing occurrence of chronic diseases, improving life expectancy as shown in this study, and reducing healthcare costs."
So put down that cigarette, grab a banana on your way to the gym and I'll see you when we're both 95!