Eight healthy habits could add years to your life.
A new study of more than 700,000 U.S. veterans breaks down the habits that when adopted by middle age, can help someone live substantially longer than folks who don’t have these habits.
These are the big eight:
- Be physically active.
- Don’t smoke.
- Don’t get addicted to opioids.
- Don’t binge-drink on a regular basis.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Manage stress.
- Practice good sleep habits.
- Maintain positive social relationships.
The study found that men with all those habits at age 40 could live an average of 24 years longer than men who have none of them. Women could gain an additional 21 years compared to their peers who have none of these habits.
The findings will be presented Monday at a meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, in Boston.
“We were really surprised by just how much could be gained with the adoption of one, two, three or all eight lifestyle factors,” said study presenter Xuan-Mai Nguyen, a health science specialist at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and student at Carle Illinois College of Medicine in Urbana, Ill.
“Our research findings suggest that adopting a healthy lifestyle is important for both public health and personal wellness. The earlier the better, but even if you only make a small change in your 40s, 50s or 60s, it still is beneficial,” Nguyen said in a meeting news release.
Researchers used data from medical records and questionnaires collected between 2011 and 2019 from more than 719,000 participants in the VA’s Million Veteran Program. This included adults ages 40 to 99 and included more than 33,000 deaths during follow-up.
Low physical activity, opioid use and smoking had the biggest impact on life span among the study participants. These were associated with a 30% to 45% higher risk of death during the study period.
Stress, binge-drinking, poor diet and poor sleep habits were each linked to about a 20% increase in the risk of death. A lack of positive social relationships was associated with a 5% increased risk of death.
Researchers said their findings highlight the role of lifestyle factors in chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease that lead to premature disability and death.
These results also help quantify the degree to which healthy lifestyle choices can help people reduce their disease risk and live longer.
“Lifestyle medicine is aimed at treating the underlying causes of chronic diseases rather than their symptoms,” Nguyen said. “It provides a potential avenue for altering the course of ever-increasing health care costs resulting from prescription medicine and surgical procedures.”
While adopting the healthy lifestyle factors had a smaller impact for those who were older, that impact still was significant.
“It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle,” Nguyen said.
Although the study can’t prove cause and effect, the findings align with a growing body of research supporting the role of lifestyle factors in preventing chronic diseases and promoting healthy aging.
Findings presented at medical meetings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has some physical activity guidelines for adults.
SOURCE: American Society for Nutrition, news release, July 24, 2023
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